Utilizing Nonviolent Communication Skills in Teen Anxiety Treatment
Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a formula for communication that is meant to encourage compassion both with others and with oneself. The formula was devised by a renowned conflict mediator named Marshall B Rosenberg, who spent many years helping nations and individuals find peace between each other. NVC provides a framework to focus attention on what we are observing, feeling, and needing, rather than insulting, judging, and blaming. NVC is a “language of compassion,” as Rosenburg puts it in his book Nonviolent Communication: a Language of Life. Using NVC, we can unlock a deeper understanding of what is going on inside ourselves. It provides a way for us to develop empathy not just for other people, but for ourselves. This self-empathy can have a profound influence on teen anxiety treatment as it teaches young people skills that diverts their attention away from judging themselves and turns it towards their emotions and the needs that fuel them.
Nonviolent Communication includes four components that can be applied to both sides of communicating: listening and expressing: 1) make observations without evaluations, 2) identify one’s emotions, 3) identify one’s needs and how they affect the emotions, and 4) make a request that would enrich life and get needs met. While the formula is simple, it is admittedly difficult to remember to go through these steps while conversing normally, let alone while talking to someone with emotions running high. It can be equally difficult to apply these steps when talking to oneself, which is something most of us do when we are angry and sad. It can be difficult, but with practice, these tools can become readily available even in the most emotional situations.
Imagine you’ve recently done something you regret. Maybe you were arguing with your mother; she told you that you need a new career path because you’re not making enough money at your job. But you love your job, so you got angry and yelled at her. Now, a few days have passed and you are berating yourself for being so mean to your mother. In this example, emotion has been identified: anger. Observation has also been made: you yelled at your mother. Making an observation and identifying an emotion are the first two components of NVC. The third component is identifying the needs that are affecting the emotions.
To satisfy the third component, NVC asks “what needs were you trying to meet by yelling at your mother?” You’re pursuing a career that you find meaningful, even if it doesn’t earn a lot of money. Your mother, though, doesn’t seem to understand that. The unmet need in question here is “understanding from your mother.”
The ability to identify your unmet needs can be a big relief; it tells you that there was some rationale behind your behaviors. Understanding that there was some rationale behind our behaviors is a step toward self-empathy. Self-empathy is a crucial step toward growth, as it allows us to love ourselves. Loving ourselves can give us the sense of security we need to sit with anxiety and discomfort.
Understanding your needs can help you move on to the fourth component of NVC and make a specific request that would get your needs met. By teaching NVC in anxiety treatment, the client begins to develop a strategy for difficult emotions. The self-empathy that results from acknowledging the needs is more conducive to growth than focusing on the difficulty at hand. To a teen suffering anxiety, this self-empathy can be life-changing.
About the author
With a B.A in Environmental Studies, Nathan graduated from Prescott College in Prescott, AZ in 2014. Shortly thereafter he moved to Vermont and ever since has worked as a land steward, a youth mentor, an environmental educator, and an animal trainer. Additionally, he has served his local community by volunteering his time for restorative justice, animal rescue, and community dinners in the Upper Valley. Through all this work, he has discovered in himself an inherent desire to listen, be it to the land, the birds, or to the people around him. At Mountain Valley, he intends to use that desire to help the residents find validation, peace, and power.