Archives for April 2015



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Love Your Enemies

Matt. 5:43-48

“You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”


It appears that every major religion of the world struggles with the concept of how to respond to those who have been labeled as “enemies” or as NVC would say “enemy image.” This passage attempts to address this religious dilemma. You will notice that the first verse delivers a message regarding how many have been taught to respond. If someone is your enemy “hate” them. This would include treating them poorly, talking about them in a manner that is negative, and of course, killing them. It seems if we judge someone our enemy then they have now become less than us, even less human, and dangerous. This type of evaluation gives rise to the opportunity to harm the other person or people and do so without any kind of connection to feelings and needs, ours or the others – after all, they were less than human. I refer to this as space invaders mentality. You remember that game? Space invaders were coming to earth from outer space and you as the player had to save the earth by destroying all the space invaders. It was alright to do this because they were not human and they were the evil ones invading our planet. We have been trained to have this attitude toward someone we deem to be our enemy. They are less than us and “deserve” any punishment we can give to them. The author of this text understood this was not the response that Christ attempted to communicate with those around him. However, the author did somewhat of the same concept theology. The author demanded that “we” love our enemy. He goes even a step further by stating not only love your enemy but also be perfect. The conjunction would be that if we love our enemy we are on our way to perfection. The concept seems to be if we practice what we deem to be “Christ-like” behavior then we will be more Christ like.   It sounds as though the author is experiencing fear and truly wanted to contribute to those around him and those who would read this text.

Empathic Translation

Matthew 5:43-48

You have been trained and taught to love only those who you think love you and to hate those you have judged to be lesser than you because of something they have done that you have evaluated as wrong. But I say to you, when you are connected to your feelings and needs you are able to see the other person in a different light. You realized that you connect with the divine when you connect with the other person. Life happens to everyone, when we connect to ourselves and others we have our “reward” we are in the presence of the Divine – we are able to experience the Divine within and to see the Divine in the other and everyone’s needs are met. There is no enemy, there is compassion and love. That is Divine and that is perfection.

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A Paradigm Shift

Indiana is in the news with the Religious Freedom law signed into effect by Gov. Pence. There has been a backlash from different groups pledging to boycott the state. Both sides of this issue are pushing at each other. Neither side seems to be hearing anything but demands. Both groups appear to be demanding their lifestyles be respected.

If we look at this scenario with empathy, we can start to guess at what each side is feeling and needing. On the one side there are conservative Christians. They have been brought up in a belief system that sees the gay lifestyle as evil. Not only that, but if they were to support that lifestyle bad things would happen, either in this life or the next. Some of these people own businesses that directly interface with weddings. With the legalization of gay marriage, they are now being asked to become involved in business transactions that they have been taught are immoral. Most likely they are feeling fear and anger at being placed, in their eyes, between a rock and a hard place. They either provide services for actions that run against their strongly held beliefs, or see their ability to support their family threatened.

On the other hand there is a group of people who identify with a lifestyle that has been ostracized in much of the world for a very long time. It has only been recently in this country that someone who identifies with anything but the heterosexual lifestyle has been able to experience support in coming out. They have a deep longing to be able to be open and honest about who they are, and experience some fairness and safety about this. They just want to experience the same things heterosexuals have; the ability to love someone openly, to get married, to have a family, to have benefits of a job applied to their family and to be able to support their families in all the same arenas. They want to be valued and respected for who they are.

Marshall Rosenberg taught that if we can meet each other in an empathic way, everyone’s needs can be met. He also realized that demands always have a cost. The best way to have everyone’s needs met is through a natural giving of the heart, not a demand. A law is a demand. There are obvious parallels to the struggle for racial equality and the struggle for sexual orientation equality. In both cases there is such fear and anger about a perceived change. The answer in the case of racial equality was a demand. Laws were enacted to force desegregation. There were obviously beneficial results to this, and I also believe we are still paying the price for it. Racism was simply driven underground.

I wonder where we would be as a nation if we had used a different, more empathic paradigm. If we had tried to understand what each of us were feeling and needing. What if rather than forcing desegregation, those of us who did support it would make even more efforts to do so. We would choose to send our children to a desegregated school, we would support desegregated businesses, we would do whatever we could to support the people experiencing the unfairness of the time. At the same time, we wouldn’t force the people who couldn’t do this to do so. We would also hold an open heart to hear their struggle and needs about this change. We wouldn’t let it go, we would continue to ask to have our needs heard as well. But we would have the patience to continue to hear the others, until they were finally heard so well, and felt safe enough, to start to hear what we were feeling and needing. I wonder if we would still be experiencing, as a nation, the amount of racism we still have.

