Nonviolent Communication for a Healthy Body Image

“The more we use words that in any way imply criticism, the more difficult it is for people to stay connected to the beauty within themselves.”

Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD.

How to use Nonviolent Communication for a healthy body image?

One of the deeper lessons NVC has to teach us is around liberating ourselves from cultural conditioning.

Contemporary culture teaches us to look outside, to depend on extrinsic indicators, and to compare ourselves to others to know whether or not our needs — for safety, belonging, love, acceptance, to name a few — are fulfilled. These external indicators include the size of our bank account, house, and various body parts to name a few.

Having a sense that we are being judged, or that we will be accepted or not accepted, based on our body size and shape puts an inordinate amount of pressure and stress on people — particularly women and girls.

NVC gives us a pathway to mourn living in a cultural environment that is far from perfect — as well as to heal from the pain and alienation of it. And it also gives us a pathway to celebrate, accept, and love ourselves in all our diversity!

Building a Positive Body Image and Self Esteem with NVC

The path toward building a positive body image and self esteem with NVC is a bit different for everyone.

One of the reasons is that each person’s early childhood education, including the modeling we received from the grown-ups around us, is somewhat unique. Another reason is that we each internalized to different degrees the messages from society and mainstream media. For some of us, these cultural messages are like the water a fish swims in — everywhere and at the same time invisible. Others of us, for a variety of reasons, have been questioning our cultural conditioning for some time, and have internalized these messages from society less than others.

Regardless — shifting toward a positive body image requires, first, if we haven’t already, to acknowledge that we were born into this culture and that the issue affects us. Secondly, it requires courage to have the intention to look at these issues and to commit to healing and/or reprogramming ourselves. Thirdly, it requires a courageous and almost constant monitoring of our thinking, so that we can identify the stories we tell ourselves about body image, which often also affect our self-esteem.

NVC is very valuable between people, but it also gives us great tools for how we talk to ourselves – our intrapersonal communication. And healthy intrapersonal communication skills are key to having a satisfying relationship with yourself.

Learn to Develop Good Intrapersonal Communication Skills

So, how does one learn to develop good intrapersonal communication skills?

One of the shifts in self-talk that happens as people progress in NVC is moving from a type of thinking and language based on rigid concepts of good/bad and right/wrong, and which uses judgments, blame, name-calling, and criticism — to a more life-serving language based on speaking from the heart about what is important to us.

Transforming judgments into a language of needs is a basic skill in NVC.

Sometimes in NVC we begin working with judgments from outside — because our own self-judgments are sometimes the most painful!

We work with the tools — and build up our skills — so that we can more effectively deal with the ways we judge ourselves.

One of the basic premises in NVC is that judgments are a tragic expression of unfulfilled needs. So one of the basic skills we learn in NVC is how to transform judgments into expressions of feelings and needs.

For example:
“I’m too fat” is just a judgment and doesn’t tell us what’s actually important to the person thinking or speaking. At a deeper level it could be any number of things.
“I’m too fat” could translate into:
“I feel sad and discouraged and really long to feel vital and healthy”
“I feel some disappointment because I wish self-control were easier when we have cookies in the house”
“I feel sad and want reassurance that he still loves me”
… whatever the person is actually feeling and needing.

When we translate a judgment into a language of feelings and needs we reclaim our power, because we are connecting to what is important to us on a deeper level. From that place we can choose consciously and freely, rather than if we are reacting to our stories about how things “should” be.

Think of all the types of self-judgments people have about their bodies and what that means about their worth.

“If I was just 5 pounds thinner…”
“I’m too fat to be lovable”
“I’m not curvy enough to be desirable”
“I can’t believe I ate that 2nd cookie. I’m a failure”
“I already ate a piece of candy today I don’t deserve XYZ food”
“If I looked like her I could be happy”
(Real-life examples collected by one of our collaborators.)

