Connecting with Ourselves: An NVC Foundation for Inner Trust and Freedom
[Please note: The views and opinions expressed in each post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of BayNVC as a whole.]
People often think about NVC as a practice for communication with other people. It is that, of course. But it is also much more, offering an approach to how we think about and experience life, and a consciousness that can support personal, interpersonal, and social transformation. The processes NVC offers us for connecting with ourselves are core for integrating NVC and for making significant changes in our lives. Why is that? In this article, I will share with you some reasons that I find self-connection so powerful and important, as well as suggest to you a practice you can explore in your daily life to deepen your relationship with yourself.
What is self-connection? For me, it literally means what it says: I connect with myself. Connecting with myself includes getting curious about what’s going on inside me, inquiring about my feelings and needs (self-empathy), paying attention to the myriad inner voices that vie for my attention (and even mediating between them!), working with self-judgments or judgments of others, making requests of myself (and paying attention when I say no!), deepening my capacity for finding inner peace even when my needs are not met, and more.
A central aim of self-connection is to experience true choice and inner freedom about how I live and what I do. My assumption is that true inner freedom arises from self-connection. Without self-connection, I’m mostly acting from habits, and those habits do not necessarily attend to my needs.
Here is a personal example: I’ve struggled my whole life with getting myself to go to sleep, often going to bed after midnight and feeling exhausted for much of the day. Was that my choice? Of course. But was it a conscious, empowered choice? I would say no. I didn’t truly experience choice; I didn’t seriously consider the option of going to sleep, and so I didn’t experience the power to make a different decision. Even though the consequences of going to sleep late every night were very high for me and even affected my family members, every night I found myself repeating the same patterns of procrastinating my bedtime, opening more emails, justifying to myself why this night it made sense to stay up, or simply refusing to look at the option of going to sleep. One way to express my inner experience would be to say that I was having an “autonomy fit” – unwillingness to consider needs other than the one I was trying to attend to by staying up.
Do you have areas in your life where you are making choices that do not attend to your needs as well as you would like? Chances are you do. Most of us do. How can we work with these areas of challenge in ways that nurture us, that support us to want to cooperate with ourselves to meet more needs?
The first step with NVC is – you guessed it – connection with needs. In this case, connection with our own needs. What needs are we wanting to meet by choosing new behaviors? What needs are we trying to meet through the choices we are making now? Both sets of needs are important! This insight is crucial, because if we only focus on the changes we want to make, we can tend to over-power ourselves into trying to change – only to find ourselves in an inner rebellion or autonomy fit. This dynamic of trying to make a change, only to find ourselves resisting the change, can trigger self-judgments, impatience with ourselves, deep frustration, discouragement, even depression.
The process of building inner trust that we will hold all of our needs with care contributes to deep self-acceptance and a peaceful, nurturing internal environment. A variety of NVC practices can support this foundation of self-connection. “Needs: Layers of Self-Connection,” is one you can try on your own, with a partner, friend, or empathy buddy. (If you don’t already have an empathy buddy, consider taking one of our series – it’s a great way to establish these mutually supportive relationships!)
And what about my bedtime, you wonder? Did I manage to make changes in this habit? The answer is a joyful yes! – though I imagine I may have more occasions to work with this habit in the future. Getting in touch with the needs I was trying to meet by staying up late was an important first step. But the significant shifts in this and other areas of my life happened for me through a different NVC process that I developed while recovering from cancer, a process I call Self-Integration. The sweetest gift for me, ultimately, was not in transforming the sleep habit, but rather in the inner work itself: I developed greater self-knowledge, compassion for the needs held by different parts of myself, and trust that all of my needs truly matter. That is the inner world I want to have – and the one I want for everyone in the world.
by Inbal Kashtan 2009