Observing Yourself – by Kind Communication

KindCommunication.orgRe-posted From: http://KindCommunication.org/2016/03/20/observing-yourself/

In Compassionate Communication there are five major skills.  One of them is called “observation”.  At first, I thought this skill was all about noticing and talking about what you literally see.  So instead of “this room is a mess” saying “I see a couple of dirty dishes on the table, and a bunch of books all over the couch”.

But the skill of “observation” also goes much deeper than this.  The skill of “observation” also means observing yourself.  What thoughts are you having?  What stories about this situation are you telling yourself?  What are you actually experiencing in your interior world?

Observing ourselves is difficult sometimes.  I’ll share a story about losing my own ability to observe myself.

Back when I was in college I was dating a woman who went to a different college about 4 hours away from me.  One day I saw that she had an AOL Instant Message (AIM) away message up that said something suggestive about a cute librarian.  And I really lost it.  It’s hard to discern what I was thinking or feeling in that moment because I was just gone.  I was sending text message after text message, calling and leaving messages.  I was just lost in a sea of jealousy and anger.  I was probably telling myself stories like “she doesn’t love me” or “I can’t believe she is cheating on me”, but I really can’t say for certain what was going through my head.  I was a whirlwind of reactivity.

I’m sure everyone reading this knows that it ended up being a pretty harmless, innocent away message.  Nothing was happening between her and this librarian.  She thought the away message was funny, but she was not amused by my 10-15 texts and two Voicemails.  And I was mortified when I could see that my reaction was way out of proportion to what was going on.

Do you know moments in your life where your reaction is way out of proportion to what is actually going on?

In those moments we need this skill of being able to observe ourselves.  If I could have stepped back and watched what I was thinking, telling myself, and doing my reaction would have been totally different.  I would have been able to see the irrational story that I was telling myself, and how untrue it was.  I could have seen that my behavior was intense.

So we need to be able to observe ourselves.  And this is a skill, which means it can be strengthened over time and with practice.  So I want to close with some exercises to help you build the skill of observing yourself:

  • Noticing Thoughts & Stories:  This is a meditation where you engage in something, but then you observe and notice all the thoughts, feelings, stories, and needs that arise in you.  So you might watch a TV Show, or a political speech, or read a poem, or go for a run.  And while you do this activity you just notice your thoughts, feelings, stories, and needs.  As you’re engaged in whatever activity keep asking yourself “what I am I thinking now?”  “What story am I making up about this thing?”  “What feelings do I have in this moment?
  • Who Do You Think You Are:  This is an exercise where you take an inventory of all the things you think you are.  So write at the top of the paper “Who I think I am…” and then just write for 5 minutes all the things you think you are.  And just notice what comes up in response to that prompt.  Don’t judge, evaluate, or critique whatever comes up, just notice it and write it down.
  • Observe Memories:  In this exercise you need to bring to mind an experience you had similar to the one I shared.  An experience where you lost yourself in the moment, you weren’t able to observe what you were thinking or doing.  Try to relive that moment in your imagination.  Where are you located?  What do your surroundings look like?  Who is there?  What are they saying and doing?  Play the memory through like a movie.  And as you play it through try to just notice what thoughts, feelings, stories, and needs are coming up in you in this moment as you relive that moment.


KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.