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Anchoring Conflict in Specifics

Anchoring Conflicts in Specifics


One of the foundations of NVC (Compassionate Communication) is that it is grounded in a present moment consciousness, where very specific things happen.  Keeping your mind focused in the present isn't easy.  If you have ever tried focusing on your breath in meditation, you likely noticed that your mind wants to do anything but stay in the present moment.  It races into the future and the past, trying to meet all your needs by planning, problem solving, fantasizing, analyzing, and evaluating.


This "monkey mind" creates a lot of havoc and pain when, in a moment of hurt, instead of staying with your sensation and emotion and the specific event, your mind judges, analyzes, and makes general evaluations about how everything is terrible and won't work.


For example, let's work with a couple, Adrian & Jeri.  Adrian wakes up to find Jeri sleeping on the couch and asks what's up.  Here's their conversation:

Jeri:  You just don't love me like I need to be loved.

Adrian:  What?!

Jeri:  I need to be appreciated and desired.  I don't know if this relationship is going to work.  I am angry with myself for trying.  (Starts to sob).

Adrian:  (Seeing Jeri in so much pain and not knowing how they got there or how to move forward Adrian starts to feel disappointment and despair and expresses this through an evaluation).  Maybe this relationship isn't right for us.

Jeri:  (Even though Jeri said something similar a moment before, it stings to hear Adrian say this.  She expresses pain through a judgment).  You just want to escape and find a relationship that is always happy!


In this dialogue, Jeri starts by presenting vague wishes/demands that aren't connected to a specific event or request.  Hearing these vague wishes/demands Adrian is triggered and then says something vague about the potential of the relationship.  This triggers Jeri who continues the cycle of disconnect with an judgment of Adrian.


The first thing for Jeri to do is get specific about the original trigger.  This usually involves an external observation (what did Adrian do) and an internal observation (what did Jeri interpret about Adrian's behavior).


With this awareness Jeri might start a dialogue that sounds like this:

Jeri:  Last night when we went to bed and you fell asleep within a couple of minutes, I interpreted that you had lost interest in me and didn't find me attractive.  So I'm feeling triggered and need some clarity and reassurance.  What was going on for you last night?


If Jeri had woken Adrian with this in the moment it transpired and Adrian could hear Jeri's needs for clarity and reasurrance the whole situation might have been resolved in three minutes (Assuming Adrian was indeed just tired and still did love and care for Jeri).


In the first dialogue, Adrian could also help bring the conversation back to specifics.  S/he could respond to Jeri's first statement with empathy and then offer honest expression and a request.  It might sound like this:

Jeri:  You just don't love me like I need to be loved.

Adrian:  Sounds like you are really hurting?

Jeri:  Yes, I need to be appreciated and desired.  I don't know if this relationship is going to work.

Adrian:  Hearing that, I am feeling concerned and want to understand.  Could you tell me what triggered the hurt you're feeling?

Jeri:  You just went right to sleep last night!

Adrian:  And then did you have a thought about what that meant?

Jeri:  Yes, that you don't desire me.

Adrian:  Yeah, really painful to imagine that, huh.  (Jeri nods).  Would you be willing to hear what was going on for me then and how I feel about you?


By recognizing Jeri's words as an expression of pain, Adrian is less reactive and can offer empathy.  By also noticing that Jeri hadn't  offered a specific observation, Adrian asks for that and anchors the conversation around a specific event.

This week watch your mind each time you have a reaction to something.  Notice if it wants to judge, analyze, or interpret.  Then bring your mind back to awareness of the sensation around the trigger and the trigger itself.  See if you can just let it be about a specific trigger in a specific moment without following to your mind to stories of what it might mean.  Instead, take the next steps to focus on needs and requests.

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1 Response

  1. Jun 27, 2014

    I really appreciate this gem reminding me to keep it specific back to observations feelings needs requests. To look for what's really going on underneath otherwise unfathomable tones of frustration and/or anger. I also love the honesty potential in saying "Assuming Adrian still cares for Jeri" as there could be some soul searching there and real doubts might be aired - i am guessing tose would take the couple back to more OFNR's. Thanks LaShelle

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