I have been wondering for some time what to "blog" about. And I recently had an inspiration. It comes from something I saw on a ferry trip I was taking to meet my sister and dad for Father's day. As I watched the scene unfold, I was reminded of the difficulties of being with those we love when we perceive they are in distress..... I was watching the sun on the water when I heard a child, although not a very small child, crying and saying over and over in what I heard as a loud tone, "We have to hurry! Mama, hurry! You don't understand, we need to hurry! Hurry! Hurry!" She sounded so distraught that I turned to see a girl, maybe 8 years old, pulling the arm of what I assumed was her mother in the direction of a table infront of me. Tears were streaming down her face and her face looked terrified. They joined two teenagers at a table in front of me. "We have to hurry!" she exclaimed, "before the boat lands!!!"
As the mother responded, I was transported into my mother mode and how hard it is to be with your child when they are upset and you don't get why. "We have plenty of time. Honey, calm down!" the mother said. "You don't have to be so emotional. It's ok." Hearing this, I was saddened. I guessed that this wasn't what the girl wanted to hear. The girl continued her same exasperated message, a bit louder and more tears came so that soon she was just crying and crying. I felt for the mother who probably was so confused as to why her daughter was so upset when everything was fine to her. I was saddened because I could relate to this mother and to the child. We have been taught and socialized to believe that "bad" feelings - fear, anger, sadness, need to be over with as soon as possible so we can go back to feeling happy. I grew up this way and definitely wanted to make my children happier by talking them out of whatever they were feeling. I believed that was what I was supposed to do. And ironically, as an adult and a parent, I knew that when I was worried, or frustrated or upset, and someone wanted to tell me why I shouldn't be so I'd feel better, I really didn't like it. I would feel the feelings AND I would feel shame or guilt for feeling that way. I would think "I shouldn't be feeling this way and I should 'get over it'", yet I couldn't. So it wasn't helpful. I would feel lonely because people didn't get me. And yet, as a mom, I did the same thing to my children. And it didn't really work to reassure them. They clung on to their feelings even more, I realize now because they wanted to be heard. It wasn't until learning Nonviolent Communication, that I learned how much we all need resonance with our feelings. And HOW to give empathy and the amazing power of empathy. I experienced how nurturing it is to offer an empathic space for myself or for someone else - where we guess emotions and what's important. Humans long to be understood because in this way we are reassured we are not alone. We long for connection more than a solution to our problems. Although often we think we want a solution and even ask for it; this is an illusion. We really want some one to get us! Once we lean into our feelings and what we're experiencing in that moment, then solutions and/or realizations come. As I listened to the mother try time and again to reassure her daughter, to no avail, and then try to distract her by showing her a picture on her ipod, I realized that the mom was doing all that she knew how to do. Comfort her child and offer logical reassurance. And I longed for her to know there was another way. So I began to visualize and hear how it might be different - a way that would help the mom be able to contribute to her child, provide nurturing and comfort in the way she wanted, and have a more peaceful ferry ride AND for the little girl to be heard for what was going on, accepted for her experience, and possibly to have her needs for reassurance met once she was sure she was understood.
It might go: Mom: "Honey, I hear how upset you are. Do you really want me to get how scared and nervous you are that the boat will land before we finish?" Little girl: "Yes! We need to hurry before it lands!" (crying still and pulling her arm.) Mom: "Are you not trusting that you'll have time to eat like you want to?" Little girl: "Yes! You always say that we have to hurry to get back to the car, so I'm scared we won't get to our car and then we can't get to our cabin we're going to and we'll be stuck on this boat!" Mom: "I'm hearing how worried you are and upset you are. Is there anything else you want me to hear? Little girl: " Yah I'm scared! We won't be safe! Let's go." Mom: "I am feeling a little frustrated because I'm wanting more calm while we're on the boat, would you be open to hearing some reassurance right now?" Little girl: "I guess but hurry and sit down!" Mom: "Ok, here's your food. I'm really wanting to give you a sense of comfort. Can I explain?" Little girl: (after stopping crying) "ok." Mom: "So, I know how long the boat takes and it will dock in 25 minutes. So if we both watch the clock and where the ship is would that give you some comfort that we'll have enough time?" Little girl: "Yes, what time is it now? and when will it dock? I can see we're still out in the middle of the water. Can I have my other snack?"
I want these kind of conversations in the world. It has been so comforting for me to experience empathy: to be heard for how I am with no judgment. And I have been amazed by how connectingit has been for me to hear my children with empathy. And to me to tell my children how I'm feeling and how much I want to fix it for them so I can nurture them and feel reassured. Then I am able to really hear them and they know that I care and I own my own stuff. They get to hear unconditional love. It is alright to have feelings, they tell us something important. I've found that reassurance is a very strong need for a parent, for myself, and yet it is an illusion in some ways. Like a fog that you keep trying to reach but when you get there, you can't see the fog around you, only the fog in the distance. Recognizing that I need reassurance that they'll be ok, almost constantly, frees my heart up to hear them. Often when I go mindlessly to meeting my need for protection and reassurance, I actually don't contribute to them. They hear that they are wrong and it creates a bigger distance between us. And it reinforces their sense that they're not ok, and their feelings aren't ok, which is not at all what I'm trying to do. Assuming they need reassurance and giving it to them without checking it out, I've found, we miss a very important opportunity to connect - for me to really get what's going on for them and be with it so that their own wisdom comes out. And this is the case with anyone we care about - our parents, our siblings, our friends, our coworkers and our partners. We think we are being helpful by solving their problems, or giving advice, or giving information that will reassure them, when really they just want to be heard - what they're feeling and what it is that is important to them (their universal needs or values) that they may not be connected with in that moment. I know it means a lot to me to be heard for my experience and not "talked out of it". What sweetness to realize this before my children have moved out and before I leave this earthly experience. Maybe the meaning of life is to learn to listen, love and hold each other. That's all. I hope this has meaning for you. I would love to hear if you can relate to what I've written or any comments you have. Please post your comments below. Post your comments here warmly, Marcia
Marcia has been studying and practicing Nonviolent Communication since 2005. She has experienced immense joy & gratitude while learning this consciousness. This blog reflects some of that learning. Find Marcia on facebook at www.facebook.com/ marciachristenNVCtrainer