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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Clark

Feelings in Nonviolent Communication

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

The second component of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is communicating our feelings. This moves us from the realm of value-neutral observations, where we get a hold of what exactly is going on outside ourselves, to the emotions that are painting our experience, where we get a hold of what exactly is going on inside ourselves.


feelings in NVC

Why We Speak Our Feelings

First and foremost, people can’t ever truly know how we feel unless we tell them. They might be able to make an educated guess, but they’ll always work in the dark. Once you express honestly how you feel, you can be known.


By doing that, we also begin modeling that behavior to others. Hopefully, they’ll come along with us and express their feelings clearly, too. Who knows, we could always make a request — but that’s for a later section.


You’ll also find that many potential conflicts are dissolved once you honestly and openly express how you feel. By showing vulnerability like that, people disengage from an uncomplicated Me vs. You paradigm.


Later on, we’ll discover that being able to accurately express our feelings becomes essential for putting all four components of NVC together (observations, feelings, needs, and requests).


Last but certainly not least, speaking our feelings presents the opportunity for greater self-knowledge. When we slow down and take the time to say what we are feeling with any degree of specificity, we often have to look below the surface. This state of recognition is something many of us have never done before. It’s an act of mindfulness that brings us in touch with who we are. The more we do this, the better we get at it. Eventually, you’ll find yourself able to quickly tap into your feelings, helping you act more mindfully in your relationships and your life in general.


So yeah, being able to express your feelings is important. But it isn’t easy. The next two sections will tell us why it is hard and teach us how to do it better.


Why I feel that… Isn’t a Feeling

Often, the way people begin to explore the feeling part of the NVC process is by beginning sentences with “I feel…”


That seems reasonable enough. But even here, we need to be careful because all too often, we end up saying, “I feel that…” or, “I feel like…” or, “I feel as if.”


For example:


  • I feel that they’re lying.

  • I feel like I’m in the right.

  • I feel as if I’m a superstar.


In all of the above examples, we aren’t actually saying how we feel. We are sneaking in evaluations of other people. Remember how we put off evaluations of others in our value-neutral observations step? Well, we are trying to do that again here.


Using Pronouns and Proper Nouns

Similarly, when we launch from the word “feeling” into pronouns or proper nouns, we might be stating an opinion rather than a feeling.

For example:


  • I feel Ava is cheerful.

  • I feel he isn’t trying as hard as we are.

  • I feel it is all hopeless.


Just like in the previous section, these aren’t really feelings. These are opinions stated with the phrase “I feel” tacked in front of them.


Building a Vocabulary of Feelings

So how can we make sure we actually are expressing our feelings?


If we are going to have any hope of expressing how we feel, we are going to need words to do it. And yet, many of us have a pretty small working vocabulary of feeling words.


That can force us to use language that’s hurtful or, at the very least, not helpful. Below, we’ve assembled a popular list of NVC feelings you might want to commit to memory.


Feelings From Met Needs

  • Affection: sympathy, tenderness, warmth


  • Confidence: empowerment, openness, pride, safety, security


  • Engagement: absorption, alertness, curiosity, engrossment, enchantment, entrancement, fascination, interest, intrigue, involvement, stimulation


  • Inspiration: amazement, awe, wonder


  • Excitement: amazement, animation, ardency, arousal, astonishment, dazzlement, eagerness, energy, enthusiasm, giddiness, invigoration, liveliness, passion, surprise, vibrance


  • Exhilaration: bliss, ecstasy, elation, enthrallment, exuberance, radiance, rapture, thrill


  • Gratitude: appreciation, moved, thankfulness, touched


  • Hope: expectance, encouragement, optimism


  • Joy: amusement, delight, gladness, happiness, jubilance, pleasure, tickled


  • Peace: calmness, clear-headedness, comfort, centeredness, contentment, equanimity, fulfillment, mellowness, quiet, relaxation, relief, satisfaction, serenity, stillness, tranquility, trust


  • Refreshment: enlivenment, rejuvenation, renewal, rest, restoration, revivification

Feelings From Unmet Needs

  • Fear: apprehension, dread, foreboding, fright, mistrust, panic, petrification, scared, suspicion, terror, wariness, worry


  • Annoyance: aggravation, dismay, disgruntlement, displeasure, exasperation, frustration, impatience, irritation, irkedness


  • Anger: rage, fury, indignance, lividness, outrage, resentment


  • Aversion: animosity, appall, contempt, disgust, dislike, hate, horror, hostility, repulsion


  • Confusion: ambivalence, bafflement, bewilderment, daze, hesitance, lost, mystery, perplexment, puzzlement, torn


  • Disconnection: alienation, aloofness, apathy, boredom, coldness, detachment, disinterest, distance, distraction, indifference, numbness, withdrawal


  • Disquiet: agitation, alarm, discombobulation, discomfort, disconcertion, disturbance, perturbation, restlessness, shock, surprise, turbulence, turmoil, unease, upset


  • Embarrassment: shame, chagrin, fluster, guilt, mortification, self-consciousness


  • Fatigue: burn-out, depletion, exhaustion, lethargy, listlessness, sleepiness, weariness, worn-out


  • Pain: agony, anguish, bereavement, devastation, grief, heartbreak, hurt, loneliness, misery, regret, remorse


  • Sadness: depression, dejection, despair, despondence, disappointment, discouragement, disheartenment, forlornness, gloom, heavy-heartedness, hopelessness, melancholy, unhappiness, wretchedness


  • Tension: anxiety, crankiness, distress, distraught, edginess, fidgetiness, irritability, jitteriness, nervousness, overwhelm, restlessness, stress


  • Vulnerability: fragility, guardedness, helplessness, insecurity, leeriness, reservation, sensitivity, shakiness


  • Yearning: envy, jealousy, longing, nostalgia, pining, wistfulness


Making Sure We Own What We Feel

Marshall Rosenberg insists, time and time again, that no one can make us feel anything. While some NVC practitioners debate him on this point, it’s worth taking the time to unpack this and to show what it can lead to.


Taking responsibility for how we feel requires moving into the next component of NVC: needs. For instance, you might say, “I feel sad about the things you said about me.” That puts the blame on the other person. Now, they might have said some really hurtful things to you, but we still don’t really have a grip on why you felt that way. Even if it seems obvious, this practice of describing the cause of our feelings can be an eye-opening one.


So, “I feel sad about the things you said about me,” might turn into, “I feel sad about the things you said because they described me in ways that I disagree with.”


What begins to emerge when we see this addition of the cause (introduced with the simple word because) is a need not being met. In the above example, the need to be understood isn’t met. But there are many examples:


Feeling

Owning Your Feeling

Need

“I feel anger about her showing up late.”

“I feel anger about her showing up late because I wanted more time together.”

Time with loved ones

“I feel sadness about you smoking.”

“I feel sadness about you smoking because I worry it will shorten your lifespan.”

Wellbeing of loved ones

“I feel happiness about your work.”

“I feel happiness about your work because it reflects well on our company.”

Success at work

In our next component, we’ll dive into the importance of these needs that keep coming up once we get in close contact with our feelings.


Read More About NVC

Check out our entire series on NVC:

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