This is something we could do today for the struggle for equality regarding sexual orientation. Rather than enact laws, or respond with demands, we could try to understand the others. We could hold a safe, open space to really hear their feelings and needs. We could become creative in finding ways to support equality with as little stimulation for the other side as possible. I believe that in the end, empathy and love works. Let’s talk.

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Pastoral Therapy


I witnessed an exchange this week that I thought was an interesting view into Christianity in America. I was examining a newborn baby in a mother’s hospital room when there was a knock at the door. An older woman stuck her head in and announced she was from Pastoral Therapy. She saw me and said she could see the mother was busy and she would come back. The mother responded that wasn’t necessary, she didn’t need to see the Pastoral Therapist, who then proceeded to tell her that she would pray for her. The mother appeared to me to look uncomfortable and said thank you and again reiterated she didn’t need the services.

It’s very helpful to look at this through a feeling and needs lens. I also have been a Christian minister’s wife for many years and so I have my own understanding of what was going on with this exchange. The underlying story in Christianity is that we are all sinners destined for separation from God unless we accept that Jesus died for our sins and is our savior. This story drives a very strong need to help save others. Who would want anyone to be eternally damned? With this story how could we possibly be open to letting others have the life experience they choose?

The empathic connection with others is when we want to hear what is going on for another person. What are they feeling and needing? It is a gift when they want to let us in that way. It is a request on our part that allows for that connection. Would you like me to hear what is alive for you right now? Would you like to hear what is alive for me?

When the Pastoral Therapist opened that door I heard a demand, not a request. I think the mother did also. I heard someone with a very strong need to contribute, after all that is her job. She is supposed to make sure everyone speaks with her and has some prayer.

I think most people want to have someone listen to them, care about them. But that is their gift to us; they are allowing us to contribute to them. That is our request. We have to be willing to hear a “no”. We have to be willing to honor the path they are on, not to want to change them. I am longing to see those working in the spiritual arena, in particular, have wonderful connections with people. In this situation neither one of these people were heard; nor was there any connection.

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Shame, Humiliation, Guilt and Embarrassment

Brene Brown, a shame and empathy researcher, talks about shame, humiliation, guilt and embarrassment. In a nutshell, shame means I am bad, guilt means I’ve done something bad, humiliation means something bad has happened to me and I didn’t deserve it, and embarrassment means something bad happened to me that often happens to other people. Do you see the common thread running through all of this; the word “bad”. This word is an evaluative word. We have spent our lives assigning evaluation to situations: good, bad or some variation in between. Marshall Rosenberg talks about observing rather than evaluation. For example, if I discover that I’ve been walking around the mall with my skirt stuck in the back of my panty hose, that is an observation. If I tell myself that people have been laughing at me about this, that’s a story; and if my belief is that it’s a bad thing to be laughed at without that being your intention that’s an evaluation.

So what is common about the concepts that Brene Brown has been observing and researching is that they are constructs. In other words, there wouldn’t be shame, humiliation, guilt and embarrassment if we hadn’t decided that certain situations are bad. What’s more important about these concepts is they keep us from being whole. In other words, who would want to believe they are bad? I can’t be happy if I believe I’m bad. I will do everything I can to protect myself from that. That will include not taking responsibility for actions I may have done that have hurt others or myself.

Because we believe we are bad we have broken ourselves. We spend our lives trying to avoid that part of ourselves. How can we be happy? Marshall Rosenberg reminds us we did the best we could with the tools we had in the situation. It has absolutely nothing to do with who we are. We can look back and gain understanding of why we made the choices we did, which anyone else in that same situation would have chosen to do, and we can give ourselves empathy. We can own that part of ourselves again. We can become whole. We can also give that empathy to others.

stained glass person

If I am going to love my whole self just the way I am, I am going to have to appreciate the path I took to get here, because I wouldn’t be who I am without having taken that path.

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The Fearless Life

I’m appreciating everyday the process I’ve learned with NVC to become free of some of the fear in my life. My goal is to have a happier life, and that won’t happen in a life full of fear, so I’m working on decreasing the fear in my life. I found this writing to be very helpful in clarifying some of the thoughts around this. Beliefs play a major role in our fear. We have a natural, innate fear of certain things that has been built into our brain. This is related to actual, physical harm.

We have learned over our lifespan to fear things that aren’t related to physical harm. These are related to beliefs. When we experience shame, embarrassment, anxiety, any number of feelings related to unmet needs, we become fearful of experiencing that again. We learn to be afraid of the situation that stimulated those feelings. What’s important to remember are the beliefs we had about that situation formed our perspective that lead us to believe our needs weren’t being met. For example, if I’m a child who is called on in class to answer a question, and I don’t know the answer, and I’ve been taught to believe that I’m not a competent person, a person of worth, unless I know the answer, I will feel shame. I will believe there is something wrong with me. I won’t want to experience that again. I will become afraid of having an experience like that again and will change my behavior somehow to try to avoid this. That is a trap because we are just validating that belief by trying harder to know everything. However, if I have learned that what I know, say and do has nothing to do with my value as a person, I will experience that situation differently.

