The 3 Stages of Emotional Slavery

A few weeks ago I finished reading “Nonviolent Communication – A Language of Life” by Marshall B. Rosenberg. Here is the second post I’ll be doing on this amazing book.

In this post I’d like to discuss some of my own shortcomings regarding emotional slavery. Then I’ll list out the 3 stages of emotional slavery. Then I’ll finish by challenging you to do a quick self-inventory to see where you land with your own emotional development.

As a child, my parents taught me to always put other people’s feelings before my own. Your brother’s bike has a flat tire, let him use yours. Your friend dropped his ice cream cone, give him yours. Your friend’s Super Nintendo broke? Let him borrow yours.

At a point, all of this giving left me with nothing.

As I got older I noticed that I was short-changing myself because I had a black and white view regarding how much emotional security everyone needed from me. Without even asking them.

I had not taken the next step in emotional maturity. I had become a willing participant in my own emotional slavery.

“Emotional slavery is where we believe ourselves responsible for the feelings of others. We think we must constantly strive to keep everyone happy. If they don’t appear happy, we feel responsible and compelled to do something about it. This can easily lead us to see the very people who are closest to us as burdens.” – Rosenberg

If we stick to this script we’ll be prepared to “turn the other cheek” and “follow the golden rule.” This approach works fine for toddlers but it starts to break down as you get older. Stick with stage 1 of emotional maturity and you set yourself up for emotional slavery.

Even worse, if you meet someone that sees how willing you are to take the blame or give up your own resources they will start to take advantage of your generosity.

Keep at this and you’ll be bled dry – emotionally, physically, and you may even lose some money. So how do you prevent this from happening? You need to develop and reach stage 2.

“In stage 2 we become aware of the high costs of assuming responsibility for others’ feelings and trying to accommodate them at our own expense. When we notice how much of our lives we’ve missed and how little we have responded to the call of our own soul, we may get angry.” – Rosenberg

At stage 2 we’re able to see how much we’ve led ourselves astray. The only person that truly knows what we want is ourselves. And if we are unable to clearly say that, feel it, and know it, how will others know. We need to start noticing how much of our own lives we are missing when we’re busy tending to the needs of emotional vampires.

Take stage 2 too far and you might become an asshole. That’s why evolution to stage 3 is so important.

“Stage 3 is emotional liberation where we respond to the needs of others out of compassion, never out of fear, guilt, or shame. Our actions are therefore fulfilling to us, as well as to those who receive our efforts. We accept full responsibility for our own intentions and actions, but not for the feelings of others. And at this stage, we are aware that we can never meet our own needs at the expense of others. Emotional liberation involves stating clearly what we need in a way that communicates we are equally concerned that the needs of others be fulfilled.” – Rosenberg

Now that you’ve seen all three stages, where would you rank yourself? How did you learn to navigate all three stages? Was it difficult to put your foot down and say, “No, I’m not free to help you move house on my birthday weekend.”

Did this post help to clarify what steps you need to take to evolve your own emotional maturity? Contact me, I’d love to hear about it.


Angry? Identify your unmet needs

Last week I finished reading “Nonviolent Communication – A Language of Life” by Marshall B. Rosenberg and I can’t get it out of my head.

This book has actionable advice that just plain works. I’m going to share a few quotes from the book and explain how I used these tips in my life to transform anger into understanding.

Here’s the quote that stood out the most to me:

“To fully express anger, request full consciousness of your need. In addition, energy is required to get the need met. Anger, however, co-opts our energy by directing it toward punishing people rather than meeting our needs.” – Rosenberg

Last week I was walking back from Campus Center. I was in a great mood. The sun was shining and I had just gotten paid.

As I walked back to work, two men approached me walking in the opposite direction. The thin sidewalk could only fit two people side by side. The two men approached deep in conversation. One of them pointed to the left with his finger and kept it held out. It must have been part of something he was talking about.

“We are dangerous when we are not conscious of our responsibility for how we behave, think, and feel.” – Rosenberg

As they got closer I started to get angry. There wasn’t enough room on the path for them and me. His finger was still pointing in the air. If he kept this up, he’d hit me with it. As they passed they didn’t form a single line. He kept his finger up. I stumbled to the right and had to walk off the path on the grass so I wouldn’t be hit by his finger.

I felt disrespected and angry that I had had to get off the path just so they could continue talking. Then I thought about the book. This was an opportunity to see if it worked.

I started to think about how I could reframe this anger as an unmet need. I felt foolish but I stuck with it. I stayed with the thoughts and searched for the unmet need. What unmet need was I feeling?

I discovered the stupid, silly, embarrassing fact that I needed to feel safe, seen, and respected.

By leaving his finger in the air and forcing me off the path, this man made me feel unsafe because I might get a finger stuck in my face. I felt disrespected by the thought that his conversation was more important than clearing the way for me to safely pass.

“If we find ourselves reacting reproachfully to something we did, we can quickly stop and ask ourselves, what unmet need of mine is being expressed through this moralistic judgment? When we do connect to the need, and there may be several layers of needs, we will notice a remarkable shift in our bodies. Instead of the shame guilt or depression we likely feel when criticizing ourselves for having messed up again, we will experience any number of other feelings.” – Rosenberg

As soon as I thought about it in terms of my needs the anger vanished. The need for blame evaporated.

The goal of this post was to encourage you to reframe the anger you feel into an internal search for your unmet needs.

Next time you start to feel anger, ask yourself what needs are not being met. You might feel foolish for having those needs. But you may also find that the anger goes away when you start thinking in terms of your needs.

Bonus points if you start using this technique on other people. When someone else is angry with you, try to think about it in terms of what unmet needs they have.

Did this post raise some new questions for you. Did you put it into practice? Contact me, I’d love the hear about it.