Nonviolent Communication and Domestic Violence Prevention

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”

-Longfellow

The following information is NOT a substitute for professional intervention in a domestic violence situation — whether that be medical, law enforcement, therapeutic, etc. 
You can also find a list of Domestic Violence Crisis Hotlines here. 
Finally, people in the United States can reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 1-800-799-7233.
If you are in a dangerous or crisis situation, call your local emergency services, which in the United States is 911.

What is the link between Nonviolent Communication and domestic violence prevention? How does NVC inform how we see domestic violence?

Domestic violence is similar to — but is also different from — other kinds of violence.

On the one hand, as Dr. Marshall Rosenberg points out, any act of violence is a tragic expression of unmet needs.

And here is the tragedy of our old patterns: when we’re in pain we tend to either withdraw or lash out. What this means is that when we most need others’ care, love, support, and concern is when we tend to act in ways that make it least likely that we will receive care, love, support, and concern from others.

On the other hand, domestic violence is different from many other kinds of violence in that it often occurs at home — the place where we are supposed to be safest. And it occurs between loved ones — people who in principle are there to care for and protect each other.

Because domestic violence happens in a home environment — and between people who usually have had some sort of emotional closeness — the level of broken trust can greatly amplify the pain.

Applying Nonviolent Communication skills (NVC) in domestic violence situations can help change patterns of abusive behavior, but only if and when all participants sincerely want to improve the quality of their lives and relationships.

Deep application of NVC for preventing domestic violence involves self-knowledge and self-responsibility — including mourning, forgiveness, and self-forgiveness — and this level of effectiveness is accessible when people freely choose to engage.

NVC, The Role of Nonviolent Communication in Relationships

Each situation is unique of course, so it is impossible to give a blanket diagnostic prescription for how NVC can help transform a specific situation in which there is domestic violence.

Nonviolent Communication skills can help facilitate a transformation of consciousness inside and between the parties involved in domestic violence incidents, including:
Intrapersonal transformation for the person inflicting the domestic violence;
Intrapersonal transformation for the person on the receiving end of domestic violence;
Interpersonal transformation of the patterns of communication and behavior — as well as trust and care — between the people involved;
Powerful tools for counselors, therapists, mediators, and other 3rd party helpers, whether or not in an official professional capacity.
Before we discuss the various roles of Nonviolent Communication in relationships, it is important to state that NVC is not a tool to manipulate or change others. Its purpose is NOT to get others to do what we want!

NVC is a means for connecting, for reaching one another at the heart level — and from there, discovering or co-creating what would make life wonderful.

At the same time, NVC is not about being nice! It’s about being real in a way that is also compassionate.

This is a crucial distinction to understand as we move into how Nonviolent Communication skills facilitate both intra and interpersonally transformative relationships for all parties involved in domestic violence incidents.

Transformative Relationships: Healthy Intrapersonal Communication Skills for Domestic Violence Perpetrators

It is possible to build healthy intrapersonal communication skills that help perpetrators of domestic violence fundamentally change their consciousness and behaviors. There are exercises, as well as workshop handouts and worksheets that can support this. And it’s worth considering getting support from someone skilled, for example a CNVC Certified Trainer or an NVC-trained therapist or counselor. Doing the level of inner development NVC requires of us can be more effective and time-efficient with skilled support rather than trying to do it alone.

In order for the NVC process to support a person who has committed domestic violence, they must be willing to engage in honest introspection and self-connection — along with substantial empathic support to accompany a process of mourning, self-forgiveness, and making amends. This begins by taking an honest inventory with one’s self, and asking questions like:

Why do I lash out? Why do I lose control? What am I wanting at a deeper level? Do I see the cost to others, to the relationship, and to myself? If I had to choose, do I want good relationships or do I want to be right? What is the ideal relationship I want — with others, with myself? What do I need to do to transform these deeper behavioral problems?

Learning to notice what we are telling ourselves about our own or another’s wrongness, clarifying the underlying needs and requests we have, and communicating that in a way that is most likely to elicit a compassionate response from the other — these are all skills we learn through NVC.

If we are willing to learn these skills, and work toward applying them in our everyday lives and interactions, we can experience transformation inside of ourselves. Our healthy intrapersonal communication skills can then fundamentally alter how we interact with those closest to us, whom our prior actions have hurt.

