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Compassionate Communication: The Powerful Practice of Naming and Owning Our Reactivity

Submitted by on October 9, 2011 – 5:48 pm

By LaShelle Lowe-Chardé

[Note: This style of communication is also known as Non Violent Communication. Ed.]

You know you are in reaction when you experience one or more of these things:

-You feel your shoulders get tight (or any part of you contracts)
-You start to talk louder and faster
-Your mind starts to go fuzzy
-You shut down and feel paralyzed
-Irritation and anger arise
-You criticize yourself or others
-You think in extremes (always, never)
-You feel defensive and start explaining yourself

-Your body either freezes or becomes very active

Reactions are difficult, but the reaction itself is not the most difficult thing.  Choosing to behave from it as though it were real is where the trouble starts.   When you behave from reaction as though it were real, others tend to do the same and react to your reaction.  Before you know it you are in a disconnected spiral.

The biggest gift you can give to yourself and those close to you is to accept and own your reactions.

For me this is a constant practice.  I had an incredibly balanced week last week; lots of mindfulness, rest, exercise, connection, meaningful work, and play.  Still there were times of reactivity.  My jackals really got on my case.  They were convinced that having such a balanced week I should not have any reactivity.  Again I had to ground myself in the practice of accepting reactivity.  It helps me to consider that reactivity is born from this whole life time and many life times past.  It’s a freight train of habit energy moving through and sometimes the best I can do is jump off the tracks and watch it until it passes.

Letting the freight train of reactivity go by means first noticing the symptoms of reactivity and then labeling it for yourself and, if someone is with you, for them.  You might say something like, “I just noticed I am reacting to something.  Give me a moment.”  Or  “I am triggered.  I need to take a moment.”

After labeling the reactivity you engage the part of you that just witnesses.  Take some time to sit still and notice all the sensations, thoughts, images, and impulses, without taking any action from them.  You might find that it is easier to do this when you can tell yourself “I am reacting and that’s okay.  It’s okay to react.  (It’s okay to feel nervous, anxious, panicky, angry, defensive, etc.).

If the reaction is a familiar one that you have worked through in the past, you might find it most effective to just feel it until it passes without letting your mind get involved.  If a reaction is a surprise, it’s helpful to track down the trigger event, name your interpretation of that event, and identify the feelings and needs underneath.

When you can take these steps in the face of reaction, life gets a little easier for you and for those around you.  When your partner or someone close to you sees you react and then sees you take responsibility for it in this way, they can breath a sigh of relief that they won’t be the target for reactive energy and words.

This week start this process by noting the symptoms of reaction (listed above) each time they pop up and then take three breaths to feel the sensations before moving on to the next thing.

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Class Series for Couples- Managing Reactivity & Building Trust with Compassionate Communication

You and your partner have been trying to make a change in your relationship. You’re committed and yet, more times than you would like, you can’t find a new way when you need it. You feel frustrated seeing how an interaction could happen, but doesn’t. Read more »

When: Tuesdays 6:30pm – 8:30pm for 6 weeks beginning October 11th, 2011

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