Advocacy Through Non-Violent Communication

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about effective and impactful communication. I believe it is important for my words and actions to be honest and indicative of what I believe to be fair and productive because words hold power.

Not only do they hold power, but they have the ability to impact and change the world around us and the lives of those we care for. Just think about some of the important speeches throughout history that have shaped the world we live in today.

Delight in being heard and understood

So much of what we enjoy in our lives today is the result of effective communication---being heard and understood is, I think, one of the most beautiful feelings, and making sure others feel heard and understood is rewarding. When it comes to living with migraine, one of the most crucial aspects of navigating life for me is communicating clearly, effectively, and with compassion.

So often, many of us in the community can feel misunderstood and unheard. From navigating conversations with doctors about what I am experiencing over time, to talking with friends and family members with reciprocal understanding, good communication goes a long way towards so much good, and when that communication isn’t good it can feel awful and have real negative repercussions.

All too often, miscommunication about migraine leads to harmful perpetuation of things like stigma, feelings of self-doubt, and false characterizations of folks living with the disease.

What is non-violent communication?

I became very intrigued with the idea of non-violent communication (NVC) when it was introduced to me recently. At first glance, the name seems pretty straight-forward. Non-violent communication must be the opposite of violent communication, and who wouldn’t want that? But what exactly is violent communication? And how does NVC work?

Non-violent communication, as I understand it, is a system of communication that seeks to do a few things:

  • Understand our own needs more deeply.
  • Understand the needs of others deeply and clearly through non-judgmental observation.
  • Communicate compassionately.

Sounds simple enough, right? Easier said and noted than done I would say. When I first started learning about NVC, my first thought was, ‘Oh. I can do that easily, just listen before speaking and be kind.’ I want to do these things anyway, piece of cake.

Non-violent communication in practice

However, I quickly learned through reading more into NVC that there were so many judgment values that I placed onto what others were saying all the time that really hindered the communication I was having in my daily life.

This is probably the most difficult aspect of NVC in practice that I found, especially when communicating about pain. Listening in this system isn’t just about hearing what the other person is saying, and conveying needs isn’t just about saying what we need from others...there is a lot of weight in the way we say things, in the expectations we have from others, and in the judgments we place on ourselves and others.

Learning to let go

Trying to let go of judgment and being clear and concise about what I need from others has helped me tremendously in breaking down communication barriers with loved ones. In the end, this helps me get more of the love and care I seek and helps me give the love and care I wish to give.

I am still learning about NVC, but for me, one of the most alluring aspects is really learning about letting go of assumptions and judgments to get at the heart of the needs each of us has. When dealing with daily pain, and all of the psychological, emotional, mental, and physical turmoil that comes with a chronic disease, communicating about and having needs met is high up on the list of priorities I have for getting through this life.

If you want to learn more about non-violent communication, you can check out the Center for Nonviolent Communication for more on the foundation of the concept and its application in everyday life.

Applying NVC to my life with migraine

There have been so many times that I have tried to communicate with folks around me, only to leave conversations and heck, even complete relationships feeling like there was no communication had. So, I have been experimenting.

I take small moments to check in with myself in conversation and evaluate how I am both receiving and conveying information. I tell people outright, “I need a moment to make sure I am saying what I want to say." And then, I try to get to the heart of things.

This helps people respond to me more compassionately, instead of putting up barriers of defensiveness. I realized that you can only control your own interactions and behaviors, but we can encourage people to respond to us in kind by how we position ourselves.

More understanding, less stigma

This is not to say everyone will follow suit---there are plenty of times when I still feel unheard and misunderstood, but I try not to take these too personally. It is a work in progress, but I ask myself...how do we make progress towards understanding, breaking down stigma, and making changes to accommodate folks in pain if we can’t communicate? How do we switch from auto-pilot considerations of hurt and misunderstanding, and start really getting one another? NVC has opened up a dialogue within myself to these questions with new vigor.

What tools or systems of communication do you turn towards when communication issues seem to be getting in the way of navigating life with chronic pain? 

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