Fear is one of the strongest teachers, and we have figured that out. If I can connect a behavior I want to change in you to fear, I will probably be very successful at that change. That is the crux of punishment in children. If I can make a consequence of some behavior so uncomfortable that the child develops a fear of having that ever happen again, I will be successful at changing that behavior. Unfortunately our learned fears over a lifetime actually lead to an unhappier life.

The real key to happiness is to uncover those beliefs that are driving your perceptions. When you begin to understand that perhaps you have a deep, hidden belief that if you make a mistake you are not a worthy person, or if you make a mistake you will loose something very valuable to you, or if you make people unhappy there is something wrong with you; you will begin to let go of these and become happier. It is so freeing to instead develop the belief that you are worthy just as you are, that you are responsible only for your intentions, not for the responses of others.

In the diagram below you can see how fear drives behaviors. As you can see from the diagram however, it’s the perception of the threat that is core to the problem. When you feel yourself experiencing fear or anxiety you can do two things that will really help you in the long run. First face the issue or focus, and that involves feeling the feelings involved with this no matter how painful. By doing this you will self-connect, which in itself leads you to relief or peace. The second is to step back, understand what you are doing, and find the beliefs that are leading you to the unmet needs that are stimulating the feelings. This will help you understand what your perception is. The red lines were the piece missing from that diagram. Without changing your perception, although you can get relief from that situation, you are doomed to repeat it. By changing your beliefs you can stop the entire process and become happier.

paths of fear

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I’m Never Wrong

I recently came across a mother of a child who had a concern that he was having difficulty having empathy for others. Her example was he was running across the playground at full speed and knocked a girl over, not intentionally. When he was stopped and it was pointed out about the little girl, his response was he was just running and she got in his way. I believe the expectation was he would apologize and feel some sorrow for what had happened to the little girl. So mom was concerned about his inability to have that response.

I had suggested the mom find opportunities to practice empathy with her child, such as when watching movies or TV, or looking at books, to pause and have her child try to imagine what the other person might be feeling. I now regret that advice. I want to remember that self-empathy needs to precede empathy for others.

I believe that if we have a hard time having empathy for others, perhaps even being able to regret something we have done, that’s the time for self-exploration. What are we feeling, needing and thinking. Our beliefs will drive our needs. In other words, if I believe that if I make a mistake, people won’t love/like me, I will find it very hard to “make a mistake”. However, if I can understand that: (1) everything we do is to meet a need as best we can, and (2) there are no mistakes, everything happens for a reason; I can be much more open to seeing things without having to protect myself.


I wish I had been able to help this mother understand that her child is doing the best he can to protect himself for some reason. That the most helpful thing she could do would be to help her child explore what he is feeling, thinking and needing at that moment.

Here’s another example, my grandson was visiting and was told by his mother FIVE times not to play a certain video game. What did he do? He played it, and then of course he got in trouble and lost the ability to play any video games. What was going on for him? This isn’t the first time he has pushed his mother’s buttons, or stimulated her. He does that frequently. But pushing someone until they respond with anger is not a need. I’m guessing he wanted to be able to make his own choices about the game. Of course he couldn’t tell his mother “I don’t care what you say, I’m going to play the game” so instead he said “I forgot”.

What I would like to find out though, is why was it so important to make a choice about that? What does he believe about making choices? Is he afraid if he doesn’t make a choice about this he won’t be able to make choices in the future? Does he believe that making choices is something everyone should be able to do? Or perhaps playing this game gives him some respite from other emotions he is feeling. What does playing the game give him, and why would he choose that even knowing trouble awaits? There is so much exploration to do with my grandson to help him understand himself.

This is the real basis of empathy for others, self-empathy.

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Unpacking the Baggage


It is amazing how much baggage we all carry. By that I mean how many beliefs we have that we aren’t even aware of. The beliefs that we have spent a lifetime accumulating, many that we just accepted without consideration, and that drive our every thought and action. The way to start uncovering those beliefs is to start with situations that stimulate strong emotions, any kind of emotion. Believe me, there are many during any day.

For example, let’s talk about people being “fat”. I think this is a word that stimulates something in everyone in our culture, no matter what your size. We can’t help it. We have been raised in a culture focused on the size of people and judging what is a good size and what isn’t. This came up for me when I read an article someone had written about the fact that she had written about marriage and included a wedding photo of herself in the article. She had so many comments about how “fat” she was in the photo. She does a wonderful job of exploring her personal fears and judgment about that photo.

