Sunday, August 23, 2009

Emotional Liberation

Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I'll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase 'each other' doesn't make any sense.
- Rumi

I regularly find myself grateful for the clarity I find in a framework for emotional liberation that Nietzsche wrote about, and then Marshall Rosenberg applied to Nonviolent Communication (NVC). Applying this framework I find myself more able to understand and shift patterns of self-denial and self-isolation, and therefore able to enjoy much richer and more alive connections with people and life. Rosenberg writes about the 3 stages of Emotional Liberation in his book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. In my experience these stages are not "linear", meaning that we dance through all 3 in various directions at various moments, though Nietzsche and Rosenberg both imply that the 3rd stage is the most "evolved" or "life-serving." Here they are:

1. Emotional Slavery: This is when we tend to disconnect from the fullness of our own needs or values while focusing on the needs of others. I find it key to remember that when we are do this we are doing the best we can to meet needs for love, acceptance, belonging, care, etc. We get caught here when we get attached to being "nice," "caring," "self-less," "compassionate," or "generous." Unfortunately, no matter how loving we may try to be, if we are doing so from a place of self-denial, it is a recipe for depression and resentment over the long term because those needs we're disconnected from don't go away. This stage is sometimes called co-dependency, with both the one "hanging on" and the one who's "hung onto" caught in emotional slavery. Both are disconnecting from the fullness of their needs for freedom, self-reliance, flexibility, self-worth, self-respect, etc.

2. Anti-Dependence: As a reaction to Emotional Slavery, we often go into what Rosenberg calls the "obnoxious" stage of focusing on our own needs while disconnecting from the needs of others. This is a crucial and beautiful swing of the pendulum (just as Emotional Slavery is), where we explore freedom, independence, and self-respect, and we get away from the constraints of being "obedient," "nice," "a good boy/girl," etc. Unfortunately, it also means cutting off the flow of full connection and care with others, so it gets kind of lonely after a while, and we are not contributing the fullness of what we could to the well-being of others. Unfortunately, many of us spend years on a vicious pendulum swinging between Emotional Slavery and Anti-Dependence. Fortunately, once we become aware of these patterns, we have the chance to develop our capacity for.....

3. Emotional Liberation or Interdependence: Whaa-hooo! When we are able to stay connected to the beauty of our own needs and to the needs of others, we are in Rumi's field beyond right- and wrong-doing. Ahhhh! This doesn't mean we try to meet other people's needs all the time, or even our own, but we are at least aware of these needs existing, and we connect to and honor them. In essence it means that we see the humanity in ourselves and others and have both respect for ourselves and our needs, as well as respect for others and their needs. Just like the oxygen masks on the plane, I find it important to self-connect and address my own baseline needs for empathy and well-being before trying to reach out to others. When living Interdependently, we have the great pleasure of contributing to the needs of others from a place of self-full-ness, without self-denial, and without believing we have to "save" others, as often happens in Emotional Slavery.

I'm curious to know if reading this contributed something to you. Feel free to send me an email or comment below.

To emotional liberation for all,


  1. yes, this has certainly shed a relevant and succinct light on some things that have been on my mind of late. thanks pal.

  2. After reading this I decided to take a week to reflect on what I read seeing as I was moved. I find that sometimes I experience my external presence operating within the emotional slavery context... meanwhile at the same time, my internal dialog is set within a conversation that sounds more like anti-dependence.
    Anyway Karl, wonderful post, thank you!

    Onward in inquiry-

  3. so apropos to me re: me, re: my relationships (esp. w/gregg), re: tchg NVC. i love the three part container you've articulated... and using Nietzche!

    contributed to my well being.
    ox, shana