nonviolent communication

Nonviolent Communication can hurt people

hobbitkaiju:

realsocialskills:

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 often not a good idea. Nonviolent Communication is an approach based on refraining from seeming to judge others, and instead expressing everything in terms of your own feelings. For instance, instead of “Don’t be such an inconsiderate jerk about leaving your clothes around”, you’d say “When you leave your clothing around, I feel disrespected.”. That approach is useful in situations in which people basically want to treat each other well but have trouble doing so because they don’t understand one another’s needs and feelings. In every other type of situation, the ideology and methodology of Nonviolent Communication can make things much worse.

Nonviolent Communication can be particularly harmful to marginalized people or abuse survivors. It can also teach powerful people to abuse their power more than they had previously, and to feel good about doing so. Non-Violent Communication has strategies that can be helpful in some situations, but it also teaches a lot of anti-skills that can undermine the ability to survive and fight injustice and abuse.

For marginalized or abused people, being judgmental is a necessary survival skill. Sometimes it’s not enough to say “when you call me slurs, I feel humiliated” - particularly if the other person doesn’t care about hurting you or actually wants to hurt you. Sometimes you have to say “The word you called me is a slur. It’s not ok to call me slurs. Stop.” Or “If you call me that again, I’m leaving.” Sometimes you have to say to yourself “I’m ok, they’re mean.” All of those things are judgments, and it’s important to be judgmental in those ways.

You can’t protect yourself from people who mean you harm without judging them. Nonviolent Communication works when people are hurting each other by accident; it only works when everyone means well. It doesn’t have responses that work when people are hurting others on purpose or without caring about damage they do. Which, if you’re marginalized or abused, happens several times a day. NVC does not have a framework for acknowledging this or responding to it.

In order to protect yourself from people who mean you harm, you have to see yourself as having the right to judge that someone is hurting you. You also have to be able to unilaterally set boundaries, even when your boundaries are upsetting to other people. Nonviolent Communication culture can teach you that whenever others are upset with you, you’re doing something wrong and should change what you do in order to meet the needs of others better. That’s a major anti-skill. People need to be able to decide things for themselves even when others are upset.

Further, NVC places a dangerous degree of emphasis on using a very specific kind of language and tone. NVC culture often judges people less on the content of what they’re saying than how they are saying it. Abusers and cluelessly powerful people are usually much better at using NVC language than people who are actively being hurt. When you’re just messing with someone’s head or protecting your own right to mess with their head, it’s easy to phrase things correctly. When someone is abusing you and you’re trying to explain what’s wrong, and you’re actively terrified, it’s much, much harder to phrase things in I-statements that take an acceptable tone.

Further, there is *always* a way to take issue with the way someone phrased something. It’s really easy to make something that’s really about shutting someone up look like a concern about the way they’re using language, or advice on how to communicate better. Every group I’ve seen that valued this type of language highly ended up nitpicking the language of the least popular person in the group as a way of shutting them up. 

tl;dr Be careful with Nonviolent Communication. It has some merits, but it is not the complete solution to conflict or communication that it presents itself as. If you have certain common problems, NVC is dangerous.

hobbitkaiju said:

Thank you so much for writing this. NVC was really helpful for me in learning to communicate better with my darling partners and most trusted friends, with whom I did sometimes need help in phrasing so that we wouldn’t hurt each other accidentally. I do still suggest NVC for that to people who are interested. But all these critiques are so valid and are issues I’ve been thinking about without being able to frame/verbalize/find words for until now. I really appreciate this. 

annekewrites:

Short version of the problem with Nonviolent Communication (NVC)

realsocialskills:

This is the short version of this post and this post:

  • In a conflict, sometimes one person is right and the other person is wrong
  • In such cases, it is important to judge the situation and figure out who is in the right
  • Emotional abuse exists
  • Working to meet an abuser’s emotional needs will…

annekewrites said:

Something I’d like to add:

Like any form of communication that is seen as “better than” some alternative, it creates barriers to actually communicating anything at all for at least some groups of people:

  • People who don’t know as many words to begin with, due to being younger, less educated, less experienced with a specific set of terminology, or whatever else
  • People who don’t know how to say things in English (or whatever language is being used) as well as they do in another language, especially if sentence structure works vastly differently in that language or if words didn’t quite translate properly
  • People who for whatever physical mental and/or developmental reasons have a harder time speaking (or writing, if that is the case instead) clearly or at all - even if they “know” the vocabulary, they might not be able to produce it on demand
  • If the conversation is spoken, people who have some sort of vocal quality that is stigmatized - whether it’s “too loud” or “too soft” or a “monotone” or a stigmatized accent or whatever else.

One of the things that I gave up as a result of getting a clue from my first MSW field placement is the practice of grammar snarking.  I had a field supervisor who is legally blind and who sometimes types the homonym of the word he actually meant without realizing it, because first of all, he can’t see what he wrote very well and secondly, the spellcheck doesn’t catch that necessarily.  I also had a colleague in the placement who had disability-related speech difficulties, and really it was more important to understand the content of what she was saying than it was for her to have to phrase it in some prescribed manner, especially one with lots of extra words.

This entire topic frustrates me so much - I, too, have been gaslit by people who seemed to think that if they just used the nice words it would disguise the unacceptable content, and who got very upset when they realized it didn’t work on me.

redhester:

Nonviolent Communication can hurt people

realsocialskills:

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 often not a good idea. Nonviolent Communication is an approach based on refraining from seeming to judge others, and instead…

redhester said:

i have experience with nonviolent communication trainings and people and see this form of communication as very dangerous. it is used to silence and shame in very gaslighting ways and i urge a ton of caution if you are dealing with someone who is trained in this style. these folks are often very skilled abusers and use the language of nonviolence to avoid any accountability for their conduct. 

Nonviolent Communication can be emotionally violent

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) culture facilitates abuse in part because NVC culture has very little regard for consent. (I said a little bit about this in my other post on ways NVC hurts people.) They call it nonviolent, but it is often a coercive and emotional violent kind of interaction. 

NVC has very different boundaries than are typical in mainstream interactions. Things that would normally be considered boundary violations are an expected and routine part of NVC dialoging.

That can be a good thing, in some contexts. There are settings where it can be very important to have different emotional boundaries than the default. To have intense engagement with people’s emotions. To hear out their emotions and state yours and try to refrain from judgement and just hear each other, and then talk together about what would meet your mutual needs.

In a NVC interaction, you have to regard your needs and the other person’s needs as equally important, no matter what they are. You have to regard their feelings and emotional reactions as equally valid and worth hearing as yours, no matter what they are. That is a good thing in some contexts, but it’s dangerous and deeply destructive in others.

That kind of interaction can be a good thing. I understand the value. But here’s the problem:

One way NVC can be abusive is that it supports coerced emotional intimacy, and coerced consideration of someone’s feelings even when their expressed feelings are abusive. This isn’t actually a good thing even when someone’s feelings are not problematic in and of themselves. Coerced emotional intimacy is a violation in and of itself, and it’s a violation that leaves people very vulnerable to greater violations.

I recently challenged an NVC advocate to answer this question:

Consider this situation:

An abuser has an emotional need for respect. He experiences it as deeply hurtful when his partner has conversations with other men. When she talks to other men anyway, he feels betrayed. He says “When you talk to other men, I feel hurt because I need mutual respect.”

Using NVC principles, how do you say that what he is doing is wrong?

This was their answer:

“You’ve described him as "an abuser”. Abusing people is wrong because a person with abusive behaviour doesn’t or can’t hold with equal care the needs of others.

