Taking Responsibility For Our Feelings

Posted by Beetle B. on Thu 01 June 2017

Hearing a Negative Message: Four Options

What others say or do may be the stimulus of our feelings, but not the cause.

When someone gives us a negative message (verbal or nonverbal), we have 4 options on receiving it:

  1. Take it personally by hearing blame or criticism (accepting the blame). This costs our self-esteem and increases guilt, shame or depression.
  2. Blame the speaker. Increases your anger.
  3. Focus/sense our own feelings and needs. It makes us direct feelings of hurt to our needs. What is my need that causes me to feel this way?
  4. Sense others’ feelings and needs. “Are you feeling hurt because you need more …?”

Remember: “You disappointed me” vs “I was disappointed when you … because I wanted …” (don’t forget the “because I wanted” part!)

Don’t stop at the feelings. Express the need.

Speech patterns to look out for that indicate not being accountable:

  1. it” and “that” like: It really bugs me…
  2. I feel … because …” where what follows because is a pronoun other than I. I feel hurt because he….
  3. Statements that mention others’ actions, but not your needs: When you didn’t call me, I felt hurt.

Stick to the template: I feel … because I need …

Distinguish between giving from the heart and being motivated by guilt.

Example: It hurts Mommy and Daddy when you get poor grades. The kid’s studying hard will then be motivated by guilt.

The Needs At The Roots of Feelings

Avoid “You never understand me”.

Judgments of others are alienated expressions of our own unmet needs.

This leads to defensiveness. People are more likely to respond well if we connect our feelings to our needs.

If we express our needs, we have a better chance of getting them met.

Examples of needs:


  • to choose one’s dreams, goals, values
  • to choose one’s plan for fulfilling one’s dreams, goals, values


  • to celebrate the creation of life and dreams fulfilled
  • to celebrate losses: loved ones, dreams, etc. (mourning)


  • authenticity
  • creativity
  • meaning
  • self-worth


  • acceptance
  • appreciation
  • closeness
  • community
  • consideration
  • contribution to the enrichment of life (to exercise one’s power by giving that which contributes to life)
  • emotional safety
  • empathy
  • honesty (the empowering honesty that enables us to learn from our limitations)
  • love
  • reassurance
  • respect
  • support
  • trust
  • understanding
  • warmth


  • fun
  • laughter

Spiritual Communion

  • beauty
  • harmony
  • inspiration
  • order
  • peace

Physical Nurturance

  • air
  • food
  • movement, exercise
  • protection from life-threatening forms of life: viruses, bacteria, insects, predatory animals
  • rest
  • sexual expression
  • shelter
  • touch
  • water

The Pain of Expressing Our Needs vs The Pain of Not Expressing Our Needs

Some people - especially women - will go to great lengths to avoid saying their needs. They’ll do it in a roundabout way which incites defensiveness.

If we don’t value our needs, others may not either.

From Emotional Slavery To Emotional Liberation

Stage 1: Emotional Slavery

We believe we are responsible for the feelings of others. We may try to keep others happy. This may lead us to feel others are burdens.

Taking responsibility for the feelings of others is damaging to intimate relationships. Or we blame our partner for being so dependent on us. And if the partner accepts the blame, it exacerbates the problem.

Stage 2: The Obnoxious Stage

We want to free ourselves of emotional slavery. We get angry at the time/effort we wasted trying to meet others’ needs while neglecting our own. We respond with “That’s your problem! I’m not responsible for your needs.” We are more inclined to do whatever we want in disregard of the other.

Stage 3: Emotional Liberation

We respond to the needs of others out of compassion and never out of fear, guilt or shame.

Our actions are fulfilling to us and to them.

We accept responsibility for our intentions and actions, but not for others’ feelings.

We realize we cannot meet our needs at the expense of others.


The book gives an example of a person upset and a listener probing to the causes. Several back and forths as in the NVC class (e.g. “Sounds like you’re exasperated because you’d like your tax money to be used for …”) - until there is a release from the angry person. Then he says the NVC formula: “You know, when you said … I got scared … ” and so on (observation, feeling and need).

tags : communication, nvc