Here, Let Me Fix You So I Can Feel Better

Have you ever been in a position where you subconsciously want to fix or change someone? Only to realize it was really about making yourself happier?

I believe this happens to us all at one time or another. It is natural for us to want to help others. But what are our intentions behind the helping? It is possible that sometimes we want to fix someone so we can feel better about ourselves?

I believe sometimes we want to be the “hero” or at least feel better once we see the other person living our way. Of course, our intentions are good. But who is it really benefiting?

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How Can I Best Help Others?

Since graduating from Teacher’s College 24 years ago, I have continually sought out ways to be a better teacher. In the past year, I have been looking for better ways to help the students I teach communicate and solve problems more effectively. It wasn't until last year that I discovered something called Nonviolent Communication (NVC). I belief that NVC could be one of the best things I have discovered yet to preventing and solving problems and effectively supporting students, teachers and parents.

Why I Use Nonviolent Communication In The Classroom

Effective communication skills have greatly improved my life, as well as for those around me. But since incorporating NVC, I have seen even more positive effects in how I engage and support my students.

Before I started using NVC, I would often use much of the “behaviourist approach” with students like rewards and punishments.  In teacher training, these might be referred to as "classroom management strategies." These strategies often leave me feeling exhausted as they are about controlling another person's behavior. They have put me in situations where I now feel I need to prove that I have power over my students. I am not interested in controlling another person’s behavioiur. I am far more interested in teaching students how to be in control of their own. 

I have noticed that even much of my teacher training language is “violent” in the sense that is is about manipulation and control. It can often sound humiliating or embarrassing for the student it is directed at. NVC has helped me learn how to speak in a way that does not require humiliation or threats to get the results I want in the classroom.

Case Study Of Why I Now Used Non-Violent Communication

One of the classes I was teaching last year had a very explosive student. For this article, we will call the student, "Kevin." It would not take much for Kevin to get agitated. It was so severe that the class had to have an evacuation procedure in place in case he had another one of his episodes. 

One day as I was walking into teach this class music, the classroom teacher met me the door to say Kevin was struggling. I thanked her for the warning.

As soon as I entered the room I made eye contact with Kevin and could see the anger in his eyes. I smiled at him with love to assure him I was so glad to see him. I put my arms out with a question in my eyes that asked: "Do you want a hug?" He put his head down and shook his body in a "No." I smiled and thanked him for his honesty. 

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After singing a few songs, I shared with the students my "Share The Love" sheet. It is a sheet with a huge heart that fills the page. I gave them each a sheet and asked them to put their name in the middle of the heart and leave it on their desk. As I played songs about love, everyone was to walk around the room writing down something they liked or loved about each person on their "Share The Love" sheet.

Classes have always enjoyed the "Share The Love" sheet. Students love going back to their own desk at the end and reading all the loving things their classmates and teacher wrote about them. However, just before the students were getting ready to participate, Kevin said he did not like this task at all. I had not anticipated his reaction. He shouted out that he did NOT want anyone writing on his heart! 

It suddenly occurred to me that he may have such little self-love that he could not allow any love to come in. I also thought that maybe he was worried that no one would have anything nice to say about him. Accepting love from others can be so difficult when we don’t love ourselves. Reading loving words could be such a contradiction to the stories he has in his head about himself and how he believes others see him. 

In the past, if a student had a similar reaction as Kevin, I would have been more 'firm' with them. I would have want set limits and consequences. Instead, I kept using NVC with him. I stayed calm and not once felt triggered by his yelling. I kept listening to his pain and trying to identify the need underlying his pain.

He seemed somewhat thrown off when I calmly repeated back what I heard him saying. He would then temporarily calm down but then would switch back to being angry. He went back and forth between being angry and quietly agitated. 

Finally, at the end of class, just before his classroom teacher returned, he exploded. He went over to my heart sheet and ripped it up into many small pieces and then smiled at me with a look of revenge that seemed to say, "Take that!"

For a moment, I felt unbelievably sad, along with a feeling of defeat. The classroom teacher walked in, and I left quickly for fear my emotions may arise. I wondered why I was suddenly feeling so upset. A short time later, I realized at that moment; I had taken his behavior personally. When we accept other people's attacks personally, we suffer.

After further reflection, I realized that part of my upset was because I recognized that I still had an agenda for him. I had hoped by holding space and hearing him that he would eventually calm and be open to receiving our love. I recognized this as another cause of suffering: needing others to be or do what we want them to do so we can feel better. I wanted him to feel good about himself, so I could feel good about myself for fixing him.

I thought I was trying to listen for his need but I was too distracted with my need for him to just let us love him. 

"Please let me fix you so I can feel better about myself."

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How often do we do this when we see someone acting in a way that pains us. What would happen if we could hold space for someone who was in pain rather than trying to fix or change anything about them or the situation?

What if instead, those people in pain could feel us just being there, giving recognition to their pain with no agenda to change them, fix them or take their pain away? I wonder how quickly pain would defuse if we could hold space for people so they could go within to question what is going on with themselves? What if we gave them the time just to sit and notice what is happening and be open to discovering their own solutions?

I have found when people have held space for me; it has helped me to become self-empowered and discover my path to freeing myself of my pain far quicker than when someone has an underlying agenda on how to help me. 

I find it a little baffling that even with this self-awareness, how much it continues to be a challenge for me to hold space for others without an agenda. Fortunately, NVC has helped me break free of that cronic system of thinking.

Nonviolent Communication Is Changing The Way We Educate And Dissolve Problems

Our education system decided years ago that the best way to educate children is to put them in a room of same-aged students with one adult. This structure greatly frustrates me as I believe it is one of the main causes of our "classroom management issues."

As much as I dream of better ways to educate our children, for now, this is the reality of my job. As a teacher, it often feels like I do not have the ability to hold space for an upset student. Our training focuses on compliance and conformity to maintain control over many bodies in this potentially chaotic environment. However, the more I explore non-violent communication, the more I realize that my strategies in the past have often created or augmented explosive disciplinary episodes. When I recognize that there is a reason a student is demonstrating challenging behavior and the more I let go of the need to control and fix them, the quicker peace comes to me and in turn to them as well. My goal is to offer them compassion so they can better understand their behavior as well as the underlying unmet need that is often the trigger to disruptive behaviour.

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Learning nonviolent communication takes time and practice. I continue to find it very challenging to let go of my subtle “passive aggressive” language I use to manipulation and control students. It is hard to let go of my agenda to “fix” a difficult student.

I have learned that when I let go of my need to fix or change anyone and when I let go of the belief that I need to constantly be in control of children’s behaviour, nonviolent communication arises almost effortlessly within me. When I focus on my genuine needs, like for a respectful environment and my need to teach the given material I must cover, NVC comes almost naturally. It feels so freeing to let go of manipulations strategies and instead focus on co-creating a self empowering environment with students where we can all learn together in a respectful and loving way. 

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Jill McPherson1 Comment