Emotional Liberation

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

~ Marshall Rosenberg

Many emotionally sensitive or excitable folks tend to be people pleasers. We may start out denying our own needs to meet the needs of others. In Nonviolent Communication: A Language of LifeMarshall Rosenberg describes four stages in what he calls the movement from "Emotional Slavery to Emotional Liberation" (p. 57).  Simply put, we start by blaming ourselves, then start to blame others, then we can move to sensing our own feelings and needs and then the needs of others.

Emotional Slavery

Rosenberg calls the first stage "Emotional Slavery."  At this point we see ourselves as responsible for other people's feelings.  We take criticisms of us personally and accept the other person's judgement.  This inclines us toward a feeling of shame, guilt and depression.

I believe many of us are driven by the desire to be "nice," but as I discussed in my blog post You Can be Kind Without Being Nice, our culture's way of defining nice is very superficial.  It's all about presenting ourselves as pleasant people.  I personally prefer to be "kind," which to me is more about intent than appearance, meaning that you intend to communicate clearly in an empathetic way.

The "Obnoxious Stage"

I've seen quite a few folks who have felt like victims in their lives throw the baby out with the bath water and decide they are in no way responsible for anyone else's feelings.  Rosenberg calls this the "Obnoxious Stage."  At this point, we fault the speaker and we protest or invalidate their perspective.  This is driven by feelings of anger.

At this point we are no longer concerned about being "nice," but in our attempts at self-advocacy, we may come off more aggressive than assertive.

Emotional Liberation

Once we take full responsibility of our intentions and actions, we reach what Rosenberg calls "Emotional Liberation."  At this point we shine a light on our own feelings and needs to express self-empathy.  We become conscious of the underlying issue and that there is more than one way to meet our own needs.

When we've connected with our own feelings and needs, we can move toward communicating kindly with others.


The final stage of emotional liberation is when we can feel and express empathy toward the needs of others.  Not in a way that sacrifices our own feelings and needs, but in a way that looks to support the needs of all parties. At this point you show attempts at understanding the other person, which usually engenders more cooperation.

Once you can clearly express your own feelings and needs while taking into consideration the feelings and needs of others, you are free to explore strategies that can meet everyone's needs.