Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A new monetary system: The NVC Pain Exchange (NVCPE)

Over my twelve years of learning, practicing and sharing Nonviolent Communication (NVC), I have noticed some common tendencies in NVC communities.

With some degree of trepidation (which I will explain in a moment), I suggest that one of these tendencies is what I playfully refer to as the, "NVC Pain Exchange (NVCPE)."

This is a playful variation of the "New York Stock Exchange (NYSE)," a famous entity for trading and valuing stocks, bonds and other financial products.

The NVC Pain Exchange enables and perpetuates groups of people to get together and recycle and exchange pain with each other, all in the name of compassion.

Here is a common scene: People experience NVC and are deeply moved by it. Many of them -- and this includes myself -- have never before received genuine empathy or non-judgmental presence from others.

Naturally, these people develop relationships with each other in community, and seek each other out to offer empathy to one another about challenging and painful experiences they have had.

So far, so good. After all, I regard empathy as one of the most powerful abilities we have as human beings, in terms of being able to make in impact on the lives of others.

Sometimes, however, a little problem begins to develop: people who get together to offer each other empathy can get locked in their "pain bodies," as described by Eckhart Tolle (author of "The Power of Now" and, "A New Earth").

Tolle describes the pain body as "an accumulated pain that becomes a negative energy field that occupies your body and mind. The pain body wants to survive, just like every other entity in existence, and it can only survive if it gets you to unconsciously identify with it. It can then rise up, take you over, "become you," and live through you. It needs to get its "food" through you. It will feed on any experience that resonates with its own kind of energy, anything that creates further pain in whatever form: anger, destructiveness, hatred, grief, emotional drama, violence, and even illness."


This is what I meant about recycling, recirculating and exchanging pain under the guise of being compassionate and offering empathy to one another.

Using empathy as a catalyst for transformation of that which ails us is one thing; recirculating the pain (often by telling and re-telling the same old stories) with, and through, each other is yet another thing.

As Tolle suggests, the pain body thrives when we gather together and share our drama with each other! (at least without the explicit intention of transformation)

A Holistic, rather than Dualistic, Relationship to Needs

All of this further reminds me of the difference in holding needs in a dualistic vs. a holistic structure.

Often times, we refer to needs as being "unmet," with which pain and suffering is the automatic byproduct. Even when we receive empathy from others or ourselves about the unmet needs, if we are still in the dualistic construct of "met" versus "unmet" needs, the relief will most likely be temporary.

Instead, I encourage people to see needs non-dualistically, or holistically. A place where there is no "either-or", "good-bad", or even "better-worse."

If we are genuinely connected with the energy of our needs, we are in the flow of life itself. There isn't really any such thing as "unmet needs," per se.

As Dominic Barter, NVC trainer and creator of Restorative Circles, explains, needs are, "that inevitably produced by the nature of things, so that the contrary is impossible."

The contrary is impossible, which I take to mean that there is really no such thing as "unmet needs."

How could something that is inherently whole by its' very nature be non-whole?

A similar question: "How could we human beings see ourselves as anything less than whole beings? How could we see ourselves as anything less than spiritual beings having a human experience?"

I suspect that these questions are all related to each other!

Challenges with the NVC Pain Exchange

Another difficulty with the "Pain Exchange" is that while it might be OK if the expressed purpose of a gathering is to offer empathy to each other (e.g. an "Empathy Circle"), it quickly becomes exasperating for people who come to a business meeting where the goal is to get something accomplished.

This is a common challenge in NVC communities, as far as I can tell -- people come with different expectations of what will be occurring at a particular gathering.

Some people come with the expectation that empathy will be the primary focus, and that whenever anyone in the group experiences the slightest bit of discomfort about anything, the group stops whatever it's doing and offers that person empathy.

And then, if another person is triggered, offer them empathy until they "feel better." Before long, however, the very act of stopping progress in the meeting and offering empathy triggers those who come with the expectation that the focus of the gathering will be forward movement on projects.

And then, we see the breakdown of the meeting, people being in even more pain, and most everyone departing frustrated and discouraged about what happened.

Sometimes, I hear one person say something to the effect of, "Look, we can't just sit around and offer each other empathy; we need to get some things done here!"

To which another person responds, "But that's not NVC! That's just like they do it in corporate America! The reason I came to NVC is because we're more compassionate than that!"

My trepidation in bringing forward this dynamic that I see is about wanting to be seen for my real intention, and for acceptance.

I fear that people reading this post will have similar reactions as the above example. Something like, "Geez, Jeff is an NVC trainer? He's not very compassionate. He should be more compassionate to people who are in pain! After all, I'm sure he's been in pain before. I doubt he would want people analyzing and diagnosing him. He would probably want empathy! What is he trashing empathy for, anyway?"

Assuming that this is actually my inner voice projecting this -- which is almost always the case -- then I suppose I feel torn about this post and wishing for more understanding and insight into this phenomenon.

Which is why I posted this on a blog... so that you could comment!

So what do you think about what I've written here? Anything you'd care to share?


Anonymous said...

What I like about NVC is it's practicality. You loose me when you start bringing up Tolle and his made up "pain bodies" that "becomes a negative energy field"

Markus Castro said...

Hi Jeff!

I haven't made the same experience as you yet regarding the recycling process, and i can't fully connect to Eckarts teaching either.

However, the dynamic you describe about NVC Workgroups getting together with unclear and varying focuses and resulting conflicts is something that i witnessed in a group of NVC Trainers here in Germany almost exactly as you described it.
Have you made the experience of a working solution? How did you handle it?


Harlan said...

I loved it Jeff! It gives me a deeper understanding of the issue in the listserve where you referred to this blog.

By the way, I am re-entering the world of the living, moving along in my recovery after falling off my roof on Labor Day, almost dying. I'm not sure how to re-enter the world of RC and NVC in a way that will work for me. My recovery isn't fully complete yet.

Harlan Jphnsppn