I know I have my own self-judgment about whether or not I’m fat. And I struggle with judging others on their size. This is a red flag that I need to starting digging and unpacking this concept. One of the things I love about non-violent communication as taught by Marshall Rosenberg is you learn tools to help you start unpacking this baggage. Tools that are non-judgmental, because the last thing I need to do is not only judge myself about my own size, but judge myself about how I think about size.

In using these tools the first thing you do is identify what you are feeling about this. This can be an exercise in itself for many people. Believe it or not, many of us have learned over our lives not to feel; to ignore feelings. If you are struggling to identify emotions, start with actual physical feelings in your body. They are a great place to lead you to emotions. For example, maybe you feel a fluttering in your stomach, perhaps that is actually anxiousness. Or maybe you feel a tightness in your throat, that could be fear or anger.

So start with these feelings. Then identify what unmet needs are attached to these feelings. Again, say I feel a flutter in my stomach when I think about people being “fat”, and I decide yes, that is anxiousness. Ok, what am I needing regarding that anxiousness. Maybe acceptance. Well what thought is causing me not to have acceptance? Maybe I think unless I’m the “right size” I won’t be accepted. Now I’m getting somewhere. I can look at that belief and start to really explore it. How did I get that belief? What does it mean to me? You may have some really strong feelings with this exploration. Go ahead and experience them.

Or I may realize I’m feeling frustration about people being “fat”. Have a conversation with yourself about this. What need/s are not met regarding this? You are telling yourself these people aren’t healthy. They are going to have a heart attack. So bring that back to yourself. What does that mean for you? Maybe you are telling yourself that someone is going to have to take care of them when that happens. Maybe you are telling yourself that you have to take care of them and you want some choice in that decision. It could be many things, but your reaction to their “fatness” isn’t about them, it’s about you. Again, with NCV, you can start to unpack that baggage.

Why would you want to unpack the baggage? Because, the baggage is what keeps you from being present in the moment fully. The baggage is the story you tell yourself that pulls you from the moment. The baggage is what keeps you from connecting to that person in an empathic way. Believe me, you want to unpack the baggage so you can go out and enjoy the present moment! I’m wishing everyone a wonderful year of unpacking baggage!


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Empathy, the new buzz word.

I’ve been watching the news lately regarding empathy. There are lots of articles, here, here and here, for example, about how to help our children develop empathy. I see a longing to help our children have more empathic lives; to act in compassionate, caring ways. But I see something missing.

If we define empathy as being able to walk in someone else’s shoes, to understand their perspective, we are missing self-empathy. I believe that we have to experience self-empathy before we have the capacity to be open to empathy with others. I would love to see this focus with our children.

We can use the same activities. For instance, if I decide to take my child to a mental health museum, rather than talking about what it must have been like for the people in that institution, I would talk with my child about the feelings and needs this brings up for my child. This is a great way to get at some beliefs my child might have, and to explore those. It’s the self-awareness that I would be going for. I might then find there are some beliefs or thoughts my child has about themselves that causes them to feel uncomfortable. Then I can help them with self-empathy.

Empathy is pure presence according to Marshall Rosenberg. We bring nothing from our own past into that moment. We are entirely present and open to the other person. I find it’s helpful to take the time to work on self-awareness. The more clear you get about yourself, the more you explore what stimulates strong feelings in yourself and follow those feelings to the underlying beliefs, the more you release yourself from the judgments attached to those beliefs, the easier it will be to be completely present with others without bringing anything from your past.

The more grounded we become in self-empathy, the more clear we get on our own beliefs and the more adept we get at loving ourselves, accepting ourselves, the more open we will be to loving and accepting others.


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I was working with a friend this week that had an intensely emotional exchange with another person. My friend told me she had “made” this person feel angry.

angry cat

Let’s be clear on this. We NEVER make another person feel anything. We are 100% responsible for our intentions in what we say and do, and 0% responsible for how that is received by another person. This is so important to understand at the depths of our souls if we want to stay open to another person’s discomfort. Her intent had been to gain some understanding and perhaps help this person. Whatever she had said, or did, simply stimulated unmet needs in the other person. If we start to take responsibility for that, our goal now becomes to “make it better”, to apologize, and the focus is now on us, not on them. This won’t lead to empathy and connection with the other person.

If the other person is expressing their unmet needs as anger, and they are directing that towards us, it can be very difficult to stay self-connected, to have the ability to be open to a connection with them. We would need to excuse ourselves from the situation and gain some self-empathy. Perhaps we just need some understanding ourselves that we just wanted to help, or gain understanding. Our intentions were not to cause harm or distress. Once we can self-connect we may be able to go back to the person and start again. To be open to what is going on for them, and to help them self-connect. We may at this point be such a stimulus for that person, that it won’t be possible for us to continue our dialogue at that time. But we need to remember that stimulating something in another person does not mean we caused it, or are responsible for it.

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