Is he doing something wrong? Or is he being honest that he feels hurt when his partners talks to other men? His partner can become his ex-partner if she doesn’t agree to what he’s asking for.“

That, in a nutshell, is the problem with NVC philosophy. This abusive partner’s honest expression of his feelings is actually part of how he is abusing his partner. NVC has no way of recognizing the ways in which expression of genuinely felt emotions can be abusive. It also has no recognized way for someone to legitimately say "no, this is not a conversation I want to engage in” or “no, I don’t consider that feeling something I need to respond to or take into consideration.”

Part of what it would take for NVC to stop being an abusive culture it to recognize that NVC-style dialogue and emotional intimacy require consent every single time people interact that way.  Like sexual intercourse, this kind of emotional intercourse requires consent, every single time. Having a close relationship is not consent to NVC. Having a conflict is not consent. Anger is not consent. Having found NVC helpful in the past is not consent, either. Consent means that both parties agree to have this kind of interaction *in this specific instance*.

NVC can’t be the only kind of interaction allowed, even between people who are very close to one another. And it’s not ok to coerce people into it.

And yet, NVC culture is not careful about consent at all. NVC tactics are routinely used on people whether or not they agree to have that kind of interaction. (Some NVC advocates may say otherwise, particularly in response to criticism. But actions speak louder than words, and NVC proponents do not act in practice as though consent is important. They are case in point for When Your Right to Say No is Entirely Hypothetical) This is wrong. Emotional intimacy requires consent.

NVC practitioners express deeply felt emotions and needs to non-consenting others. They do this with the implied expectation that the other person experience their expressed feelings as very very important. They also expect that person to respond by expressing their feelings and needs in the same pattern. They also expect that person to refrain from judging the NVC proponent’s expressed feelings and needs. It is not ok to force this pattern on someone. Doing so is an act of emotional violence.

It’s not ok to force someone to be emotionally intimate with you. It is not ok to dump your deep feelings on someone with the expectation that they reciprocate. Other people get to decide what they want to share with you.

An example: White NVC proponents sometimes express feelings about their racist attitudes towards people of color, to people of color who have not consented to listening to this. They do so with the expectation that the person of color will listen non-judgmentally, appreciate the honesty, and share their intimate feelings about their experiences with racism as a person of color. This is a horrible thing to do to someone. It is an act of racist emotional violence.

NVC people also use empathy to violate boundaries. They imagine what someone must be feeling, name that feeling, and express empathy with it. Then they either insert a loaded pause in the conversation, or ask you to confirm or deny the feeling and discuss your actual reactions in detail. These are not really questions. They are demands. They do not take “I don’t want to discuss that” as an ok answer. They keep pushing, and imply that you lack emotional insight and are uninterested in honest communication if you don’t want to share intimate information about your feelings. That is coerced intimacy, and it’s not ok.

For instance, an NVC advocate with power over someone might say in response to a conflict with that person: I can see that this interaction is very difficult for you. I’m sensing a lot of anger. I’m saddened that your experiences with authority figures have been so negative. (Expectant pause). I think you are experiencing a lot of anger right now, is that right?

That is not ok. When you have power over someone, it is abusive to pressure them to discuss their intimate feelings rather than the thing they object to in your behavior towards them. Emotional intimacy requires consent; it is not ok to force it on someone as a way of deflecting conflict. And when you have a lot of power over someone and they aren’t in a position to assert a boundary unilaterally, you have a much greater obligation to be careful about consent.

NVC advocates may tell you that they are just trying to have an honest conversation, with the implication that if you want ordinary emotional boundaries, you are being dishonest and refusing to communicate. They are not right about this.