Transformative Relationships: Healthy Intrapersonal Communication Skills for Victims of Domestic Violence

How important are healthy intrapersonal communication skills for victims of domestic violence?

Victims of domestic violence can have an incredibly difficult time healing inside. A significant part of transformative relationships in any situation is self-connection — especially getting clear what are our own deeper needs. This can take us away from judgmental thinking about rightness and wrongness and toward a consciousness of life, and what it might take for our needs to be fulfilled.

Self-connection often includes a process of mourning of all the unmet needs in the situation. This mourning is often followed by a process of self-forgiveness — in other words, empathizing with the part of us that in any way contributed to creating or participating in the situation. Sometimes our healing is hampered by feelings of guilt, shame, and/or depression — so self-forgiveness is an important step in both healing and transforming old patterns.

After mourning and self-forgiveness on the part of victims of domestic violence, and usually only after that, can we begin to try to empathize with the needs of the person acting out violently. Part of what happens for people when they go through a transformative process of self-reflection, mourning, self-forgiveness, and empathy, is that they become more connected to their own interior power. This becomes a crucial resource when making future decisions, as well as when setting healthy boundaries with others.

PLEASE REMEMBER: Empathy does not equal agreement with, justification of, condoning, or excusing abusive behavior. It only means that we can access the compassionate part of our humanity to try to understand — not agree with or justify — why someone would act that way. And compassion for the other in no way means that we are willing to be the object of abuse. We may choose to completely cease contact with someone and yet still have compassion for their humanity.

We can also get curious about how we played a role in the situation. This is not blaming the victim! This is an act of fearless self-responsibility. Is there any way — even if minuscule — in which we didn’t look out for ourselves, or in which we fed into an unbalanced power dynamic? This type of self-reflection leads to healthy intrapersonal communication skills, which results in better future self-care, appropriate boundary-setting, and future choices that lead to life-fulfilling outcomes.

Use Community to Self-Initiate an Abusive Relationship Intervention

Sometimes we need to use our community to self-initiate an abusive relationships intervention!

We have a dangerous cultural myth called, “I must go it alone!” And we take this myth and extend it to couples and families! “We should be able to resolve all our own issues.” Despite this myth’s popularity, couples and families exist in a context of community.

If couples and families had adequate support for individuals and for the relationship ‘system’ then preventing misunderstandings, conflicts, and violence — as well as repairing, restoring, and healing when damage has been done — would come more readily.

Because couples and families exist in a larger context, a deep level of healing in the relationships, along with a transformation in the relating and communication patterns, can have a ripple effect of positivity and healing that extends far beyond one couple or one family.

In some cases, we must confront behavior by having a very frank abusive relationship intervention. In an abusive relationship intervention, we summon all our clarity, power, and compassion to transform our situation by standing in our strength, making very clear requests, and stating clear boundaries. If someone requires an abusive relationship intervention, he or she can most likely benefit from a skilled 3rd party.

In many cases, what is most life-serving is to leave a relationship. When physical violence is involved the prime imperative becomes to keep ourselves safe, and creating physical distance is an important option. Whether it’s walk away forever, or whether it’s to create space for some future dialog, this is always one of our choices.

What NVC would suggest is that if we choose to leave that we do so with as much awareness as possible as to the needs behind that choice (for example safety), rather than doing it based on thinking that is demonizing or dehumanizing ourselves or others.

If you are currently in a dangerous or crisis situation, please call your local emergency services, which in the United States is 911. You can also find a list of Domestic Violence Crisis Hotlines here. Finally, people in the United States can reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 1-800-799-7233.

Transformational Communication: Moving Toward Healthy Interpersonal Relationships Intervention

How can we move toward healthy interpersonal relationships?

Transforming deeply painful situations and relationships is possible IF the parties are committed to the process and if they have adequate support to do so. This being said, moving toward healthy interpersonal relationships through transformational communication can be extremely difficult and painful — and ultimately liberating.

Still — when people are willing to do the work, and they have sufficient tools, AND they have an adequate container in which to do the work (which often might include third party support) then healthy interpersonal relationships can grow from the pain of the past.

Through honesty, empathy, mourning, and forgiveness, the process of transformational interpersonal communication can flourish.

