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safe escort

2018 January 11
by Rachel Turiel

Rosie and I are leaving the Christmas Farmers Market, our bags plump with beets, potatoes, and carrots. A raven croaks from a nearby rooftop, eager to be the beneficiary of holiday crumbs.

“I’m sooo hungry,” Rose tells me.

Really? I think. Weren’t you the one who ate two man-sized breakfasts before 9am? And then a notion spontaneously beams into my mind as if deposited by the raven. “Hey sweetie? I’m wondering if you’re actually craving something else and it feels like hunger? What do you think?”

Rose leans into me and says quietly, “attention.”

I contemplate the hour we spent browsing farmers’ and artisans’ stands, how we held hands while sampling raw sesame candy; conducted sniff-tests on homemade soaps; and watched the ukulele concert from one shared chair. And, how I loved it all! Oh…and I also remember her small hand tugging insistently at mine when I ran into friends, engaging in adult conversations that stole my attention away from her.

There are two storylines here. One is my own, which includes my desire to be present to the sensory experience of the market, to the spontaneous meet-ups that are a cherished part of this close-knit town, and to the blessing of being with my daughter, this ten year old who won’t always choose to spend a Saturday morning with her mother. The other storyline is Rose’s, which includes her desire to feel connected to me, to know that she matters enough to hold my attention. How do we get all these needs met?

I believe in empathy as a first response to painful feelings. Empathy lets us know we’re heard and understood. It’s like getting a safe escort out of the amygdala, the brain structure where we experience fight, flight, or freeze, and into the prefrontal cortex, where logic and decision-making prevails.

In the (wonderful) comic book Urban Empathy: True Life Adventures of Compassion on the Streets of New York, author Dian Killian describes empathy as “understanding what others and ourselves are experiencing and, by doing so, easing pain and suffering.”

This won’t happen by explaining to Rose that I only chatted with four people. Or, by offering a vacant apology and promising to do better next time. Nor by delivering a well-intentioned lecture on how expectations can cause suffering. Giving empathy is not dependent on me agreeing with her or granting her wishes: it’s a voice reaching through the cramped darkness of overwhelming emotion to say, “I see you. You matter.”

It helps that Rose can articulate her need for connection. Despite twelve years of school, we’re not taught this most basic skill of identifying our needs and having the confidence to share them with others. Instead, we often unconsciously try to get needs met in ineffective ways. (i.e. the younger brother who wants to be included and so scribbles on his older sister’s artwork to get noticed. Or the adult who wants belonging and tries to mold herself to fit into a social scene that doesn’t feel authentic).

“Rosie, sounds like you were wanting more of my focus and attention. Maybe you were bored when I chatted with friends? And I bet it was hard not knowing how long the conversations would last.”

“Yeah,” she replies, sliding her body gently into mine, her body language articulating trust.

“I can see how that feels disappointing, how you were excited to have my companionship.”

“I just wanted youuuuuuuu,” she croons, holding the note, opera-style, signaling that the serious talk must end now. I sing back to her, a song about going home and playing our favorite card game. She laughs and then looks around to determine that no one important is witnessing the embarrassment that is your mother, singing. Just the raven.

It turns out that there’s no solution needed today. Sometimes just being heard and understood can take you out of a painful emotion and into a rollicking card game.

11 Responses leave one →
  1. Meaghan permalink
    January 11, 2018


    I am really enjoying your posts lately; focused around non violent communication and how it works in your family and daily life. I purchased the book by Marshall Rosenberg and have been incorporating it into my life. I wish I lived close enough to attend your workshops! It has been a big influence on me and it seems this method of communication is something that I have been missing in my life. Thank you for sharing, it is very meaningful for me.


    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      January 11, 2018


      I’m so touched to hear that NVC has been useful in your life!
      It is such a wonderful feeling to have tools that feel supportive and connecting.
      If you ever want to do a phone consult, I’m available.

      Take care,

  2. Chi-An Chien permalink
    January 11, 2018

    So beautiful, and so righteous. Kisses to both of you, thank you.

  3. Ellie permalink
    January 11, 2018

    You’ve done it again, Rachel. Made my day. Thank you.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      January 11, 2018

      Thank you for saying so, Ellie.

  4. Ellen permalink
    January 11, 2018


    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      January 11, 2018

      ❤️ (Rose showed me how to do that) :)

  5. Glenda permalink
    January 11, 2018

    I’ve been reading you for a while, even though my kids are grown. I’m very involved with my grandchildren and glean a lot of wisdom from your posts. And I just swooned when you mentioned the amygdala. I’m fascinated by the limbic system!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      January 11, 2018

      Me too, Glenda! I am finding it so helpful to learn how our amygdalas are on constant alert for danger, and how we can have so many helpful tools but when we get triggered it’s so hard to connect up with that prefrontal cortex that holds those skills!

  6. January 12, 2018

    I love reading these little glimpse of your days and how you handled them through NVC. Such a great reminder. Thanks to your help, I can do better next time. I think that many of us who did NVC workshops, read books, etc. need to be reminded over and over again and that these very concrete examples of your life are so very helpful to show us how we can step back from a situation and change our response to it. Thank you, Rachel.

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