You do not have to be emotionally intimate with someone to listen to them, or to have an honest conversation. It is ok to have boundaries. It is ok to have boundaries that the person you’re talking with doesn’t want you to have. Not all interactions have to or should involve the level of intimacy that NVC demands. It is never ok for anyone to coerce you into emotional intimacy. Using NVC-style dialogue tactics on someone who does not consent is an act of emotional violence. 

deniseeliza:

realsocialskills:

sorenandjoey:

Nonviolent Communication can be emotionally violent

realsocialskills:

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) culture facilitates abuse in part because NVC culture has very little regard for consent. They call it nonviolent, but it is often a coercive and emotional violent kind of interaction.

sorenandjoey said:

Chilling is right, another response I’ve noticed that seems to be standard to any critique of NVC is the whole “oh well that was a misapplication of NVC, if you’d been doing it correctly that never would have happened”.

It’s been incredibly refreshing to see these posts and then reading the comments even though it’s sad to see how many people have been hurt by it, just being able to know I’m not the only person in the universe who rejects NVC has been so helpful, it’s just like my god, finally.

realsocialskills said:

NVC advocates say that to me a lot. Every single one of them who has ever said that has also quickly done the exact things I say are pervasive and awful in NVC culture.

They also often do a thing where, no matter what you say, they interpret it as though you have said something they agree with. NVC people can make it impossible to express disagreement with them and be heard. That is also an act of emotional violence.

deniseeliza said:

Thank you for this. THANK YOU. I lived with an NVC person and felt like I could never, ever make myself understood, and that I was always hurting her feelings no matter what I did. It always just seemed easiest to do whatever she said and not have any needs or opinions of my own whatsoever.

realsocialskills said:

I’m sorry she treated you that way. It was wrong. You are not alone.

Nonviolent Communication can be emotionally violent

fourloves:

realsocialskills:

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) culture facilitates abuse in part because NVC culture has very little regard for consent. (I said a little bit about this in my other post on ways NVC hurts people.) They call it nonviolent, but it is often a coercive and emotional violent kind of interaction. 

NVC has very different boundaries than are typical in mainstream interactions. Things that would normally be considered boundary violations are an expected and routine part of NVC dialoging.

That can be a good thing, in some contexts. There are settings where it can be very important to have different emotional boundaries than the default. To have intense engagement with people’s emotions. To hear out their emotions and state yours and try to refrain from judgement and just hear each other, and then talk together about what would meet your mutual needs.

In a NVC interaction, you have to regard your needs and the other person’s needs as equally important, no matter what they are. You have to regard their feelings and emotional reactions as equally valid and worth hearing as yours, no matter what they are. That is a good thing in some contexts, but it’s dangerous and deeply destructive in others.

That kind of interaction can be a good thing. I understand the value. But here’s the problem:

One way NVC can be abusive is that it supports coerced emotional intimacy, and coerced consideration of someone’s feelings even when their expressed feelings are abusive. This isn’t actually a good thing even when someone’s feelings are not problematic in and of themselves. Coerced emotional intimacy is a violation in and of itself, and it’s a violation that leaves people very vulnerable to greater violations.

I recently challenged an NVC advocate to answer this question:

Consider this situation:
An abuser has an emotional need for respect. He experiences it as deeply hurtful when his partner has conversations with other men. When she talks to other men anyway, he feels betrayed. He says “When you talk to other men, I feel hurt because I need mutual respect.”
Using NVC principles, how do you say that what he is doing is wrong?
This was their answer:
“You’ve described him as "an abuser”. Abusing people is wrong because a person with abusive behaviour doesn’t or can’t hold with equal care the needs of others.
 
Is he doing something wrong? Or is he being honest that he feels hurt when his partners talks to other men? His partner can become his ex-partner if she doesn’t agree to what he’s asking for.”

That, in a nutshell, is the problem with NVC philosophy. This abusive partner’s honest expression of his feelings is actually part of how he is abusing his partner. NVC has no way of recognizing the ways in which expression of genuinely felt emotions can be abusive. It also has no recognized way for someone to legitimately say “no, this is not a conversation I want to engage in” or “no, I don’t consider that feeling something I need to respond to or take into consideration.”

