Using Nonviolent Communication to Talk About Sexual Assault

The purpose of Nonviolent Communication is to create the high quality of connection out of which people naturally and spontaneously want to contribute to one another’s well being.
Sexual assault is a painful topic, and it’s understandable that someone would not want to talk about it.

This is why the trust-building that happens through Nonviolent Communication can help to provide a safe space to talk about difficult topics, including sexual assault.

One of the things that happens with sexual assault is that there’s often shame added to the already painful experience of having been assaulted sexually. The shame makes it extra painful and additionally difficult to talk about.

NVC helps us interpersonally to hear and understand each other with care and compassion.

NVC also gives us tools for our intra-personal communication, how we talk to ourselves. Especially when we’re experiencing things like guilt, depression, and shame.

With NVC tools and skills, a person can navigate their own self-talk and help to facilitate powerful and connecting conversations about the most difficult topics.

Communicate Non-Violently to Handle Difficult Conversations Effectively

The reason difficult conversations don’t go well is because most of us have not been taught how to regulate our feelings effectively.

In a difficult conversation, when someone gets triggered or once there are hard feelings, it’s very difficult to stay in the conversation or to get it back on track.

Most of us don’t know how to work with conflict constructively, and many of us are conflict-avoidant.
Instead of avoiding conflict, a more constructive goal might be to learn how to support conflict.

Most of us have had the experience of having been in a conflict, and having hung in there long enough to get to the other side where there’s more connection and more mutual understanding. Nonviolent Communication gives us the tools to do that consistently.

With NVC, we can translate any judgment or criticism into feelings and needs which both supports the speaker’s self responsibility, and the listener’s ability to hear with compassion.

NVC gives you the tools to communicate non-violently so that you are most effective in handling difficult conversations.

Me Too Movement: Shining the Spotlight on the Sexual Assault Epidemic

The Me Too movement was born out of both courage and desperation.

There is the desperation of not being heard or believed, and not being able to trust in the care that contributes to safety, trust, and community.

The Me Too movement was also born out of the courage of individual after individual being willing to speak out and to speak up. It has been powerful and necessary in shining the spotlight on sexual assault.

The Me Too movement started or amplified essential work and has necessitated the questions what now? and what next?

Both victims and perpetrators of sexual assault learn thinking and language that can be disconnecting, alienating, and judgmental.

For the important healing to take place that the Me Too movement is highlighting, we need to make sure that it is supported with robust restorative justice methods, rather than merely resorting to the old punitive justice which will not result in the type of healing that’s possible.

The Me Too movement has been historic in terms of shining a much-needed spotlight on the epidemic of sexual assault and sexual misconduct.

Using NVC to Develop Healthy Intra-personal Communication Skills

The wisdom traditions and the major religions the world over and throughout the ages have all expressed some version of “know yourself.”

Human beings have so much depth and can be so complex!

The quality of how you speak to yourself translates into how you view, treat, and relate to others.

Most of us, when we speak to ourselves, can be judgmental and harsh, instead of gentle, kind, caring, sweet, and supportive.

Unhealthy intra-personal communication leads to rage, anger, depression, guilt, and shame.

NVC gives us tools to step off of our judgmental story and unpack the underlying universal needs.

When we connect to the needs themselves — which Dr. Marshall Rosenberg defined as “how life is showing up inside us at this moment” — we begin to undo the judgmental story of ourselves which usually contains some kind of static judgement. By static we mean something that is followed by the verb “to be.”

Life-disconnected, life-alienated communication is a static language. Nonviolent Communication is a process language, and recognizes that life is dynamic and things are constantly changing.

Dr. Marshall Rosenberg used to say that people who are connected to their needs do not make good slaves or robots.

By developing healthy intra-personal communication skills, you connect to your own personal power, and are able to come from a place of choice.

Any act of aggression or violence is seen through the NVC lens as a tragic expression of unmet needs.

Before somebody commits any kind of sexual assault, they’re already disconnected from their own needs, including the perspective that would lead to mutually agreeable outcomes.

Somebody who’s experienced sexual assault could be going through all kinds of feelings and stories and things that they’re telling themselves.

In many situations, people start to question themselves, or they blame themselves, or they make themselves wrong for having had the experience that they had.

NVC helps us to connect to the underlying needs, attend to our mourning in a life-connected way, and to be able to make amends with any part of ourselves involved in guilt, shame, or self-blame — because of an awareness that we acted with the best information we had at the time in order to try to meet our needs.

Using NVC skills, you can avoid the painful cycle of shame, guilt, and depression by connecting to underlying needs, and then finding different strategies that are more likely to fulfill those needs.

Using NVC to develop healthy intra-personal communication skills can help you avoid any unnecessary suffering coming from shame or self-blame, and to access more interior clarity about how you are and what next steps could be.

Using NVC to Develop Effective Interpersonal Communication Skills

The purpose of Nonviolent Communication is to create a high-quality connection out of which people spontaneously want to contribute to one another’s well-being.

Effective interpersonal communication has three components: speaking, listening, and self-connection.

If you are not connected to yourself — if you don’t know what’s happening inside you — that’s going to limit how honest you are able to be with other people.

If you’re triggered, emotionally saturated, or overwhelmed with emotional pain, that’s going to impact how present you can be with empathy for somebody else.

Both the speaking and the listening will be limited, or supported by, your degree of self-understanding and self connection.

