What Are We Waiting For?


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This past week I became aware of something I do.  And it wasn’t the only time.  I have done it quite a few times.  I confuse taking a pause with avoiding.  Something happens and I instantly feel frustrated.  I took time to connect to my precious needs.  Or so I thought.  In this case, maybe it took a day or two (however it has taken longer —way longer).  And being honest, something else is actually happening.   First thing was to actually notice that I was upset (and in some weird way, needing a minute to admit it to myself).  I think I often don’t want to be upset.

So…here it is --this was my process.  I wonder if you do this too?

1.  Read an email, don’t answer it
2.  Realize I am in some way less than happy (find your own place on the continuum of disappointed to rage).
3.  Pretend/wish that I wasn’t.
4.  Accept what is so.
5.  Begin self-empathy practices ~ and get pretty connected to my needs.  In this case, not quite.  Still had an edge of augh.
6.  Asked a friend to listen.  Super duper helpful.
7.  Immediately and spontaneously, I had an opportunity to dialogue with the person who sent the email making requests of me that stimulated my distress.
8.  Had the conversation.  It was slightly scary, and very, very connecting and tender.
9.  Reflecting on what was shared, I now have a very clear request, which I will offer in our next conversation.

Reflecting on the process, I am wanting to scream from the mountaintops (or my rooftop deck, facebook and everywhere) my gratitude for Marshall Rosenberg and the gift of Nonviolent Communication. 

Couldn’t have been more classic textbook description of what will happen if we just use the skills taught. 

Empathy + Honesty

And, still, there were a few points of hesitation.  Which is what I want to explore a bit further here.  I am thinking if I experience this, so might you.  And I have some ideas of what’s happening which I would like to share.  I think all the hesitations are for the same ‘good’ reasons throughout the process.  Understanding this allows an acceptance of it, having the thought, “of course I would hesitate for a bit”.  Rather than the internal message, “I should be able to do this faster.”

Take a pause.

I encourage us all to take a pause.  A breath.  Like in any dangerous situation, having a real sense of what is happening and what my choices are in the moment will increase the likelihood that I will survive the situation. 

I am distinguishing this as a pause by choice, connecting to needs rather than avoiding something. 

In number 1 – not answering my email.  For me this works as an observation.  When I don’t answer an email, I know it is most often because I don’t have a yes, and I’m not sure ‘how to say no’.  Once this happens, the process begins.  In this case, there were about 4 emails I didn’t respond to —eek! 


2.  Pretending and/or wishing it wasn’t so. 

So while I am avoiding at this point, the question is, “Why?  What am I waiting for?”  I look to evolutionary psychology for the answer:

I am wanting to say something that I think will upset a member of my pack, my tribe.  I am pretty sure they won’t like it.  In current culture, tribe means friends, family, co-workers, lovers, etc.  In the past tribe actually meant tribe.  I am (as are you) hardwired to want to want to maintain my value to the pack.  Why? because in the past, if I appear as weak, or not able to contribute to my pack, at some point they would make the decision to let me go, meaning die.  Our neurology still ‘knows’ this, and that is why we hesitate to say things that might upset our people.  I am basically in a panic (stress response).  I am afraid.


Often I talk about having compassion for yourself.  This is it.  This piece of my body responding exactly as if I am going to die – when it seems obvious that I won’t.  So we are in kind of a limbo.  Panic.  We are all burdened with our history. 

The more often we take an intentional pause here and drop into nurturing ourselves, having compassion for our mismatched instincts two things might happen.


1.  It might become apparent to us quicker and more often that it is what is happening, and we can resolve our panic more easily.  whew!  Feeling panicked is not pleasant, nor a creative place for me to respond from.

2.  We might develop enough of an understanding of this that when someone else is taking longer to respond to us, our first thought is one of compassion.  They might be afraid.  Afraid and not know, afraid to tell us what is happening for them.  We might find compassion for them and invite a response, rather than demanding a response from them when they are not quite able.

Then it is step #4 ~ Accepting what is so.  Okay.  Here I am.  It is true.  I am upset, and if I want to be not upset at some point, I must acknowledge it and get to the business of considering needs.  In my world, it is the only way out.  Knowing what is important about this. Often at this point, I can assess whether or not it is true that I will die (literally) if the ‘worst thing I can imagine’ happens.  I usually come to the conclusion that I might be quite unhappy, and I won’t die.  Knowing this takes the edge off. 

The next steps are relatively easy for me.   Self empathy.  Obviously, one of the needs is belonging, to matter, maybe sustenance.  And then there are the others that are causing the distress – freedom, spaciousness in this case.

Checking in with another person to find more support.  Maybe use another one of my senses – if I say it to someone then I can hear myself.  I find this helpful. 

Sharing with another what is happening, receiving more help connecting to the needs, or having an experience of someone hearing what my needs are, and them not leaving me,  is a way to get the needs of belonging, mattering, and connection met. 

Can you see how wonderful it is to have the needs I was longing for already met as I enter  into the conversation? 

I am significantly more resourceful and creative, feeling calm, possibly hopeful (vs. panicked).  The needs I am hoping for now might change/morph a bit to clarity, and connection and understanding.  I might actually look forward to the conversation bringing the energy of all these needs into the field between us.

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And this is it.  The goodies.  The magic of the NVC process.  I was able to shift my experience of the world, this person, life, my relationships from one of frustration/anger/fear to one of enthusiasm and curiosity.  It just takes a bit of practice and a commitment to it.  Okay…at the beginning it takes a bit of trust that this could actually be true.

Thank goodness my commitment to enjoying my life and relationships was stronger than my skepticism that it would ever be possible.

Give it a try

Practice intentionally for one year.  Like your life depends on it.  Get support.  And then please let me know how it is going for you.