Part of what it would take for NVC to stop being an abusive culture it to recognize that NVC-style dialogue and emotional intimacy require consent every single time people interact that way.  Like sexual intercourse, this kind of emotional intercourse requires consent, every single time. Having a close relationship is not consent to NVC. Having a conflict is not consent. Anger is not consent. Having found NVC helpful in the past is not consent, either. Consent means that both parties agree to have this kind of interaction *in this specific instance*.

NVC can’t be the only kind of interaction allowed, even between people who are very close to one another. And it’s not ok to coerce people into it.

And yet, NVC culture is not careful about consent at all. NVC tactics are routinely used on people whether or not they agree to have that kind of interaction. (Some NVC advocates may say otherwise, particularly in response to criticism. But actions speak louder than words, and NVC proponents do not act in practice as though consent is important. They are case in point for When Your Right to Say No is Entirely Hypothetical) This is wrong. Emotional intimacy requires consent.

NVC practitioners express deeply felt emotions and needs to non-consenting others. They do this with the implied expectation that the other person experience their expressed feelings as very very important. They also expect that person to respond by expressing their feelings and needs in the same pattern. They also expect that person to refrain from judging the NVC proponent’s expressed feelings and needs. It is not ok to force this pattern on someone. Doing so is an act of emotional violence.

It’s not ok to force someone to be emotionally intimate with you. It is not ok to dump your deep feelings on someone with the expectation that they reciprocate. Other people get to decide what they want to share with you.

An example: White NVC proponents sometimes express feelings about their racist attitudes towards people of color, to people of color who have not consented to listening to this. They do so with the expectation that the person of color will listen non-judgmentally, appreciate the honesty, and share their intimate feelings about their experiences with racism as a person of color. This is a horrible thing to do to someone. It is an act of racist emotional violence.

NVC people also use empathy to violate boundaries. They imagine what someone must be feeling, name that feeling, and express empathy with it. Then they either insert a loaded pause in the conversation, or ask you to confirm or deny the feeling and discuss your actual reactions in detail. These are not really questions. They are demands. They do not take “I don’t want to discuss that” as an ok answer. They keep pushing, and imply that you lack emotional insight and are uninterested in honest communication if you don’t want to share intimate information about your feelings. That is coerced intimacy, and it’s not ok.

For instance, an NVC advocate with power over someone might say in response to a conflict with that person: I can see that this interaction is very difficult for you. I’m sensing a lot of anger. I’m saddened that your experiences with authority figures have been so negative. (Expectant pause). I think you are experiencing a lot of anger right now, is that right?

That is not ok. When you have power over someone, it is abusive to pressure them to discuss their intimate feelings rather than the thing they object to in your behavior towards them. Emotional intimacy requires consent; it is not ok to force it on someone as a way of deflecting conflict. And when you have a lot of power over someone and they aren’t in a position to assert a boundary unilaterally, you have a much greater obligation to be careful about consent.

NVC advocates may tell you that they are just trying to have an honest conversation, with the implication that if you want ordinary emotional boundaries, you are being dishonest and refusing to communicate. They are not right about this.

You do not have to be emotionally intimate with someone to listen to them, or to have an honest conversation. It is ok to have boundaries. It is ok to have boundaries that the person you’re talking with doesn’t want you to have. Not all interactions have to or should involve the level of intimacy that NVC demands. It is never ok for anyone to coerce you into emotional intimacy. Using NVC-style dialogue tactics on someone who does not consent is an act of emotional violence. 

fourloves said:

I love these posts, realsocialskills. And that quote is awful. Since when is “well, someone can just leave if they don’t like being abused” an adequate defense of abuse??

realsocialskills said:

Beyond that: it’s incredibly naive to think that an emotional abuser who considers their victim obligated to meet their needs will let their victim just walk away.

