Why ,Nonviolent Communication’ and Co. are just a band aid on our emotional numbness

Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg (NVC) is in itself a wonderful and useful communication model, which allows us theoretically, to interact with others in a relationship-promoting way. The same is true for the communication techniques of Transactional Analysis by Eric Berne or the Four-Ears-Model by Friedemann Schulz-von Thun, to name just some of the currently used communication tools.

All these tools have one major handicap. To really work, the application of these tools requires a high level of awareness, as well as the ability to feel and to express feelings. And there’s the rub. While we all agree, that everybody has feelings, the ability to feel and to express feelings, however, in our modern, technological society is not very common. Instead of learning how to feel, from the very beginning of our lives, we unlearn how to feel and learn how to suppress feelings. Already during our childhood we get the clear signal from all sides, that feelings are not ok and certainly not professional, but just for little weepy girls.

We live in a world, where feelings are considered as an illness that requires psychological treatment. Not very surprising, since we have learned to suppress our feelings in a way, that they only become visible, when they have grown to an amount, that the safety valve on our inner strong room cannot withstand the pressure anymore and jumps off. This state has different names: nervous breakdown, burnout, anxiety attack, tantrum, depression, etc. Another evidence for our learned belief, that feelings are not ok, that they are even life-threatening. Are feelings perhaps an error of God? Consciously or unconsciously we look on feelings as a mere divine design mistake, we try to correct with different strategies. In order not to feel anything, we watch television, numb ourselves with alcohol, overeating or nicotine, try to distract ourselves with lots of entertainment or work – and if all else fails – an extended shopping tour.

But back to the communication models. In step 2 of Nonviolent Communication for example, it is about expressing what you feel. But if we are not able to feel, what exactly we are then to express? When I ask my clients during a coaching session, what they feel, I get numerous colorful answers. Very few answers really have something to do with feelings. Good, bad, so-so, confused, hurt, chipped, super, powerless, frustrated, annoyed, ok, sniffy … to “I have back pain.” Which of these is a feeling? Is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ a feeling? Is ‘confused’ a feeling? Is ,back pain’ a feeling? Only when they have the first little distinction regarding feelings, such as that there are only four basic feelings, which are anger, sadness, fear and joy, my clients begin to navigate internally with this new clarity and make first steps into their world of feelings.

We all have a deep longing for authentic and appreciative communication with others and for real connection. We long for community, intimacy and love. Therefore, people work hard on themselves, e.g. to change their communication by learning communication tools. Without realizing that they try to take the second step before the first. Because the first step is uncomfortable! Feelings work consists of two phases. Before we can learn to express our feelings in an authentic and responsible way, we must first learn to feel and to reduce our numbness bit by bit. Otherwise, all attempts to achieve different results in interacting with others using communication tools, are only adhesive plasters that we stick on our emotional wounds. They bring no cure and no new long-term results. If you learn Nonviolent Communication to get your anger under control or because the expression of anger is not OK for you, you will be disappointed. It will not work. Because the anger will not go away. On the contrary, it will be only the more pushed into unconsciousness – until one day again the valve gives way to the pressure. In order to communicate nonviolently, it is necessary to learn in the first place to feel your anger, to get in contact with your inner warrior and to change your attitude regarding anger. The same is also true for the other feelings.

Feelings work provides new results in relationships … and it is high level fun!