Okay, so the wheel bit was a grinding bore
and fire a risk in the cave, never mind the dogs
he brings home, and cows; but I can endure
his knocking rocks for sparks and rolling logs.
It’s his words that get on my nerves, his incessant naming
of every bird or bug or plant, his odd
smirk as he commits a syllable, taming
Nature with categories— as though the Word were God.
Okay, so statements were bad enough,
and accusations crossing, spoiling digestion.
But then he invented the laugh.
Next day he invented the question.
I see it: he’s busy building a verbal fence
surrounding life and me. But already I
counterplot: I’ll make a poem of his sense.
By night, as he dreams, I am inventing the lie.
In other words, there is so much projection in this conversation, I hardly know how to enter it.
Truth is personal.
As a former journalist who attempted unbiased reporting for 20 years — and had to “learn past” my own assumptions and biases over and over — I finally had to face the fact that objectivity would always be an unachievable ideal. And the most honest thing I could do would be to communicate those biases clearly to my sources and readers as my working hypotheses.
Now, As a relatively high-MACH PR person, I make my living by altering the nature of public dialog. But I don’t delude myself that I’m playing around with anything but people’s projections. The meaning they assign to things, based on their own hierarchy of needs.
(As a personal note, the amount of ruthlessness I’m willing to live with keeps me playing in the realm where I think I’m working for the common good, rather than solely my own or my client’s. But doing this kind of work at all requires me to be willing to takes responsibility for outcomes — public and private — to get pretty Zen about the fact that we’re all attracted to our own learning experiences.)
Figuring out how alter the nature of the dialog is at least part of what brings me here. Because people with personality disorders, people who “split” and disassociate from part of their own character and history, get stuck in repetitive, “safe” definitions of reality that narrow their vision and their options. As I’ve said in other postings, I think we all arguably fit in that category.
The process of broadening perception is worth a book in itself, because its not dissimilar to therapeutic intervention. Communication theory is all about reflecting other people’s states, first to build rapport, but then to engage them in a process that results in some shared outcome. Changing their state — and my personal goal is to upgrade it — is necessary to get to the outcome.
And yes, if you hear NLP training here, I am a certified practitioner. But I’m also incorporating a lot of other methodologies and theories into this concept of work. Clare Graves’ theories, as reworked in “Strategy of the Dolphin,” have been particularly influential. Graves identified seven “states” of emotional or spiritual maturity. A lot of his research was done with prison inmates.
The man in the picture above is a Rorschach test. Here’s what I see.
His eyes look like he’s been crying and not getting enough rest for a long time. His body looks like he hasn’t been taking care of himself, or has been comforting himself with food. But his mouth is what really speaks to me. The upper lip pulled under the top teeth, the lower lip pushed out, the right corner pulled back, like a little kid trying to integrate some really terrible news into his reality. He’s lost something or some hope that means a lot to him, and he’s trying to find any reason at all to go on. He looks like he could use a warm robe, a cup of cocoa and some empathy.
That feeling is part of my own emotional repertoire. Which is why I see it that way.
Maybe he’s not open to empathy and refuses comfort. Maybe he doesn’t trust that anyone cares about him. Maybe he’s vamping to try to get someone to feel sorry for him, so they’ll bail him out of some mess he created because he’s unwilling or unable to take responsible for himself. Maybe he’s so broken-hearted at such a deep level that he can’t even begin to face it, and he’s planning to do something really awful to “kill” the some avatar of the cause of his pain. Maybe he’s gone totally catatonic, and he looks like that every waking hour of every day.
Where is “truth” in this?
Steven Colbert is constantly pushing our faces into our own dysfunctional thinking and behavior. We think he’s making fun of people who are not like us.
“Things are not just projection and there are grades of projection, surely.”
That’s fodder for a long, long debate. And the linguists and post-modernists have been at it for a while. But one of the moments when you know you’re dealing with projection is when someone becomes absolutist, arguing that something is “real” or “true,” beyond elemental sensory perception (and even then, there’s usually cultural or emotional pollution).
I realize I’m moving into unpopular or arguably non-useful territory here. However, there is another discipline which addresses at least some of this issue. That’s non-violent communication.
