Friday, October 13, 2006

A Language of the Heart (Speaking Giraffe)

Emotions are a gift from God. When emotions are allowed to work as they are designed to they can enrich us and others in many ways.

But in order to receive the blessing we must realize that our emotions are always connected to a need being met or unmet. By listening to our emotions and asking ourselves why we are feeling a particular emotion we can discover an unmet need or a need that has been satisfied. For instance, if I feel sad because I have not seen my family in a long time my need for connection has not been met. On the otherhand, if I feel happy because I have spent time with my family then my need for connection has been met.

Yet, many times we do not listen to our emotions and completely ignore them and act violently towards ourselves and others. How many times have we felt angry and as a result insulted, judged, criticized, blamed or physically hurt someone? Probably too many to count. Many of us don't know what to do when we feel angry, furious, frustrated, hopeless, lonely, despondent and many other emotions because no one has taught us what to do. We live in a society that encourages us to stuff our emotions and a society that is essentially feelings illiterate.

So, what can we do? Well, for starters become aware of what we are feeling. When we are upset we can simply ask ourselves, "What am I feeling?" We can become conscious of what is going on inside us. Once we put our finger on the emotion we are feeling we can then go on to vocalize it. Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication, has a four-step process for communication that incorporates identifying our feelings and needs into the model. Part of that model involves asking the question, "I am feeling _______ because I am needing ______."

So, what we can do when we are feeling upset is ask ourselves, "What am I feeling and needing right now?" or say, "I am feeling _______ because I am needing __________."

Rosenberg also calls this four step process "giraffe language." He coined it giraffe language because the giraffe has the largest heart of all the mammals. The heart is about 3 feet long and 3 inches thick all around. The idea is that Nonviolent communication, which focuses on feelings and needs is the language of the heart because it focuses on what is alive in the heart.

When we focus on our feelings and needs we also avoid focusing on what others are saying or doing that is bothering us. By stating our feelings and needs to others we avoid blaming and criticizing them. We can then make a request instead of a demand to help ourselves satisfy our now recognized need.

When others are angry or upset with us we can also use this technique on them. We can ask them, "Are you feeling ______ because you are needing _______?" They will most likely appreciate that we are focusing on them and let us know if we are right. If we are not correct they will correct us and we will be closer to identifying the need they have and finding a way to resolve the situation. By satisfying our needs and the needs of others we can reach a resolution that meets everyone's needs.

Another thing that we can do is become aware of certain feelings that have had a tendency in the past to trigger negative actions toward ourselves and others. We can make a list of these feelings and be on the look out for them. It may be that we need to take a timeout when we feel these feelings (to avoid a conflict). For instance, if we feel furious it may be better to take a one hour timeout and calm down. When we are calm, we can focus on sharing our feelings and needs with others.

Many times in the past we have reacted like a lion when we feel angry or frustrated with others or ourselves. Taking time to focus on our feelings and needs helps us not let the lion out and to speak from the heart that which serves life. For more information on Nonviolent Communication, click here.

CAPTION: "Photo courtesy"

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