Stimulus vs. Cause – A view by J. Powell

I like to quote a brief passage from John Powell, an author who Marshall refered to in several of his workshops. I can see how Marshall would have resonated with the views expressed by Powell and found inspiration for his development of the NVC process, including the core elements of the NVC process, human needs.

About those emotions1

No one can cause emotions in another

In learning to understand ourselves we must learn to become very open to and accepting of all our emotional reactions. If what we have said about our emotions is the key to personal understanding, then we must learn to listen to our own emotions if we are to become growing persons. The basic belief which I must repose absolute faith in order to understand myself by understanding my emotions is this: no one else can cause or be resonsible for my emotions. Of course, we feel better by assigning our emotions to other people. „You made me angry … you frightened me … you made me jealous,“ etc. The fact is that you can‘t make me anything. You can only stimulate the emotions that are already in me, waiting to be activated. The distinction between causing and stimulating emotions is not just a play on words. The acceptance of the truth involved is critical. If I think you can make me angry, then when I become angry I simply lay the blame and pin the problem on you. I can then walk away from our encounter learning nothing, concluding only that you were at fault because you made me angry. Then I need to ask no questions of myself because I have laid all the responsibility at your feet.

If I accept the thesis that others can only stimulate emotions already latently present in me, when these emotions do surface it becomes a learning experience. I then ask myself: „Why was I so afraid? Why did that remark threaten me? Why was I so angry? Was my anger really a disguised way of saving face? Something was already in me that this incident called forth. What was it? A person who really believes this will begin dealing with his emotions in a profitable way. He will no longer allow himself the easy escape into the judgment and condemnation of others. He will become a growing person, more and more in touch with himself.

1 Powell, John. The secret of staying in love (Niles: Argus Communications, 1974), 95-96.