From "Aaarggghh!" to "Aaaahhh...." Using NVC Observations to reduce overwhelm.

If you know a little about NVC, then you have probably experienced the benefits of using the first of the 4 steps – observations – effectively in your communication with others.

For example, instead of talking with your partner about them forgetting to buy the milk on the way home from work by starting with ‘why are you always so forgetful?’ you’ve probably figured out that you’ll have more chance of being heard if you begin with something like “when I see you come in without the milk….”

Communicating with Others

The power of stating specifically what it is that we are reacting to is that we’re beginning the communication on common, factual ground, rather than an opinion or interpretation or judgment that is open to dispute or defence (such as ‘you’re so forgetful’).


Did you know though, that honing our ability to be specific about observation is also a very powerful way to support self-connection and reduce overwhelm? Here’s a recent example from my life: I’ve been spending a lot more time than usual lately on the computer, promoting courses and other work for Communication for Life.  At times, I’ve been feeling depleted and overwhelmed, so I decided to start catching some of the messages in my head.  One of the main stories I heard was: ‘I’m always working and getting nowhere’.


When a story is global and nonspecific such as this, it quickly leads to a feeling of overwhelm and powerlessness, robbing us of energy and joy. And it seems to gather a wild momentum all of its own, until very soon we’re believing the story. No wonder Krishnamurti said

“The highest form of human intelligence is to observe without evaluation.”

Stepping back a little and taking the objective view of ‘what a video camera would see’, I noticed that I wasn’t in fact ‘always working’ – what I was doing though, was turning on my phone as soon as I woke up, and having it and/or my computer accessible all day until bed time, I didn’t have set times for work and set times for other things, and I didn’t have scheduled days off.  Once I had identified this, it was easier to make some requests of myself, such as deciding on specific times to receive emails (this may involve if not hiding the phone from myself, at least turning off the data for periods of time), and deciding on a schedule of work and ‘other’ time.

I know this may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing just how much vague, global stories can cloud our common sense.

Think about some areas of your life where you commonly feel overwhelm, and you may find that you have similar non-specific, judging stories going on in your head, preventing some obvious simple solutions. E.g. do you find yourself saying to yourself ‘the kids are always fighting’?

If you get specific about what’s actually going on, you might notice some patterns, and that it’s not in fact ‘always’ happening. For example, maybe you notice that they fight most frequently when they return from a weekend at their other parent’s place. That observation might give some clues about possible solutions – make sure there are no after school activities that day, and spend quality time reconnecting with them, have one-on-one time with each child, etc.

What’s your ‘pet overwhelm’ story?

Or maybe your pet ‘overwhelm story’ is something like ‘I’m just so messy’ or ‘I’m hopeless with money’.  Getting specific about what’s triggering these evaluations can give direction about what you want to do about it, rather than falling deeper into the ‘I can’t’ hole.

I’d love to hear from you about examples in your life  where making a clear observation has helped you reconnect with yourself and empowered you to meet your needs.

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