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.