This winter holiday, I read a book called “Non-violent Communication” by a psychologist called Marshall Rosenberg. Rosenberg’s arguments rest upon the idea that behind every argument there are needs that aren’t being met, and that we would all be better served if we tackled these and focused on attending them. He says: “Practice translating each judgment into an unmet need”. For instance, this would translate into shifting the words “You’re always late!” to “I’m feeling furious because I would like you to be around more times than you are”.
I figured this would be a nice tool to try with my best-friend-turned-boyfriend-turned-ex-now-best-friend. We were having a lot of fights – because really, going from best-friend-turned-boyfriend-turned-ex-now-best-friend isn’t an easy task. I wrote down my needs: “When we fight, I feel annoyed because I need to have fun. Would you be willing to take us less seriously?”. And, whilst doing this, I understood his needs too: I remembered the number of times he had asked me to simply listen and be there, and how I answered him with solutions, immediately pulling a plan of action, advising him and correcting him; but, as Rosenberg wrote “Intellectual understanding blocks empathy”. I finally understood that behind his words, which I might not agree with, were the need for connection and acceptance. I didn’t have to be soft or harsh – I just had to look beyond his words, into his needs, and understand what I was available to meet and deliver.
AND THEN I LOOKED AT MYSELF
A few days after finishing the book, I went to have lunch with a few friends from my childhood. After three years living abroad in Copenhagen, coming back to Lisbon has become less of a familiar and linear experience – I become so distant from my “normal life” that it gives me a lot of time to simply think and then think about what I’ve been thinking.
So, when I left my friends, I realized that I felt emptier than when I first got into the restaurant. That wasn’t the first time that happened to me – it had happened before, to which I rationally blamed the way the conversation went, some funk I was in on that specific day, overthinking, etc. I’d augment or diminish it according to my rational arguments but, on that day, I asked myself: “So if you feel like this, why do you keep seeing them?”, and to this, I had no rational arguments.
So, I turned to Rosenberg – “What need isn’t being fulfilled here that gets me feeling like this?”
Ah! The need for connection – if I stopped hanging out with them, that meant I had to face the fact that I had no deep friendships. I certainly didn’t make them during these last three years abroad and was afraid to admit to myself that, in the past few years, I lost the ability to maintain serious friendships. And I needed that – to be with people that meant something to me, to have moments to remember or, at least, people with whom I could have them. If not, then how grey was my life?
WHEN YOU BUY A WHITE CAR, YOU ONLY SEE WHITE CARS
It was hard for me to admit to myself that this was the current situation but once I did, I saw it everywhere. I don’t know if I was suffering from “frequency bias” (for example, when you buy a white car, you see white cars everywhere) but in that same month, in three different encounters with friends, they all talked about having the same feelings and thoughts as I.
That was surprising to me. But obviously, these conversations only took place because I allowed myself to be vulnerable with my friends. This meant letting them know that I cared about them and opening up about my issues.
IT’S NOT YOUR RIGHT TO KEEP THEM IN THE SHADOWS, ANYWAY
By reconnecting with my need for connection, I gained better friendships, as Rosenberg anticipated, but none of this was new to me – the perks of letting vulnerability kick-in had already been written in one of my journals of the 10th grade. Like the Brazilian YouTuber Nataly Néri talked about in one of her videos, sometimes the answers we are looking for have already been provided by us at some other time. She explains:
“By reading old journals, it seemed like I knew more about myself ten years ago than now, or maybe I just didn’t have so much to deal with and I could understand the obvious (…) that plain vision of a 14-year-old teenager helped me understand what really mattered (…) I was 24 years old and looking for a series of questions I had already answered in my teens.”
So many times, I had met friends thinking “How do I know if they want to be with me?”, “Do they really care or are they just being nice?” (and choosing to close down at the risk of getting rejected and thus hurt), but these types of questions shouldn’t even be up for discussion. As a friend told me when we were on the 10th grade:
“You don’t have the right to deprive someone of knowing that you care about them. It’s not your decision if they want to know more about you or not.”
This call-out to be vulnerable (for the other person’s sake and my own too) is still valid nowadays. Thus, I follow my friend’s advice once more:
So, to the friend that gave me the best Christmas feast of my life, to the friend that I got to know by telling him about the poor Brazilian translations of the Hogwarts’ teams, to the friend who used to blow her nose in the shower (as I did) and to the friend who was already wise enough at 15 years old to say the sentence I copied before – in case you’re reading this, reach out.
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