Explanation of the skill

The skill of self empathy is about working with internal intensity of mediating conflict when we are stimulated into an emotional, physiological fight/flight reactivity within ourselves. Self-empathy is a way of listening to ourselves, connecting with what we are observing, feeling, needing, and wanting. Self- empathy is self-connection, aware presence of what is alive in us moment to moment. It is something we can do during a difficult conversation or interaction with someone when we are having an "enemy image' of them, i.e. negative judgments and evaluations, seeing an "other" that is bad/wrong/to blame/to be punished somehow. More often though, especially in the earlier stages of skill development, we lose this quality of awareness and self-connection in the moment of the interaction. We can then apply this process to ourselves afterwards in order to "come back to life", as NVC founder Marshall Rosenberg would say, and then reengage the person later after we have reconnected with ourselves and are more likely to act in a way that will contribute to our well being and the well being of others.

Examples of using the skill

Imagine that you are in a mediation with two business partners who have asked you to help them dissolve their consulting practice. You have previously worked separately in pre-mediation sessions with the parties to the mediation. You are in the relatively early stages of the mediation. Person A has just said to person B, "What you have just said is a classic example of your idiotic way of thinking and why I want out of this business relationship." The thought flashes through your mind that what person A has just said will blow up the mediation, meaning that person B will be so offended that he will terminate the mediation. You react with a strong sense of the words hitting you in your stomach. Your thinking may go on, "If she would be just more aware of what she says you would not have to be dealing with the mess she has probably just made."

You now have an Enemy Image of person A-that she is the problem. If you continue to think that "person A is the problem," even if you do not say anything specifically about your thought, your demeanor and the inflection of your voice will communicate that you have a judgment of her, if not specifically this judgment.

This is a choice point. If you want to stay within the NVC model you have the four choices explained in Section 7: The Four Communication Choices. For the purpose of this example you choose Self Empathy. Quite often Self Empathy is the first chosen because it is from this foundation of self-connection that you choose to Express or to focus on the other person with Silent Empathy or Empathy. In order to be able to do Self Empathy in the midst of a mediation session like this, you will need to practice many, many times "off line", so to speak. A simplified version of Self Empathy in this hypothetical situation might sound like the following. "When I hear person A say this, I feel distressed because I have a need to contribute by supporting people to be heard. And I realize I have a need for awareness of the impact of words on others." Having taken a few moments to have this internal dialogue, I would then choose what to do next.


Self-empathy dyad intensity practice


     •   Partner plays role of someone that triggers us in relation to conflict

          ♥  Intensity with neutral content (using volume, body language, etc)
          ♥  Content that is "triggering" language for you

     •   Stop role-play and go through out loud Enemy Image Process (EIP) (see earlier description of process)
     •   Partner steps out of role and supports person to go through EIP
     •   In pairs, take turns doing the self-empathy process and being support partner