Red Green Repeat Adventures of a Spec Driven Junkie

Nonviolent Communication - Chapter 5

Taking reponsibility for our feelings

The chapter opens up with a quote that is apt:

People are disturbed not by things, but by the view they take on them.
  - Epictetus

After identifying one’s feelings, take responsibility for them. Once we take responsibility for them, we can generate our own feelings.

Only by consciously generating our own feelings, we can be responsible for them.

The more directly we can connect our feelings with our needs, the better chance of others responding to us compassionately.

Also, if we do not value our needs, others will not value them either.

Stimulus vs Cause of Feelings

  • others may be the stimulus of feelings
  • only we are the cause of the feelings

It’s a subtle difference, but let’s look at the dictionary definition of stimulus and cause.

Definition of stimulus

  • something that rouses or incites to activity


Definition of cause

  • a reason for an action or condition : motive


Basically, I understand stimulus as an external event and cause as a reasoning for the event.

Stimulus: It is raining. Cause: I always hate it when it rains.

The first describes the event without any reasoning. The latter reasons one’s feelings to the event. With feelings mixed in, it is easy to attribute one’s feelings to the stimulus instead of the cause.

So, our feelings are caused by others through external events in which reasons explain the feeling. The important part is the reasoning we associate with the stimulus.

There is a need to accept responsibility for our feelings, essentially, accept responsibility for our own reasoning of a stimulus.


There are four ways to react to a message:

  1. blame ourselves
  2. blame others
  3. sense our own needs & feelings
  4. sense others needs & feelings

Blame Ourselves

This is the easiest option. Just accept the speaker’s judgment as correct and accept it. This has a great toll on one’s self-esteem and leads to guilt, shame, and depression.

Blame Others

Use the anger generated from the speaker’s judgment and react violently. The best defense is offense.

This does not recognize one’s own feelings, blaming others avoid feeling guilty for others messages.

Sense Own Needs

When message is painful, recognize that one’s own need for recognition is not fulfilled.

One can use their feelings as a compass towards their own needs. Ask: what unfulfilled need causes such a message to be so painful?

Sense Others Needs

Take a step further, understand the speaker’s message may be due to one of their unfulfilled needs.

This is most difficult as it requires one to be strong in their own feelings in order to respond with empathy and compassion to a speaker, instead of accidentally criticizing the speaker.

Most importantly: accept responsibility for our own feelings instead of blaming others by acknowledging our own needs, desires, thoughts, expectations, and values.

Masking Responsibilty

These are common patterns to hide responsibility for one’s feelings:

  1. Using impersonal pronouns such as it or that.
  2. Expression: “I feel (an emotion) because (another person)…”
  3. Statements that only list the action of others.

I use these a lot in my speech. Now, I am alert to whenever I use these patterns and re-evaluate what I just said.

Connecting with Needs

Those are some of the ways to express feelings, but how can one connect with their true needs?

One can get back in touch with their feelings and be responsible for them by expressing themselves by using the following structure:

“I feel (emotion) because I (need something)”

For example, “I feel I dislike rain because I don’t like to ruin my hair for work.”

Motivating by Guilt

One of the insightful parts of the chapter is: guilt tripping others is the outsourcing of responsibilities of their feelings.

Guilt trip: “You would not say that if you loved me.”

Another way to say the above while accepting responsibility: “I feel unloved because I hear you say that.”

Judgement, Criticism, Diagnosis, etc.

One’s needs can manifest itself in such ways: judgment, criticism, diagnosis, etc. are really an alienated expression of one’s own unmet needs.

When one express own unmet needs indirectly, others may hear criticism, and that can start an argument. I’ve fallen into this situation, where I inadvertently was making a comment about myself, but the listener thought I was talking about them!

Primary reason: we are not taught to think of our own feelings and needs, only the fault of others. Even expressing one’s feelings can sound like criticism!

It is important to connect with our own needs first, because that would make others hearing criticism harder if we are only talking about our own needs!


It can be particularly hard for women to express their feelings and needs. Women generally have a social stigma of putting others’ needs above their own (like a child, husband, family, etc.)

This makes it even harder for women to express, and for others to hear their expression of needs. In general, it is easy for women to fall into situation where they do not express their needs because of the social stigma.

Stages to Emotional Liberation

So, how does one get out and start connecting with their feelings? Understand where one towards emotional liberation. There are three distinct stages:

  1. Emotional Slavery
  2. Emotional Obnoxiousness
  3. Emotional Liberation

Emotional Slavery

Similar to blame oneself in reacting to a message, this stage, one accepts responsibility for others feelings, even if it is not their own feeling. Focus on keeping others happy, even at own expense.

Over time, others become a burden as the emotional toll becomes too heavy and one’s own needs are not fulfilled.

Emotional Obnoxiousness

A kind of middle area between blaming others and sensing own needs, where one knows they do not have to be responsible for others feelings as they do not feel them, but blame others in an obnoxious way for feeling that way.

The general feeling for this stage is anger, where one does not want to be responsible for others feelings, and will let others know!

Even though at this stage, one does not acknowledge others’ needs, they still feel guilty about expressing own needs, so expressing one’s needs may be awkward or weird.

Emotional Liberation

At this stage, one accepts responsibility for own feelings but not others. They respond to others’ needs based on compassion, not guilt or shame. One communicates their needs and that fulfilling others’ needs are also important.


This chapter has been full of learning:

  • stages to emotional liberation
  • understanding ways to react to a message
  • connecting with own needs by using the structure: “I feel (emotion) because I (need something).”
  • understand the difference between stimulus and cause
  • understand what is really going on with a guilt trip

The chapter is short, but full of learning. For example, I now understand why I don’t like the rain. Because it makes me feel grumpy. The stimulus is rain, but the cause is the rain makes my hair bad. So, to fix that, either I: a) bring an umbrella with me more often or b) don’t worry what others think of my hair when it’s wet.

Most importantly, I take responsibility for my feelings, no matter what I choose.