Now imagine translating each of these statements into at least 1 feeling and 1 need. This is how we begin to change our thinking, our language, and our understanding about what motivates us as human beings, and how to liberate ourselves from cultural conditioning.

The process of transforming our old stories and worldviews may involve some mourning, and that’s ok. After all, mourning is a healthy human capacity. And it beats living in self-hatred!

It’s ok to feel sadness out of a yearning for greater self-respect and a longing to be kinder to yourself!

As we mourn, shift from, and let go of the old stories, we can also begin to develop more positive self-talk.

Communicate Non-Violently to Overcome Negative Body Image

NVC can also teach us how to communicate nonviolently to overcome negative body image stereotypes from the culture.

Liberating yourself from cultural conditioning is an inside job that also benefits from external support.

It’s one thing to change your own thinking and language — it’s another to change the culture.

Not only can your self-talk be more empowered and compassionate — as you liberate yourself you help to liberate others.

NVC also teaches us how to speak up — compassionately and courageously — when we hear someone insulting or denigrating another.

And the language of the heart that NVC teaches us — focusing on observations, feelings, needs, and requests — makes it much more likely that the other person will hear our message in a way that can create positive movement rather than violence.

The Importance of Talking to Children About Body Image

We see the importance of talking to children about body image. If you’re here, reading this, chances are you agree that we should communicate with children in a way that reinforces their self-esteem and their capacity to care for and love themselves and others.

Children are always observing. And sometimes adults fail to realize that our actions speak louder than our words.

What are you saying to your children? And more importantly, what are you modeling for them?

What we say and how we guide our children is important.

Liberating yourself, being of integrity, and leading by example are critical.

We don’t want to minimize the importance of talking to children about body image — and to teach them to fill themselves with love so they can share the overflow with others.

We do want to emphasize the importance of walking your talk — because what you model is of most importance.

Dr. Marshall Rosenberg on Nonviolent Communication and Self-Esteem

When we listen to Dr. Marshall Rosenberg on NVC and self-esteem, his views on human nature are quite clear.

Dr. Rosenberg encouraged us to see ourselves as divine rather than toxic.

So with regard to healthy body image and self-esteem, he would have encouraged us to look very closely at the beliefs the culture has given us, and to begin to question and tease apart what is true, beautiful, and empowering.

By teaching us to use a language of life — that is, a language that employs universal human needs rather than judgments — Dr. Rosenberg gave us a path to transforming life-alienated thinking and language.

Dr. Marshall Rosenberg’s advice on NVC, self-esteem, and healthy body image would include being compassionate with ourselves and learning to love ourselves as best we can.

PuddleDancer Press Books on Body Image and Self-Esteem

PuddleDancer Press is the foremost proponent and publisher of books on Nonviolent Communication, self-esteem, and healthy body image.

In her book, Eat by Choice Not by Habit: practical skills for creating a healthy relationship with your body and food, Sylvia Haskvitz helps you shift the focus from basic weight loss to changing the ways you relate to food and food choices.

From the book’s overview:
“Eating is a need, but for those caught in cycles of over-consumption and dieting, it’s often a poor attempt to meet other needs, such as emotional fulfillment. When reconnected to actual needs, however, consumption habits turn into nutritional choices, signaling greater freedom. Find practical strategies to break out of unhealthy eating cycles by becoming aware of your needs. Rather than a proscriptive fad diet, readers learn to dig deeper to the emotional consciousness that underlies our eating patterns. Learn to enjoy the tastes, smells and sensations of healthful eating once again.”

NVC has shown time and again that human beings are capable of transforming patterns of thinking, of behavior, that don’t serve into ways of understanding and relating that contribute to making life more wonderful.

Our books 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, and
  • 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 the books, to help you grow your emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, and communication prowess. Check out our catalog of books on… and give yourself the gift of Compassionate Communication!


Topic written by Alan Seid, a Certified Trainer, on behalf of PuddleDancer Press for use on

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