NVC and Regret

Empathy for our Shame, Empathy for our Pain







Sometimes we do or say things that we later feel shameful or embarrassed about. Often we judge and blame ourselves for saying or doing the "wrong" thing. We say we're sorry, apologizing for our wrong-doings and promising ourselves and others that we'll be "good" or we'll do "better" next time. After all, we have learned that it's better for everyone to do the "right" thing. The problem with this type of behavior is that we are doing things because we think we "should" instead of doing things because we want to do them. We "should" ourselves and pay a price. Our actions then come from fear which sets us up for failure or falling short of the promises we make.

With NVC, we can transform this blaming and shaming way of thinking by hearing the stories we tell ourselves and then translating those thoughts into feelings and unmet needs. When we connect to our shameful thinking, translate it and then connect to our needs, we can express regret without thinking we did anything “wrong” or “bad.” This new way of seeing ourselves and our actions brings healing and understanding. With needs consciousness, we have an opportunity to do what works for us with consideration for our needs and the needs of others. This type of behavior sets us up for success because we are now living life in a way that works for us. 



Once when I was facilitating a practice group, I asked everyone to pair up and find a time during the week when they could give and receive empathy with one another. I remember telling the only couple in the group that they couldn’t pair up to be empathy buddies. Later that evening while I was home, I felt a pang of disappointment and shame. In that moment I was telling myself that I should not have said that. “What was I thinking?” I wondered. I caught myself thinking and feeling this way, and that’s when I knew I needed empathy. I realized that giving this directive to the couple was about having care for their growth and integration of the NVC empathy skills we had been practicing. I know from experience it can be challenging to give and receive empathy with someone with whom I am in relationship. There’s often habitual forms of communication that can be difficult to change when we are first learning NVC, and there’s a lot at stake with partners, close friends and family members. I also realized the way I gave this directive to the couple did not work for me because I really value transparency, effectiveness and understanding. It’s important to me as an NVC facilitator to establish a “power-with” dynamic with the participants as opposed to a power-over, top-down, teacher-knows-best type of relationship. After all, we are learning about life together. So I continued my curiosity. “What would I have done differently to meet my needs in that situation?” I asked myself. I would have preferred to express the needs behind my intention to pair them up with someone else. If after my explanation, the instructions did not work for them, I might have asked them if they were wanting to work together as empathy buddies. This would have better met my needs for collaboration and connection.

In the following session, I shared all of this with the group as a means of contributing new information about NVC Regrets. It was helpful to clarify why I was sharing this regret - not because I think I did anything wrong or bad, but because I value both their understanding, growth and learning as well as my integrity and effectiveness as an NVC facilitator. 

What shameful thinking do you have about a particular situation that you would like to transform into an NVC Regret? Here’s an exercise to help facilitate that process.



For this exercise, you will need some paper or your journal and a pen or pencil. You may also want to use a Feelings and Needs sheet. I find the sheet useful to help me stay connected to myself and to keep focus on the exercise. Another suggestion is to get cozy and grab your favorite cup of tea. No real reason for that except comfort and nurturing. : ) 

Click this link to view and/or download a copy of the sheet: Feelings and Needs Sheet

Part A: Empathy

  1. Choose a statement you have said recently that later you felt ashamed of or frustrated about. Write that statement down on a piece of paper.
  2. Identify any judgements that come up for you after writing that statement down. What are you telling yourself? Write those down too.
  3. Once you have gotten all your “jackals” (Marshall’s word for judgements) out, what are you feeling? Write those down next. Note: you may have to do Step 2 and 3 a few times. Those jackals sometimes have a habit of lurking in the background.
  4. Consider what needs were unmet for you when you said the statement. Write those down.

Part B: More Empathy

  1. Write down your statement again.
  2. Identify the needs you were trying to meet when you said that statement.

Note: Sometimes judgements come back into play here. If that happens, go back to Part A and try to identify more feelings and needs that come up for you in this moment.

Part C: Other Strategies

  1. Consider the needs you wrote down in Part A. What other strategies could you have taken to meet those needs? What would you have done differently? Write down 2 or 3 other strategies.

Part D: Expressing Regret - This can be done by yourself or with the person you said your statement to.

  1. Express your regret in the form of feelings and needs. Try starting with the NVC formula first if you are new to NVC. This will help you stay connected to your feelings and needs and your intention behind your expression. Then you can try a more colloquial form later.
    1. Example of formula: When I said….I feel regret, because it didn’t meet my need for …. I would have preferred to do ….. because it would have met my needs for …. Instead, I would have preferred to say/do... . 
    2. Example of colloquial: Remember when I said…? I realized later that I wished I hadn’t said that. I would have like to have more ….(needs here). I'm telling you this now because I value...

My example of 1 A:

When I recalled telling the couple that they shouldn't pair up together, I felt regret because it didn't meet my needs for transparency,  effectiveness and understanding. Instead, I would have preferred to express the needs behind my intention to pair the couple up with someone else. If after my explanation, the instructions did not work for them, I might have asked them if they were wanting to work together as empathy buddies.

My example of 1 B:

Remember when I told you that you couldn't pair up to be empathy buddies? I realized later that I wished I hadn’t said that. I would have liked to have paid more attention to collaboration and found out what your preferences were. I'm telling you this now because I value shared reality, and as an NVC trainer I would like to contribute to the learning and growth of everyone in the room. 



Note: Kat makes no claim that any of this is The Truth for anyone else. She writes to keep up her practice of NVC skills, which are always evolving, and to share her learning with others. This post may change at a later date.  If you have any questions or comments about this post, Kat welcomes your feedback. 

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