Hidden Demands

iraqA sample of “should” headlines about Iraq within 12 hours.

According to Marshall Rosenberg, the most effective form of communication involves requests. Not demands, requests. With a request I am honestly open to a negative reply. If that’s not OK, it’s a demand. With a request I give the other person the opportunity to contribute to my needs willingly. They will get their own need of contribution met. I’m actually giving them the gift of allowing them to contribute to me. The same holds true when someone requests something of me. I get to experience the joy of giving to that person.

With a demand that opportunity to choose to give to someone else has been taken away. Even if I would have wanted to do it anyway, I no longer get the same joy. And you no longer have the opportunity to appreciate what I’ve given. Now it’s just expected. No choice involved, no appreciation.

Whenever we want something we can choose to demand it, or request it. There will always be a cost in the demand. We may not see it, but it will be there somewhere. It will cost either of us, or both of us. Demands are more likely to meet resistance. There are times we may not be able to see how we can do anything but demand. But knowing there is a cost allows us to really consider whether we want to demand or not.

Demands come in disguises. One of the most common disguises is a “should” demand. This one even allows you to acknowledge the cost, but not be responsible for the demand. If “everyone” knows you “should” do something, it’s out of your hands, right? This illusion allows us to try to avoid responsibility. For example, you see a piece of chocolate cake and tell yourself, “I shouldn’t eat that.” Perhaps you have thoughts that it’s not healthy, or it has too many calories, but you have made an evaluation about the cake and yourself.

What’s interesting about this example is it explains why it can be so hard to “diet”. When you tell yourself you shouldn’t eat something, it’s really a demand, disguised as a “should”. You can cloak it in all the nice reasons why it’s true, but if it’s a demand you have taken away your opportunity to choose. More than likely you will eat the cake, just because you “shouldn’t”. You don’t give yourself the chance to freely contribute to yourself.

Dr Rosenberg teaches us to look at the feelings and needs involved, and then make a request. Perhaps I’m feeling sad because I’ve told myself I weigh too much, I’m not healthy, and I need some relief from that self-judgment. Many of us live with a constant underlying chatter to ourselves about what is wrong with us, and just want some relief from that. If instead we could just say to ourselves “I’m so tired of thinking I don’t look right, and believing that if I eat certain foods I will look right. I just want to be OK for a minute. I’m wondering if I could enjoy eating this cake and not judge myself for that choice?”

That conversation opens the possibility of making a truly free and conscious decision.

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