Feelings bound up with judgments

Many or perhaps most emotional states we normally describe as feelings are triggered by or closely bound up with judgmental thinking, usually on an unconscious level. NVC has focused especially on anger, guilt and shame as key members of this category. These phenomena are more complex than what one might call ‘pure’ feelings, like sadness, grief or joy. It may take some entangling to get to the heart of the matter, as there are usually several layers involved. For example, on the surface it may be a wish for other people to behave in a different way which triggers anger, while underneath there may be sadness and a longing for a quality of connection or understanding we don’t currently enjoy. The sadness is sometimes called a ‘pure’ feeling, since at that level there are no judgmental thoughts left, just a mourning about the unmet or neglected needs we have got in touch with.

So, for example, right now I can hear my neighbours’ TV through the wall to my living room, and I notice anger stirring in me. There is certainly emotion there but the energy is in my head rather than my body. However, what is going on in my head affects my body: my shoulders are tense, I might talk louder or faster and in a different tone of voice, my heart rate could go up, all as if I was getting ready for ‘fight or flight’. What is causing my emotional and physical response is not my neighbours’ TV in itself (other people might not even be bothered by it, I could blank it out with earplugs or my own music, and there is no immediate threat to my physical well-being which I need to defend against), but some judgmental thoughts I have about it. If I allow myself to go straight to an expression of anger, I may not notice the thoughts, though other people will certainly hear them if I go round to my neighbours and start shouting! And if I do notice them, I may very well incorporate them into a process of making myself ‘right’ and the other person ‘wrong’. So, I prefer to stop and listen to myself.

The judgments I have in my head – the thoughts which are getting me angry – include things like: “That’s so selfish!”, “Why do you think I want to listen to your stupid TV?” and “How can people be so thoughtless and ignorant?”. If you ask me what my needs are, while those judgments are ‘live’ in my mind, I will say respect and consideration. That’s what I am wanting my neighbours to give me.

However if I go more deeply into what these needs mean for me, I see that respect and consideration – if that is what I truly want – must include my respect for my neighbours choosing a different lifestyle from mine. After all, surveys show that the average Briton watches more than 3 hours of TV every weekday – it’s me who is the odd one out here. And my neighbours didn’t build these cheaply made houses with poor insulation – do I want to blame them for the shoddy English building standards?! In fact, do they even know it bothers me, or that I can hear it? Maybe not. So can I fairly call them ‘selfish’ or reasonably be convinced that they are trying to force their listening preferences onto me? Not really! ‘Needs’ are not something for us to demand of others, after all. They’re something inside ourselves, the flow of our own life energy.

So when I tune in to respect and consideration, I feel calmer, and more relaxed. I even feel grateful that I don’t have to sit in the same room as these absurd game shows and overhyped sporting contests. I wonder what it would be to live one’s whole life in a reality composed of such a diet? Or to be so depressed and disconnected that one finds it entertaining or soothing to watch whatever mindless junk is being churned out by the broadcasters evening after evening?

Despite my anger disappearing as soon as I properly attend to it, and giving way to some understanding and compassion, I notice that my language betrays some rather strong judgments in me still, some contempt almost! Sitting with that a little more, I focus on my gratitude that I seem to have so many more interests in life than my neighbours, such a rich and full experience of being on this amazing planet at this time of change. How do they manage without that?! I guess I can put up with a bit of noise sometimes, it’s all they’ve got, after all. Maybe even use it as a reminder of how fortunate I am? After all, I also waste my time on activities which don’t contribute to greater meaning in my life, quite often in fact. And who knows how stressful their working days are, maybe they just need to go blank in the evening, maybe this brings them some ease… Hmm… maybe they’re not so inhuman after all!

So now I revisit the scenario in my mind’s eye. I realise there is a lot of sadness in me about the lack of shared values between myself and my neighbours, the lack of contact and connection. How I long to live in a community of friends, where neighbours talk to each other and care about each other! I take a moment to mourn that I don’t have that in my life yet, and wonder if I will ever manifest it.

Now I am at peace, and can even mentally thank my neighbours and their TV habits for reminding me of the precious needs I want to honour in my life!

As I finish this page I notice that all is quiet in the house now, and I’m savouring the delicious silence!