Developed by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg as a conflict-resolution technique, it has much broader meaning and impact on people who learn and practice it. It operates on the presumption that we all have needs. And that negative emotions are triggered in situations in which our needs are not met. The process of “doing” NVC involves listening, without judgment or analysis, and attempting to articulate the nature of feeling (your own or someone else’s) and then articulating the specific need(s) behind that.
Rosenberg has called this concept of human needs revolutionary, and in my experience it is. If you imagine you have your own needs for, say, appreciation, mutuality, authenticity and effectiveness (that your efforts have some results), it significantly alters the way you react to events in your world. Having those needs doesn’t equate with demanding that everyone meet your needs, but it does suggest that it makes sense to invest your time and attention where your needs are met, rather than where they aren’t.
Likewise, if you assume that other people have needs, you begin to “hear” them differently. Again, you have no obligation to meet other people’s needs, but the ability to share information on this level creates a kind of dialog of mutual respect that is quite powerful and humanizing. It reduces the impulse to act out, and tends to lead to solutions that serve all parties without compromise.
I’m not sure how well I’m communicating these concepts. But if you’d like to look at something that I found interesting, check this out: http://www.cnvc.org/needs.htm.
I stumbled on NVC at a time in my work when I was trying to figure out how to “forgive” the people with whom I’d had sociopathic interactions. That is, I wanted to reduce the residual emotional charge of anger and fear that was causing me to project “lessons” from past events on current circumstances. One of the things NVC does is to require you to stop analyzing, and listen.
It doesn’t make you any less self-protective. In fact, it increases self-awareness of discomfort or threat, while reducing the likelihood of succumbing to paramoralism techniques. Paramoralistic attacks work, I think, because we are willing, for whatever reason, to question our own perceptions and feelings. This inclination is substantially reduced when we are conscious of our needs. In fact, when I think about disciplines like verbal judo, what is required to do them is awareness, at least, of an intended outcome.
Here are some of the paramoralistic comments I’ve heard:
You don’t really feel like that.
You’re not being trustworthy (or trusting me).
You’re not considering my side.
You’re thinking like a typical woman.
You don’t understand how this works.
Your values are screwed up (or old-fashioned).
Your emotions are out of control.
Don’t you ever get bored with yourself?
You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t grow up.
You deserve better than this (or you’re not rising to the occasion).
Clearly, all of these comments could also occur in a teaching situation. Or a parental situation. But what is noteworthy about them that, as in teaching or parental situations, they assume a position of authority, and they encourage the listener to devalue or second-guess her own reactions.
The good thing about NVC is that it causes the listener to immediately go to the question of how this serves needs, and whose needs it serves. It is the ultimate pragmatism, which does not block empathy or compassion, but keeps things in a consistent and healthily self-interested perspective. It’s a lot more difficult for a sociopathic transaction to gain traction when the intended object is so self-aware.
In this context, issues of truth or projection fade in favor of personal values exercised in the framework of sensory reality. Or so I think.
Needs are expressed through feelings. Or perhaps I should say the condition of our needs causes our feelings.
If you look at the people writing on Lovefraud, they are largely expressing the results of their needs not being met. To the degree that serious trauma has occurred. They are so unbalanced by unmet needs that it’s hard for them to function. When I call that place a healing site, I mean it literally in the sense that they are learning the nature of their deprivation and learning to restore themselves.
If you were upset with me, making sarcastic comments or or bringing up a past grievance out of the blue, NVC would suggest that I listen carefully to you and try to get you to identify your feeling. Getting to a precise articulation is important. Are you disappointed? Are you resentful? Are you anxious?
NVC calls that process of close attention to another person’s feelings empathy. During that process, we don’t judge or analyze. We don’t think about whether it means something to us or about us. The process is to listen and understand.
Identification of the feeling can be the hard part. People, for various reasons, don’t want to admit or face their feelings. But with practice we get better at it. There is a glossary of feelings at the nvc.org site that can help with precision in describing them.
At that point, in the case of a negative feeling, the identification of the feeling makes it relatively easy to identify the cause, in terms of an unmet need. There is also a list of needs at the site, in case you’re not familiar with the idea of thinking about your needs. Most people aren’t.
A lot of our emotional expressiveness — the Buddhist would say our personality — is caused by our inability to express our needs, and to say if they are not being met.
This angry expression of yours might be due to anxiety that your need for self-expression will not be met, because I have been talking for such a long time and you haven’t found a moment to get a word in edgewise.
