Recently, I have tapped into a new source of simultaneous pain and compassion for myself watching myself in my closest relationships repeating certain behaviours and patterns of thinking and responding. To relate in the way I really long for takes hard work. At times I wonder "will I ever stop having this response or doing this thing?," as I catch the same patterns cropping up in me time and time again.
I have plenty of evidence that, through my NVC practice, I am able to notice my thoughts and inner emotional reactions right away, and I am much more at choice than I ever was to consciously speak or not speak, and to choose what to say and what belief to stand on before I speak. This gives me renewed hope to keep practicing, even when it seems it takes more work or time than I would like. I see my increased ability to do this daily. Through my practice, the quality of my life and work steadily improve. And yet, at times I long for even more ease and more freedom from my old ways of thinking and acting.
Over time I am more and more aware of the complexity of being human, and in particular, of how the early years in each of our childhoods set up these patterns of thinking, acting, communicating, relating that keep recurring in our lives. Especially in our closest relationships.
I am coming to believe that they recur because we enact them from our unconscious habits of responding.
Psychologists can pretty accurately predict how we relate as adults in intimate relationships by how we were related to as babies and young children. In these formative years, our brain is sculpted, shaped by our social experiences. It is no wonder that our patterns keep repeating. What we need is nothing less than physical changes to brain connectivity! I sense something in me relaxing when I accept this, I have more access to compassion for all of us.
I have been reading lately about how traumatic or emotionally intense moments in early childhood get stored in detail in our implicit, subconscious memory (in a process mediated by the amygdalae). Curiously, when something in our adult life resembles elements of those moments, the memory gets re-activated. However, the process of recall is not at all conscious. We are not at all aware of the memory, or even have a sense of recollection. We just "act out" our emotions (which are partly related to those old events which we are not aware of). It is as though we remember through the body (not the mind, as in conscious memory recall). This process allows us to magnificently adapt to our surroundings, and it concurrently is the origin of our traps and difficulties in relationships later on.
As psychologist Robin Grille explains in his book Parenting for a Peaceful World (p. 259): "Experiences that are emotionally too overwhelming to deal with are stored somatically, as a body memory. Thereafter they are expressed as an unconscious response to stress, and thus they modify personality. Henceforth, we over-react to situations that are even vaguely similar to the trauma, without the slightest idea why. Our seemingly "irrational" over-reactions to mildly stressful or even innocuous situations are often due to traumatic experiences, usually dating back to childhood or infancy, which we cannot consciously recall."
Even though our current emotional responses might seem unaffected by our past, I have been wondering how they might be linked to unconscious memories. My compassion surfaces when I see myself, my clients and the people around me go through emotional difficulties and how hard it seems to shift our patterns at times. It is hard, precisely because (at least some of the time) we are blindly addressing the adaptive mechanisms we created in response to these early memories that we have no conscious access to. They are like blind spots in our personalities.
Many modalities can support the changes we need towards more emotional freedom. I find NVC very effective.
One thing I love NVC for is that I need not know what past event is connected to my present emotional state (or if at all). I can simply focus on how I feel and what my needs are in the moment, and each time I move forward with clarity to find new ways that better meet my and others' needs. I need not get entangled into my past. I can simply be in the present moving forward (even with my frustration about the slowness of my process!).
The second element that NVC helps me understand is that each instance when I think that others are the cause of my feelings, I am mistaken. It is in fact my inner process of interpreting how my needs are met or not that seems to be the origin of my emotions. Others' actions and words are mostly pointers to something in me that I can look at, welcome and hopefully integrate or even change. The pointer might be to one of my blind spots and I may not easily see it, but over time, and through the simplicity of NVC practice something shifts and improvements come.
Increased awareness of this human complexity is a welcome addition in my life.