An example of classical NVC vs NbC

Maybe an example from my own life this week will clarify the difference between standard NVC and my NbC approach. I was expecting a visit from a friend and very much looking forward to seeing her. She cancelled at the last minute, by text message. My consciousness was filled with a confusion of thoughts and disturbed emotions all mixed up together. My internal dialogue might have sounded something like this: “Whaaat??! you’re telling me this now? after we planned for weeks to spend this time together?! And I’ve taken time off specially and bought your favourite foods and… and… and what does this mean anyway, couldn’t we talk about this, you just text me, don’t you care about me any more or what??!”.  The NVC process calls this babble ‘jackal thinking’ and translates it into something like: When I heard you say you weren’t coming to visit me this weekend after all (O), I felt disappointed and sad (F) because I have a need for connection (N). Would you be willing to tell me what was going on for you when you decided not to come (R)? Classical NVC even encourages us to conclude that we must have an ‘unmet need’ for connection, waiting to be ‘triggered’ by the text message. Now, breaking the reaction processes down like this can certainly contribute to self-connection here. But it’s not enough. Not only do these kind of OFNR statements sound too impossibly stilted to use in the real world, they leave out a crucial stage of the actual process.

The Living Energy of Needs work shows us that it is nonsense to talk about needs being met or unmet. Connection doesn’t just suddenly become an issue when we get a text message. Did we have connection a minute again, and now we have suddenly lost it? If so, then the connection we are talking about is with ourselves. And what has got in the way of the natural steady flow of energy from the source, via the ‘sea of needs’ and into our body-mind-heart, is simply a thought. The feelings which arise have not been provoked by any real-world action, they are a response to a thought process, albeit one which is so rapid and unconscious that we can easily miss it. Now that I slow it down and replay my reactions in my mind, I remember other times I have thought similar things and felt this same mixture of sadness, frustration and hurt. I realise that in the example above, my predisposition to conclude that my visitor didn’t care about me was already there before the feeling of sadness arose. In fact, I have long had a tendency to assume that people don’t really care about me if they cancel any kind of a ‘date’. It’s a pattern of mine. So, I’ve interpreted my friend’s choosing not to come on this occasion as a sign that she doesn’t care about me, and it’s this interpretation which triggers my painful feelings. Somebody else receiving that message might even have reacted with relief and gratitude (“Phew, I escaped spending the weekend with that flaky woman who I just can’t rely on and who is always so stressed out! Now I will have extra time to meet other friends!”), and it’s not because the needs are different – both people may want connection and ease – it’s simply the habitual thought processes which change our reactions.

Of course, classical NVC knows how dangerous interpretations are, but by encouraging us to drop them in favour of neutral observations, it misses almost the most important information when it comes to actual personal growth and transformation – the habits of thinking which create much of our misery. So in NbC I describe my self-connection process (OTFN) as, “When I heard you say you weren’t coming to visit me this weekend after all (O), I told myself you didn’t care about me (T) and that made me* feel sad (F) because I have a longing to be cared for/loved (N). Notice that the need this leads to is quite different from and deeper than the ‘connection’ need which related to spending time with my friend. In other words, I am acknowledging that I have been ‘triggered’ by a relatively trivial event into a long-standing pattern of reaction, no doubt an echo of a childhood scenario in which I concluded that someone (a parent, most likely) didn’t love me or care about me. My self-expression will now be very different. I don’t even need to ask why my friend isn’t coming or whether she thought of how this might impact me (of course she didn’t! how could she know?!). Maybe I don’t need to say anything at all, actually. If I do, it might be, “Thanks for bringing this unhealed childhood pain to my attention!”. Now it is my own business to take care of.
(*I say ‘made me’ deliberately. When we react like this to an internalised belief, we are not at choice. It’s an automatic response in which the thought form predictably calls up a certain set of feelings.)