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So I've been looking into non-violent communication (NVC) lately and I came across the following:

Jackal Parent: Say you are sorry

Jackal Child: I’m sorry

Jackal Parent: You’re not really sorry. I can see from your face you are not really sorry.

Jackal Child: (begins to cry) I’m sorry.

Jackal Parent: I forgive you.

Along with the general idea of right/wrong being part of a domination culture that runs counter to the goals of NVC.

Apologies were baked into the culture I grew up in. Whenever I cause harm to someone (intentionally or not), I apologize. And when harm is done unto me, I expect an apology, and get upset when I do not receive one. Reading that article has made me come to realize that the latter is not constructive.

But it's also made me think about the former: I wonder if, given that as a species we tend to internalize behaviours we experience, the act of apologizing is part of making an environment where apologies are 'normal', and, consequently, 'expected'.

I wonder whether the act of apologizing itself can contribute to a domination culture, and if as such, I should change my behavior to where I avoid admitting wrong (due to the NVC outlook that right/wrong are unimportant/nonexistent) and instead try to jump straight to fixing whatever problem came up. To me that seems counter-intuitive, but I don't know if that's just a result of how I've been raised.

What place do apologies have in non-violent communication? Is apologizing counter to non-violent communication?

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    Hi Sarov! Welcome to Interpersonal Skills :) Since questions asking 'What should I do' are off-topic here, I've given your posta big edit. I can understand if you don't like it, but I tried to make it more generally focused on apologies and non-verbal communication, and not so much a 'what should I do' question. I've also turned the other questions into statements, I think they are thoughts you had, but also having too many questions can distract answerers from getting to the point. I hope you like the edit, but if not... feel free to roll back and we'll see how the post goes. Again, welcome!
    – Tinkeringbell
    Mar 12 at 19:14
  • Also, I've added a tag 'academic-research' to this. It seems to me non-violent communication is a theory that has been approached scientifically enough that this could warrant such a tag. This hopefully means that answers you get will backed up more with sources than personal experience.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Mar 12 at 19:18
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    @Tinkeringbell the changes seem fine to me. Thank you.
    – Sarov
    Mar 12 at 19:18
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    Let me add that apologies as shown in your example are nothing more than a ritual that has nothing to do with communication of any kind. One (the child) does something bad, then says some words told by adults without knowing what they mean and things are ok. Next time the same, do what you want, say something, everyone is fine with you.
    – puck
    Mar 13 at 8:59
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    @YosefBaskin I think that'd depend on the intent. If, for example, the parent was legitimately and in good faith trying to teach the child 'manners', then I wouldn't consider it 'bullying'... though I wouldn't consider it healthy, either.
    – Sarov
    Mar 15 at 18:14
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In Nonviolent Communication, instead of apologizing, there should be "mourning". From Rosenberg’s Forgiving the Past by Focusing on the Present, which focuses on deep-seated pain, (via PuddleDancer Press):

Apology is basically part of our violent language. It implies wrongness — that you should be blamed, that you should be penitent, that you’re a terrible person for what you did. And when you agree that you are a horrible person and when you have become sufficiently penitent, you can be forgiven. Sorry is part of that game, you see. If you hate yourself enough, you can be forgiven.

Healing doesn’t come from that. NVC should first start with finding out “what’s alive” in the person who has been hurt. To quote another interview, that’s “what the person is feeling and how their feelings are connected to their needs”, and specifically this should be about now — it’s not about the past.

Next, the person who has caused pain should introspect and learn what unmet needs of theirs lead to the hurtful behavior. They then mourn, which Rosenberg says may look like this:

“I feel terribly sad to see that my way of handling my pain at the time could result stimulate so much pain for you. And my needs were not met by that. My needs were just the opposite, to contribute to your well-being.” — ibid

Last is about the person who caused the pain explaining “what was alive” in them at the time that lead to their actions. This step does touch on the past and it’s to create empathy. Rosenberg gives the following example of what that might look like:

“I was in such pain in so many parts of my life — my work wasn’t going well, I was feeling like a failure. So when I would see you and your brother screaming, I didn’t know what else to do to handle my pain except in the brutal way that I did.” — ibid


Also, reading about the four options found in Your Complete Nonviolent Communication Guide may help. may help. Two of them are automatic reactions which should be avoided and the other two are reactions you should work towards having (the example being someone calling you selfish):

3. Consider your own feelings and needs:
Say something like: “When I hear you say that I am selfish, I feel hurt because I need some recognition of the effort I make to consider your preferences.” By connecting their feelings with their needs, the speaker makes it easier for their partner to respond compassionately.
4. Consider the other person’s feelings and needs:
Ask something like: “Are you feeling hurt because you need more consideration for your preferences?” (Rosenberg & Chopra, 2015). This response opens space in the conversation for the other person to express their underlying needs.

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It's a difficult one and I'm glad you asked because I asked myself the same question.

You seem to know well what NVC stands against: domination through ideas of right and wrong and demands. But the official definition of apology is slightly different:

An apology is an expression of regret or remorse for actions, while apologizing is the act of expressing regret or remorse. wikipedia

This definition is compatible with regret, as expressed in NVC, which NVC prefer to call mourning.

What's not compatible with NVC is the wrongness implication of the apology, quoted from Marshall Rosenberg directly on the NVC website:

Apology is basically part of our violent language. It implies wrongness — that you should be blamed, that you should be penitent, that you’re a terrible person for what you did. And when you agree that you are a horrible person and when you have become sufficiently penitent, you can be forgiven. Sorry is part of that game, you see. If you hate yourself enough, you can be forgiven.

You can also have this distinction explained in this video

MR: If you say to the person, "The way I talked to you, I feel really sad, it doesn't meet my need for respecting you and understanding you". You see, there is no image here that I'm bad person. [...] Check if the other person would prefer to hear the giraffe mourning or the apology that you are a bad person.

Since the official definition of apology is broad and do not always call for the judgemental interpretation, I would say there are two meaning "components" or possible interpretation of an apology, one being compatible and one being not. An apology is not NVC if:

  • It's done out of guilt
  • It's a beg for pardon or forgiveness
  • It's self-blaming, admitting having done something wrong or being a bad person

Mourning by contrast, which some NVC practitioners report using the words being sorry for, is different in the sense that:

  • It expresses sadness
  • It does not call for action from the other person
  • It's observation of not meeting your own need to respect someone

The idea that Laurel expressed that apologies aren't healing is entirely correct as well. When I apologize I do it for myself, as a relief to express my regret. I don't do it to make someone else feel better. There are other, more effective ways to do that.

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