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Self-Empathy Practice

Self-Empathy is about listening to our internal experience, and describing it with words. The process outlined here is based on Compassionate Communication -- also known as Nonviolent Communication (NVC), which has four main elements: Observations, Feelings, Needs and Requests (OFNR). Observations and Requests can be written on a journal or on a note card stuck on the fridge. The Feelings and Needs are identified on the Heart-Canvas.

1. Something pleasant or painful happened that stimulated feelings. The stimulus could be an internal judgment that I'm having about myself or others. In NVC we recognize that others can provide a stimulus to us, but are never the cause. This step forms the beginning of an "experience thread."

"When we combine observation with evaluation, we decrease the likelihood that others will hear our intended message." - Marshall Rosenberg [NVC Chapter Three: Observing Without Evaluating, p. 26]

2. Observation: pick a color from the gems/pins provided with your Heart-Canvas -- it's helpful to have a writing utensil of the same color, or write the name of the color on a post-it note, index card or journal. Write what happened (as if recorded by a video camera). Be specific; this represents the start of the experience thread. Next to the color, describe the moment when something of interest happened to you. Typically, you've experienced some intense feeling(s) -- the invitation here is to describe the stimulus of the feeling(s). If you have an evaluation about something that happened, you can type "I'm telling myself <evaluation>..." Getting clear with the observation allows us to get closer to the truth of our experience. Keep it brief – just list the facts!

For example, Blue - this morning I reserved the address for my website

"Observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence" - J. Krishnamurti

3. Feelings: using the left-side of the canvas, place glass gems/pins in the chosen color on the feeling words that best describe how you feel. Note that feelings are neither good nor bad, they just tell us how well our needs are being satisfied.

For example: the top left side of the picture below shows the blue gem on “Inspired.”

sample placement of glass gems on the Heart-Canvas

"The mature person becomes able to differentiate feelings into as many nuances, strong and passionate experiences, or delicate and sensitive ones as in the different passages of music in a symphony" - Rollo May

4. Needs: using the right-side of the canvas, place glass gems/pins on needs associated with the feelings; mourn and celebrate the beauty of needs. In NVC, we recognize that our feelings are directly related to our needs being met or not. We mourn when our needs are not met, and we get to celebrate when our needs are met - this is the cause for feelings.

For example: see the upper right side of the picture above shows blue gems on "Contribution" and "Collective Learning"

"Our needs are living energy in us seeking fulfillment" - Linda Green

5. Request: formulate an action step and write it below your observation. Ponder the significance of the Experience Thread you just identified. Pay particular attention to the Needs and notice if any action requests surface. Often, when we get to this level of self-awareness, a clear and doable action – a request of yourself or others might bubble to the surface. Write anything that comes up in your journal in the form of a question: “Would I be willing to __________________ ?” It is convenient to use the acronym WIBW as shorthand for our request of ourselves. Being willing is often enough to create action for ourselves. Making it a demand often creates internal discord which goes against our need for autonomy, choice and going with the flow.

"Making requests in clear, positive, concrete action language reveals what we really want." - Marshall Rosenberg [NVC: Chapter Six - Requesting That Which Would Enrich Life, p. 70]

Another example experience thread is shown in the picture above in Red. The Observation: "my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease yesterday." The Heart-Canvas shows that I'm feeling sad, concerned and worried around my needs for caring, support and ease.

Check out another version of self-empathy: Empathy for the Educator and Chooser within ourselves.

If you haven't started already, this is a good time to begin reading the book “Nonviolent Communication - A Language of Life” by Marshall Rosenberg.