So a simple way of expressing this, if you have been trained in NVC, is to say, “When you talk for such a long time and I can’t find a place to say what I think about what you’re saying, I feel anxious because I have a need to express myself and to participate.”
When you get used to this language, it can get a lot less formal. But this is the formula. You’ll notice you’re owning your own feeling. I may have triggered that feeling, but the need is yours and you are responding to your own need.
What happens when you can articulate this feeling/need combination is a kind of little miracle. It immediately neutralizes your feeling, because you are at its source. It’s no longer necessary for your emotional system to be sending you all these signals that you have an unmet need.
Beyond that you feel heard. Because I’ve been right there with you, paying attention to you without making it about me in any way. Because you’ve come clear, I too understand what’s going on with you.
That could be a completed transaction, or there could be one more step. That is a request.
I could ask you if you have one, or you could ask me if I’d mind if you made a request. Or you could just announce that you have a request. In no case am I required to agree to your request. By making it, you risk that. By making it, you are also asking me to participate in you getting your needs met. But it’s understood that I have my own needs, and my answer will reflect that.
So your request to me is that I speak in shorter bursts, so that you can respond more frequently to what I’m saying.
I think about it. Then I say that I will try to be more efficient about expressing my ideas, but now I’m getting a little anxious. I have a need to be understood and to be effective. And sometimes my ideas are complicated, so I’m not sure I can always be brief. However, now that I know that my long-windedness can trigger your feelings, I’ll try to stop and ask if I’m talking too long, if I’m trying to explain a complicated thought.
Would that meet your need, I ask?
And you nod, and ask if I’m requesting that you be patient if you see me struggling to articulate something. And I nod.
And as a result, the emotional drama is not only resolved, but also the underlying causes have been recognized, respected and addressed. It doesn’t mean it will never rise again, or that this set of needs weren’t masking another more fundamental set of needs that will now be able to rise. But generally speaking this is a bonding experience, and we go on trusting each other more and liking each other more.
A personal note. Historically, I’ve been afraid of confrontation and other people’s anger. (That was my pre-post-sociopath self.) So in friendships and romantic relationships, I’ve tended to postpone talking about my needs until they overwhelmed me, and then I’d pack my metaphorical bags to leave and have a big fight on the way out the door, because I was ready to say what I really thought.
In most cases, that fight resolved things, and I’d unpack my bags and continue with relationship. My entire emotional system would be changed by the successful conclusion of these fights. I’d feel relieved, but more than that, I’d feel appreciated, respected, cared about.
When I first encountered NVC, the thing it really reminded me of was the end of these fights. When we’d finally plowed through all my judgments and analysis and blaming, and got down to what was really wrong, what I really wanted and what would fix it. It was like NVC eliminated the stupid, ugly and dysfunctional 90 percent of the argument, and got right down to the productive part.
Of course, the difficulty with NVC is that, first, it’s a programmed style of communication which can be hard to sell to a person who’s in a blaming, untrusting state. But the greater difficulty is that most people are in denial about their feelings and needs. It’s the way we’ve been trained.
So my experience in sharing this process with other people is that it takes a long, respectful process of persuasion to get them to even settle down for it. Even if I call it something else. Even if I start by talking about the concept of needs, like discussing the fact that people have them, and seeing where that leads. There’s a lot of resistance. And I think it’s programmed into us, because as long as we’re out of touch with our needs, it’s a lot easier to manipulate us by people who want to use us for profit or power.
Becoming aware of your own needs changes your relationship with yourself and everything else. It clarifies that level of personal responsibility we have to take care of ourselves, and actually gives us conceptual tools to do that. It’s really the end of codependence, not just on a personal relationship level but on a cultural level.
A big deal.
If you’re interested in this, I suggest you get one of Marshall Rosenbergs CD sets and listen to it. I have a four CD set, and I can’t remember its name, but you can find it on Amazon.
I know this has been a very long post, and I need to wind it up. But I just want to say that you’ll probably find it very challenging, and not to worry about it. No matter how much training you’ve had in interpersonal relations and facilitation, you’ll find this turns a lot of it on its head. I’ve been studying this stuff all my life, and I could find very few anchors when I first listened to this. It sounded right, but I just couldn’t get a grip on it, primarily because I was so oriented to analysis based on my favored models.
But then, how often do you run into something that really challenges you? That alone is worth the time in exploring it, I think.