Between Authenticity and Nonviolent communication

I am currently exploring a whole new way to deal with my inner truth in relating to others. There is nothing I value as much as truth and authenticity. Authenticity for me means that what I believe, think and feel is aligned with what I do and say. This often clashes with the rules of non-violent communication.

The goal of non-violent communication is to fully and authentically express our feelings and needs while still owning them as ours and not dropping into judging, blaming or manipulation mode. It teaches us to speak from the perspective of our own feelings, how a specific behavior makes us feel and why, and clearly stating what we would need to change, as opposed to generally judging the character of a person or making them responsible for the way we feel.

While I absolutely agree that this would be the ideal way to communicate, I also feel it has to come from a deeply authentic place and not just be a mask we wear to avoid conflict or to feel good about ourselves.

How often have I observed in myself and others the huge discrepancy between what we truly think about people and what we dare to speak into their faces. And worse, between how we talk about them when they are present and when they are absent. How often have I heard people (and myself) severely judge others (usually when they are NOT present), not respecting any of the above-mentioned rules, only to finish with the sentence “I am not judging them, this is just my opinion, they are free to be as they wish”. And the same people feeling extremely hurt and triggered when being judged themselves.

Non-judgment is a quality many of us claim as ours. Yet often it is a lie that we are quick to believe about ourselves, because it’s what we would like to be true. It’s a mask we wear not just in front of others, but also in front of ourselves. We actually believe we don’t judge others, when in truth we do so constantly – and in both directions: bad and good! Telling someone how great or beautiful they are or what a good heart they have is just as much a judgment as telling them how stupid, ugly or greedy they are. With the difference that we are flattered by the first and appalled by the latter.

If I use my acquired non-violent communication skills when I am with a person (or worse, I just fake that everything is fine, when it truly is not), but heavily judge them on the inside or when I talk about them with a third person, all the while claiming I am not really judging, I am lying to everybody, myself included. This lie will be felt at some level and prevent true intimacy in a relationship. Personally, I prefer to be told the ugly truth than know that they talk differently about me behind my back (because if they do so with others, you can be sure they do so with you, too).

If I want to truly stop judging, I have to first own that I am judging. If I don’t own a behavior, I deny it and make it unconscious. Per definition, I cannot change anything that is unconscious, leave alone learn from it.

 Truth been told not all my thoughts or emotions are gentle, compassionate and non-violent. Driven by my desire for absolute authenticity and true intimacy, I recently started experimenting dropping all masks and stopping to put on a political correct smile when in truth I was boiling inside. Yet I have at times taken it too far, mistaking authenticity for just speaking whatever is on my mind. As you can imagine, this was quite harsh at times and the message has not at all been well received in consequence.

I realized that just like I should not violate someone with my hands, I should not violate anyone with my words, even if that is what I feel like doing on the inside right now.

So how to be true and real without attacking the other?

If I want my communication not only to be non-violent, but also authentic (which would be the ideal case), I have to look deeper than my desire to hurt the other person. It is not enough to just control my behavior – the words that come out of my mouth or the deeds I do with my hands (and again, a clear sign that this is the case is when there is a discrepancy between how I talk about a person when they are present as opposed to when they are absent). I have to go to where my actions, words and judgments originate: my physical sensations, my emotions, my thoughts and ultimately my beliefs. In other words, my consciousness.

I have to become aware of and shift my focus on what I am feeling or thinking in a given moment as opposed to what’s wrong with the other person. In that way, I can still authentically communicate what is going on for me in a given moment, without lashing out at the other. Ideally, I would be able to specifically name my thoughts, feelings and needs. Most of us, me included, never really learned this, so it can be quite overwhelming to exactly identify what I am feeling, which behavior triggered me, which belief or thought got triggered and what I would actually need to feel differently.

I realized that I need to learn a whole new way of relating. I need to train my emotional, mental and spiritual awareness until it becomes my new default mode. I need to become aware of the underlying mechanisms, patterns and conditionings fueling my beliefs, thoughts, emotions, actions and words. This awareness then can lead to modification at the root level, to shifting the focus from “them” to me, which will automatically make me stop judging under ALL circumstances, whether the person is there or not, whether it’s a good judgment or a bad one. Like that, the discrepancy between my true thoughts and feelings on the one hand and nonviolent communication on the other hand will disappear, because my very thoughts and feelings have become nonviolent. It is no longer just a behavior shift, but a consciousness shift.

Start by being authentic with yourself

It all starts by realizing the value in recognizing and admitting that I might indeed have very violent thoughts and feelings on the inside. If what I truly feel or think is ugly, violent and judgmental – even though I might not be particularly proud of it and wished it was different – I should be honest about that – with myself first and foremost – and use it as an opportunity to dig deeper, to learn more about my needs and beliefs, and if necessary, recondition myself.

This implies allowing myself to fully feel and express what is currently there – be it verbally through journaling or unstructured sounding (screaming, shouting, crying) in a safe space and/or by simply allowing my body to move in an unstructured way as in dance, catharsis, active meditations…  – rather than trying to suppress my thoughts or feelings, change them or make them “politically correct”. It is through expression that whatever is there gets magnified and as such more clearly visible, which then makes it possible or easier to become aware and to transform.

Unconditional acceptance and love

Accepting and loving myself with all my darkness, my ugliness, my violence, my judgments, means accepting and loving myself unconditionally. From that place, and ONLY from that place of unconditional self-acceptance and self-love can I then dare to open and show myself to others the way I truly am, which is the basis for true intimacy. I can tell them about my true feelings, taking full ownership, or I can even let them witness me in my chaotic embodiment process. Just imagine being able to show yourself in all your light AND darkness, with all your work in progress, and still be loved. Personally, that’s the kind of love and intimacy I want – from myself and from others. However, not many people are able to hold that kind of space for you – which is why we choose to wear masks in the first place, because we feel we are not safe or not seen with eyes that look beyond the emotion boiling at the surface.

Likewise, ONLY from that place of unconditional self-acceptance and self-love can I feel true compassion and love others unconditionally, too, shadows and all included. I am able to hold space for them even when they admit to me that their reality in this very moment simply is that they ARE heavily judging me or if they actually confront me with their judgments. I am so deeply anchored in my worthiness that I know to distinguish their judgment about me from reality. I can remain open to receive whatever grain of truth might be hidden in their judgment – a learning opportunity I might completely lose, if I rejected it altogether and simply closed down in defense. Of course, I can and will still set boundaries, communicate when I feel that they have been crossed and not accept disrespectful or harmful behavior, whether verbal or non-verbal. Yet especially if the judgment comes from someone I usually appreciate and trust, I can even feel grateful for their courage and trust to show me their real, raw truth and give them the benefit of doubt when it comes to their intentions – just like I would do for myself.

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