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The Significance of Self-Empathy

At the moment we’re running our 6-week Nonviolent Communication (NVC) courses here in Bristol. There are lots of things I enjoy about the courses. One example is what happens after I’ve introduced the Tree of Compassionate Connection. I use the Tree to share the idea of self-empathy as the first step to ground ourselves, to create an inner space, from which we are able listening with empathy. Participants are often touched, sometimes astonished or even shocked.

An NVC Dance Floor, a training tool devised by Bridget Belgrave and Gina Lawrie.

They say something like “What? You’re saying that self-empathy is as important as empathy? I thought NVC was all about understanding the other person and finding out what’s going on for them.” Or “Ooh, it’s about me as well? I have no idea what my needs are. It’s shocking to realize, and at the same time I’m worried that if I express my needs, I could be seen as selfish.”

This approach of self-empathy first is often new for people. It’s understandable: people want to improve their communication skills because they want less conflict in their lives. They assume that the focus will be on how we speak to each other.

I remember I was in a similar situation when I started to learn NVC in 2006. I’d been working as a teacher and suffered burn out. My recovery had taken many months, including a stay at a countryside rest-cure. I was planning to go back to school and work as a teacher. I knew I needed some tools to deal with conflicts. One day someone recommended Marshall Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication: a Language of Life. It was exactly what I was looking for — everybody’s needs matter. It’s not about you or me. It’s about you and me. Luckily I could attend a Basic Training with Marshall Rosenberg himself near my home town.

There I heard for the first time about the importance of self-empathy. It was an eye-opener, and at the same time I felt confused. I had already experienced how it felt to be burnt out and it was hard work over a long period of time to regain my sense of self-connection. Even with the self-connection, it still wasn’t easy to understand how I’d got into such a miserable situation. However, with the new self-empathy approach, suddenly I understood how I could take care for myself and take care for my family and friends. Wow! What a relief!

Over the years I have discovered more and more about Nonviolent Communication and now I recognize that it’s more than a set of tools to survive at work or at home. It’s something for every moment. It’s in me all the time, it’s the way I see the world, and how I can contribute to life. NVC has become my approach to life.

I’ve heard people saying that NVC is life-changing. I agree! And I can add that it’s empowering and enriching too. Self-empathy is just as important as empathy.

If this topic resonates with you, I’m happy to hear from you.