NVC, cognitive ableism, and abuse




Nonviolent Communication can hurt people




People who struggle interpersonally, who seem unhappy, or who get into a lot of conflicts are often advised to adopt the approach of Nonviolent Communication.

This is…

ischemgeek said:

This. Other issues is that NVC can be used by abusers to abuse… “nonviolently.” Especially if you’re standing up for yourself to them.

Like by using their I-statements to redirect from the issue to them. Like, if I’m saying, “Please don’t [x] because [y],” then the abusive NVC user responds with an I-statement about how hurt they feel about what I just said. Suddenly I’m the bad guy for telling them not to [touch me, interrupt me, roughhouse, etc].

Or using their I-statements to gaslight. I say, “Please don’t [x] because [y],” and they respond with an I-statement about how they feel attacked when I “yell” even though I wasn’t yelling. And then the conversation is suddenly about whether or not I was yelling at them, not about the thing I’m trying to get them to stop doing. And again, I’m the bad guy for establishing a boundary.

Or using their I-statements to engage in ableism and tone policing. “I don’t like being spoken to in such a harsh tone.” when I can’t word something any differently because I’m trying to hold off a meltdown. And then convo is redirected to whether or not I’m being “too harsh” and away from “I need to get out of this situation yesterday,” however I phrased it.

And ableism in that they don’t accept that sometimes it’s hard to impossible to phrase stuff in a NVC-acceptable way. On a bad word day, something like 70% of my conversational brainpower is focused on getting the mouth to make the word-sounds in the order, volume, cadence and smoothness that makes the gist of what I need to communicate understood. The remainder of my conversational brainpower is about evenly split between understanding what the other person is saying and trying to figure out how to phrase something so that I can get it out of my uncooperative mouth. NVC phrasing is almost always wordier, more oblique, and therefore harder to conceptualize and say than direct/blunt phrasing. On a bad words day I don’t have any brainpower left over to figure out how to phrase things tactfully/gently. If I stumble onto it because it’s in a preexisting script that I think I can say, great. If not, communication > etiquette. I will point and say “Shut it” about a fume hood sash at work, even if it’s blunt to the point of rudeness, if it’s what I can say at the time. Because the alternative is dangerous at my work. NVC does not as a philosophy allow for this being a situation that might happen.

It’s also harder to parse what the other person is actually wanting from me in the conversation when they choose to hint and talk around it with NVC (e.g., “I’m sensing anger” can mean “Did I upset you?” or “Are you angry?” or “Why are you angry?” or “Is something bothering you?” or “am I misreading your body language?” or “I don’t like your tone of voice.”). When I’m in a high-stress time, I’m unable to correctly parse body language and subtext. I will misread what the other person is hinting at, and then they get annoyed when I don’t follow their lead in the social dance. When I’m stressed, I’m either oblivious to or I’m hearing only part of the metaphorical music, and therefore I can’t follow the subtleties and intricacies of what they want me to do. NVC also does not as a philosophy allow for this being a situation that might happen - I need direct, explicit, and downright blunt-to-the-point-of-rude communication at times. NVC practitioners (for want of a better word) have a tendency to assume I’m being purposefully obtuse at such times, when in reality I’m just not understanding what they’re trying to get at.

Lastly: I’m a survivor of various forms of abuse. Learning how to judge my abusers for their abuse was a necessary part of the healing process. NVC takes the assumption that it “takes two” to have a blow-up about something. And in some cases, it does. But in other cases, NVC is a philosophy of victim-blaming.

It did not take two when I was being sexually harassed by a kid over twice my age on the school bus. It took him. Choosing someone to victimize. It did not take two when someone held me by the throat as they put a hole through the wall beside my head. It took that person, choosing to victimize me. It did not take two when I had kids slam my head in the locker and beat me while I lay on the ground stunned and counting stars out of the blue, for no reason other than that they thought it would be funny. It took my bullies choosing to victimize me. Judging their actions as wrong and harmful and just plain mean let me learn to stop blaming myself when it was done to me. And that, in turn, opened me to taking more radical action, which I eventually did upon graduating high school.

Judgement is a necessary skill when you’re in an abusive situation. Full stop. You need to judge others so that you can stop victim-blaming yourself and stop believing that if you’re just perfect enough - if you fit in enough, if your hair and clothes are good enough, if you’re well behaved enough, if your marks are good enough, if you practice physical coordination enough, if you never even sneeze wrong or breathe funny - you won’t be abused anymore. That won’t happen. You will never be perfect enough for them. I could walk on water, and they would call me a r***** for not knowing how to swim. And it’s not my fault. It’s theirs, for choosing to victimize.

Learning how to judge, and that judgement is okay in some situations, even necessary in some situations, allowed me to leave those abusive situations. Expressing my judgement of their actions allowed me to establish boundaries in a way that was unmistakable by bystanders. And it got others to acknowledge and more importantly learn from my experiences. A school-aged relative of mine did not have a bullying situation in school go unchecked because I expressed my judgement of how my parents handled my bullying situation in school. My parents were hurt by my words, I’m sure. But that relative was saved years of torment. I tried with I-statements, I really did. And they didn’t work. And I tried talking about the scientific studies on the harms of bullying. And that didn’t work. What worked was sitting down with the kid’s parents and telling them in so many words (I rehearsed it a lot so I’d be able to get it out right the first time), “Your child will hate you in ten years if you don’t do something about this now. Not in a month or two in case it gets better. It’s been going on for months. It won’t get better. It will just get worse if you don’t do something, and in a month it might be too little too late. Trust me on this. You need to do something now. I was in [kid]’s shoes when I was that age, and by the time I was a teenager, I hated my parents with a passion for not doing anything about it when I was a kid. Don’t ignore it and pretend it’ll go away. Do something. Even if it doesn’t work, [kid] will know you’re there and trying, and that means something. “

NVC is a good tool for certain situations. But it is not and should not be the only tool. If it doesn’t work, you need to have something else to turn to. To use a metaphor: If all you have is a hammer, you’ll wreck your damn plumbing when you try to tighten a nut. Likewise, if all you have is NVC, you’ll make the situation worse when forceful verbal action is required.

youneedacat said:

Oh gods the first fourth-grade teacher I ever had (I repeated the grade)… he always said “it takes two to tango” or “it takes two to tangle” or something.  I didn’t have the language skills to parse out what that meant, but it always consisted of this girl beating me up or otherwise bullying me and then him forcing us to “talk it over” while she cried sweet little crocodile tears about getting caught and the teacher would tell me “Look at her, she’s CRYING,” as if that meant any damn thing at all.