The most difficult relationships to heal are the ones in which there is high pain and low trust. When there is high pain but also low trust, it simply takes a lot more work and time to repair and recreate the connection and the care. And many people simply aren’t willing to put in the work and the time — and the personal growth — involved in repairing a damaged connection.

If you have high pain but also high trust, there is a greater likelihood of working through the pain to get to a place of mutual understanding and connection.

Trust can be like topsoil: it can erode very quickly, and can take a long time to build back up.

In domestic violence situations, trust can be irreparably damaged. If we do not do the work to move toward the type of transformational communication that cultivates healthy intra and interpersonal relationships, trust can be hard or impossible to recover.

Nonviolent Communication Skills for Professionals

To conduct powerful healing and reconciliation one-to-one sessions — often role-plays in relation to the other party — requires a skilled NVC facilitator, usually a CNVC Certified Trainer.

A carefully facilitated process of ‘victim-offender mediation’ — which could come afterwards — would also require a high level of NVC skills.

If you would like to feel confident supporting others, then developing a high skill level will be important. Some of the skills involved include:

  • Differentiating between people’s stories and their needs,
  • Working through your own pain in order to continuously be able to humanize both parties in a situation,
  • Offering empathic presence that leads to greater self-connection and inner clarity for the person with whom you are working,
  • The ability to show up as a human being instead of a label (e.g.: “therapist”) and to express honesty from the heart as a human, not a role,
  • Helping people hear each other at the level of feelings and needs,
  • Knowing when to interrupt in order to keep the flow of connection going,
  • Sensing when there is sufficient connection to move from feelings and needs to strategies and solutions — and then supporting people in crafting win-win, mutually beneficial outcomes.

Dr. Marshall Rosenberg on NVC for Preventing Domestic Violence

Dr. Marshall Rosenberg understood how powerful Nonviolent Communication skills could contribute in preventing domestic violence. Ultimately, any act of violence toward ourselves and other living beings is a tragic expression of our own unmet needs.

Dr. Rosenberg not only reminded us about the importance of transforming our old patterns of lashing out or withdrawing when we’re in pain — he also taught us how.

Dr. Rosenberg would remind us that the sense of shock, dismay, broken trust — and in many cases, damaged self-esteem along with guilt and shame — make domestic violence an especially delicate, complex, and deeply emotional issue.

But we can choose to use the tools and consciousness of NVC to move us in the direction of greater empathy, honesty, healthy mourning, self-forgiveness, and making amends with others.

Even in times when the pain is so high and the trust is so low that we see no other option than to leave a relationship, Dr. Rosenberg would reassure us that NVC can help us do so in a way that preserves our integrity and self-esteem.

Puddledancer Press Books About Communication in Relationships

Even in the most painful and intractable situations — like domestic violence — NVC can contribute to healing at the individual, couple, family, and community level.

You can become an active, compassionate part of the movement to end domestic violence with PuddleDancer Press’s books about Nonviolent Communication in relationships. Our books about Nonviolent Communication in relationships can help you:

  • Create exceptional personal and professional relationships,
  • Offer compassionate understanding to others,
  • Know when and how to ask for that same understanding for yourself,
  • Prevent and resolve misunderstandings and conflicts,
  • Speak your truth in a clear, powerful way more likely to lead to harmony than conflict,
  • Create mutual understanding without coercion.

Whether you are a long-time student — or are brand new to NVC — PuddleDancer Press has the educational resources, including an extensive library of books about communication in relationships, to help you grow your emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, and communication prowess.

Check out our bookstore… and give yourself the gift of NVC today!

If you are currently in a dangerous or crisis situation, please call your local emergency services, which in the United States is 911. You can also find a list of Domestic Violence Crisis Hotlines here. Finally, people in the United States can reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 1-800-799-7233.

NVC Domestic Violence Web Resources

Click here for Marshall Rosenberg Domestic Violence Articles
Click here for Marshall Rosenberg Domestic Violence Videos
Click here for Nonviolent Communication Domestic Violence Articles
Click here for Nonviolent Communication Domestic Violence Videos

There is a wealth of information on Nonviolent Communication – in articles and videos. Of course we endorse all of Marshall’s sharing’s, however, there are many transcripts and videos created by others. Due to limited resources we do not verify the full accuracy of any particular video or articles created by others, even though there is plenty of wonderful and educational information on the web.