That kind of abuser is particularly likely to try to force their victim to listen to their needs and ~work things out~ long after they have left and made it clear that they do not welcome further contact.

youneedacat:

realsocialskills:

lexsplosion:

clatterbane:

Strong Glial Character: youneedacat: Social skills for autonomous people:…

soilrockslove:

youneedacat:

Social skills for autonomous people: stripesweatersandwaterbottles: realsocialskills: aura218: nichtigen:…

stripesweatersandwaterbottles:

lexsplosion said:

In general, if you are convinced that you know better than the person that you’re talking to what their own thoughts, feelings, and motivations must really be—and keep insisting that they’re just too sick or don’t have the insight to understand what their REAL thoughts, feelings and motivations are—you need to go away and stop hurting people who are already having a rough enough time.”

This this this this this. Also pretty terrified the person who abused me wants to be a therapist. :(

realsocialskills said:

It scares me too. I wish this was the first time I’d heard about an abuser wanting to become a therapist.

Therapy is so important for so many vulnerable people. And there are abusers who take advantage of that. It’s terrifying.

youneedacat said:

One of my long-term abusers, someone who has not seen me since 1996 but has participated in cyberstalking extremely recently to this day?  Became a therapist.  She was working on her psych degree when I first met her, and even then already believed she had the right to fuck with people’s lives, act like she knew them better than they knew themselves, etc.  But it wasn’t even as benign as that.  She enjoyed inciting drama and friction and tension between people.  If there was not a problem she would create a problem because she got off on people having problems.  She would even lie to create problems — she has lied multiple times, blatantly, not misremembered but outright lied, in the course of her cyberstalking and defamation campaign against me.  And I’m far from the only person she’s targeted.  She’s also set up situations where she’s deliberately triggered people who were fairly psychologically stable to begin with, and induced symptoms of mental illness so that she could take on a long-suffering martyr caretaker role (that is the only explanation I can imagine for some things I’ve seen her do).  And she’s a therapist, and that scares me to death.  I am afraid for her patients.

NVC, cognitive ableism, and abuse

youneedacat:

ischemgeek:

00goddess:

Nonviolent Communication can hurt people

loriadorable:

agent-hardass:

realsocialskills:

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.

sorenandjoey:

Nonviolent Communication can be emotionally violent

realsocialskills:

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) culture facilitates abuse in part because NVC culture has very little regard for consent. They call it nonviolent, but it is often a coercive and emotional violent kind of interaction.

NVC has very different boundaries than are typical in…

sorenandjoey said:

Chilling is right, another response I’ve noticed that seems to be standard to any critique of NVC is the whole “oh well that was a misapplication of NVC, if you’d been doing it correctly that never would have happened”.

It’s been incredibly refreshing to see these posts and then reading the comments even though it’s sad to see how many people have been hurt by it, just being able to know I’m not the only person in the universe who rejects NVC has been so helpful, it’s just like my god, finally.

realsocialskills said:

NVC advocates say that to me a lot. Every single one of them who has ever said that has also quickly done the exact things I say are pervasive and awful in NVC culture.

They also often do a thing where, no matter what you say, they interpret it as though you have said something they agree with. NVC people can make it impossible to express disagreement with them and be heard. That is also an act of emotional violence.

00goddess:

Nonviolent Communication can hurt people

loriadorable:

agent-hardass:

realsocialskills:

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 often not a good idea. Nonviolent Communication is an approach based on refraining…

agent-hardass said:

Holy shit thank you. Someone finally said it.

00goddess said:

Dear God yes.

When I was in foster care as a teen, we were given therapy and “boundaries” and “communication rules” that (I eventually learned, as an adult) were based on NVC. There was a huge focus on “I statements.” We were literally forbidden to speak in any other way, and punished if we did so.

What no one told any of us, all foster kids with histories of abuse, neglect, or both, was that “I statements” don’t mean a damn thing or have any effect at all when the other party is either not reasonable, or downright abusive. No, they just trained us with what the author at realsocialskills very aptly calls “anti-skills” and tossed us out into the world.