The NVC model itself is quite simple, comprised of four components: observation, feeling, need, and request.

The type of thinking and language that gets in the way of being effective in our interpersonal communication includes things like judgements, criticism, blaming others, justifying reward and punishment, and placing demands on others.

With NVC, we can clarify what the core motivators are for each person. We use a language of universal human needs to describe these core motivators. These motivators or needs do not refer to any specific person taking any specific action.

By understanding your own deeper needs and being able to connect to another person’s deeper needs, not only do you resolve misunderstandings and conflicts, but most of the time you can prevent them.

It is through these three practices that we develop effective interpersonal communication skills: understanding ourselves, listening to others with the intention to understand rather than respond, and expressing ourselves clearly and honestly.

It takes all three areas: self connection, honesty, and empathic listening.

The extent to which NVC skills could lead to an entirely different outcome, or the extent to which somebody needs these skills after an experience of sexual assault, is 100% context-dependent.

The best time to to learn and develop the effective interpersonal communication skills that NVC gives you was probably years ago.

The next best time is now.

How Does Compassionate Communication Help Victims of Sexual Assault?

Let’s start by acknowledging that the experience of sexual assault can be devastating to a person’s psyche, morale, and sense of themselves.

Trauma from sexual assault is real — and we need to bring more trauma-informed awareness and skills when we bring NVC to bear on a sexual assault situation.

As we’ve described above, compassionate communication (NVC) has three different areas in which we can put our awareness: our self connection, the way we’re expressing ourselves with others, and the way that we listen to or are present with others.

One of the things that compounds the pain of somebody who was a victim of sexual assault is when others blame them and make them wrong. “You shouldn’t have gone to that party,” or “you shouldn’t have been wearing what you were wearing.”

It makes things worse when others shame a victim of sexual assault, when they try to give advice and suggestions (unless requested), and when they try to rescue someone from going through their feelings and going through the process of mourning, self-forgiveness, and healing.

Anyone who has gone through an emotionally challenging situation needs first and foremost a compassionate, respectful understanding. This is sometimes referred to as empathic presence, and it’s a quality of listening without being made wrong and without trying to fix anything, but simply a present, compassionate understanding that NVC training teaches people to offer.

The first way compassionate communication can help victims of sexual assault, is when the people who are there to support know how to be empathically present.

The second way compassionate understanding helps victims of sexual assault, is when the person or people who are there to support have NVC skills and are self- connected, so that they can notice when they’re getting triggered, or they can notice when they might be unclear about their motivation to speak at a certain moment.

There’s an element of self-monitoring that compassionate communication contributes to those who are supporting others, so that they can be most present for the people that need them.

Thirdly, victims of sexual assault can learn these tools and skills for themselves to avoid the shame, blame, and guilt trap, and to learn how to speak their truth in a way that’s the most self connected, empowered, and can also offer actionable requests for others to be able to respond constructively.

Dr. Marshall Rosenberg on NVC for Healing from Sexual Assault

Dr. Marshall Rosenberg used to tell stories of conducting victim-offender mediation between a person who was raped and the person who committed the rape.

Dr. Rosenberg used to say that for the person who committed the rape to sit in prison and think ‘I’m a piece of trash and I deserve to rot here for the rest of my life,’ — is a cop out.

He said that for the person who committed the rape to sit with the other person and connect with that person’s humanity and all the pain from unmet needs; and then for the person who committed the rape to connect with their own humanity, and how their very own actions didn’t work for them either… Dr. Rosenberg used to say “that’s true suffering.”

There’s a potential for healing that is accessible when we go beyond right-wrong thinking. NVC teaches us how to access this. In NVC-based victim-offender mediation, people have the opportunity to go through mourning, healing, and reconciliation — rather than be stuck in a system of punitive justice that brings healing to no one.

When we apply NVC to restorative justice victim-offender mediation, we give people a greater opportunity to create the human-to-human connection which can be such a strong foundation for healing and reconciliation. 

Puddledancer Press Books About Healing From Emotional Trauma

PuddleDancer Press is the foremost proponent and publisher of books on Nonviolent Communication and healing from emotional trauma.

Because trauma is so often physiological, rather than or in addition to psychological, NVC is one tool of many that a trauma-informed approach to healing can have.

NVC has shown time and again that human beings are capable of healing past hurts, preventing and resolving conflicts, celebrating the ways we contribute to each other’s well-being, and arriving at mutually crafted solutions.

Our books on healing can help you:

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

Whether you are a long-time student — or are brand new to NVC — PuddleDancer Press has the educational resources, including the books on healing from trauma, to help you grow your emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, and communication prowess.

Check out our catalog of books on conflict resolution… and give yourself the gift of Compassionate Communication!

Books related to Sexual Discrimination & Me Too

NVC Sexual Discrimination Web Resources

Click here for Marshall Rosenberg Sexual Discrimination Articles
Click here for Marshall Rosenberg Sexual Discrimination Videos
Click here for Nonviolent Communication Sexual Discrimination Articles
Click here for Nonviolent Communication Sexual Discrimination Videos

NVC Me Too Web Resources

Click here for Marshall Rosenberg Me Too Articles
Click here for Marshall Rosenberg Me Too Videos
Click here for Nonviolent Communication Me Too Articles
Click here for Nonviolent Communication Me Too 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.