NVC *crippled* me emotionally and socially. It made me even more vulnerable to abusive situations. Why? Because I had been trained, indoctrinated even, for more than two years to not ever hold anyone responsible for their bad behavior or call them out on it. So when I found myself in abusive situations, I would step right up and use my “I statements” and then when this was not effective, I would do that same thing again, and again. I was not taught any other relationship skills. NVC taught me that in any conflict, I had to figure out what *I* was doing wrong and fix that somehow. It never taught me that some people don’t respond to “I statements” by changing their bad behavior because they don’t actually care if they are hurting you, or they might even like it. It never taught me that I didn’t actually have to stick around when someone was being abusive.

In the very abusive group home and foster org in which I was placed, NVC functioned as a tool that staff used to marginalize, manipulate, gaslight, and control us. NVC did not teach us how to spot those things when they were happening, of course, because the org and the staff had an interest in keeping us marginalized, rather than in raising us to be empowered.

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 often not a good idea. Nonviolent Communication is an approach based on refraining from seeming to judge others, and instead expressing everything in terms of your own feelings. For instance, instead of “Don’t be such an inconsiderate jerk about leaving your clothes around”, you’d say “When you leave your clothing around, I feel disrespected.”. That approach is useful in situations in which people basically want to treat each other well but have trouble doing so because they don’t understand one another’s needs and feelings. In every other type of situation, the ideology and methodology of Nonviolent Communication can make things much worse.

Nonviolent Communication can be particularly harmful to marginalized people or abuse survivors. It can also teach powerful people to abuse their power more than they had previously, and to feel good about doing so. Non-Violent Communication has strategies that can be helpful in some situations, but it also teaches a lot of anti-skills that can undermine the ability to survive and fight injustice and abuse.

For marginalized or abused people, being judgmental is a necessary survival skill. Sometimes it’s not enough to say “when you call me slurs, I feel humiliated” - particularly if the other person doesn’t care about hurting you or actually wants to hurt you. Sometimes you have to say “The word you called me is a slur. It’s not ok to call me slurs. Stop.” Or “If you call me that again, I’m leaving.” Sometimes you have to say to yourself “I’m ok, they’re mean.” All of those things are judgments, and it’s important to be judgmental in those ways.

You can’t protect yourself from people who mean you harm without judging them. Nonviolent Communication works when people are hurting each other by accident; it only works when everyone means well. It doesn’t have responses that work when people are hurting others on purpose or without caring about damage they do. Which, if you’re marginalized or abused, happens several times a day. NVC does not have a framework for acknowledging this or responding to it.

In order to protect yourself from people who mean you harm, you have to see yourself as having the right to judge that someone is hurting you. You also have to be able to unilaterally set boundaries, even when your boundaries are upsetting to other people. Nonviolent Communication culture can teach you that whenever others are upset with you, you’re doing something wrong and should change what you do in order to meet the needs of others better. That’s a major anti-skill. People need to be able to decide things for themselves even when others are upset.

Further, NVC places a dangerous degree of emphasis on using a very specific kind of language and tone. NVC culture often judges people less on the content of what they’re saying than how they are saying it. Abusers and cluelessly powerful people are usually much better at using NVC language than people who are actively being hurt. When you’re just messing with someone’s head or protecting your own right to mess with their head, it’s easy to phrase things correctly. When someone is abusing you and you’re trying to explain what’s wrong, and you’re actively terrified, it’s much, much harder to phrase things in I-statements that take an acceptable tone.

Further, there is *always* a way to take issue with the way someone phrased something. It’s really easy to make something that’s really about shutting someone up look like a concern about the way they’re using language, or advice on how to communicate better. Every group I’ve seen that valued this type of language highly ended up nitpicking the language of the least popular person in the group as a way of shutting them up. 

tl;dr Be careful with Nonviolent Communication. It has some merits, but it is not the complete solution to conflict or communication that it presents itself as. If you have certain common problems, NVC is dangerous.