What Does It Take to Reach People? The Power of Perspective Taking as a Bridge to the Soul

by Miki Kashtan

In one extremely challenging conversation I once had with a person who eventually walked away from my life, he said words that haven’t left me: “I can walk all the way to your shoes, but I can’t fully enter them.” Eight years later, I am still wondering about the connection between this gap and his later choice to disconnect. Even before, since I learned about Nonviolent Communication (NVC) in 1993, I have been pondering what it actually means to walk in someone else’s shoes. And as my NVC practice deepened and my commitment to nonviolence grew, the questions proliferated to encompass the growing scale and intensity of global crises. How far can we walk in another’s shoes? What kinds of situations can this capacity support us with? What happens when we encounter incomprehensible and even scary or harmful behavior?

The briefest introduction to Nonviolent Communication

I have been studying Nonviolent Communication (NVC) since 1993 when my sister Arnina introduced me to Marshall Rosenberg. I mean it when I say “studying,” as I am still discovering new things. I have been sharing NVC with others since 1996 and still constantly learning about how to do that more effectively, including through supporting those who have chosen to share and study NVC in communities across the globe. The Learning Packets that I put together from work that was started with my late sister Inbal and continuing after her death, include fourteen on learning, integrating, applying, and sharing NVC. There are three additional packets about how we can restore choice, togetherness and flow, respectively, using NVC. NVC is also deeply embedded within the rest of the learning packets and everything that I do arises from this foundation.

All this to say: NVC is a huge field, and it takes people on average two to five years to reach actual integration and proficiency. To imagine that I can take all this and give anyone who doesn’t already have some exposure to NVC a real taste of it within a blog post seems preposterous to me, and still I am going to give it a try. I also know that what I say about NVC today, in this context, is unlikely to be the same as what I say about it another day, in another context.

I see NVC as a radical pathway and tool for individual and collective liberation from several thousand years of patriarchy, now in its “imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist” version (thank you bell hooks for this elegant clarity about what leads to what!). All the principles and practices that make up NVC rest on assumptions that are at odds with what almost all of us have been taught about human nature and about what is possible for individuals, within relationships, and at all levels of human systems. The most far-reaching premise I see within NVC is that everything that any of us has ever done is an attempt to attend to a finite list of needs that are shared by all of us. The simplest way to understand those needs that I have discovered so far is as flavors of four basic needs: physical sustenance, freedom, connection, and meaning.

There are four moves that form the basic practice that everyone who learns NVC is exposed to: focusing on observations, noticing feelings, connecting with needs, and engaging with requests. These moves were invented by Marshall himself after decades of synthesis of much learning and many experiments. I see them as ingenious pathways to liberation.

Focusing on observations frees us from narratives about what is happening that easily separate us from each other and from ourselves. Noticing feelings brings us in full contact with our internal experience and frees us from blaming others when we don’t like what is happening. Connecting with needs grounds us in the depth of our humanity, reminds us of the humanity of everyone else, and frees us from right/wrong thinking. Engaging with requests brings humility and frees us from the constriction of scarcity that leads to demands and thinking that we or others deserve or don’t deserve anything. It’s an extraordinarily powerful package for freeing our awareness from the grip of patriarchal conditioning and this is only a small fraction of what these moves make possible, individually, collectively, and systemically. With a nod to the latter, I believe these moves can ground a dramatic shift to having all our systems – for making decisions, for supporting the flow of resources, information, and feedback, and for engaging with conflicts when they arise – actually work for all life.

Here, in this post, I am focusing more on the interpersonal. One aspect of the gift of NVC on the interpersonal plane is that it can support us to express our own experience and what we want from others in ways that are less likely to spiral out of togetherness and interfere with connecting with each other for solving problems. In addition, and this is the specific spot to which I am bringing a magnifying glass here, when we learn NVC we also learn a particular approach to empathy.

What is empathy? Why feelings and needs?

In 2000, I engaged in a deep dive of research on empathy for one of the final chapters of my Ph.D. dissertation. What I discovered was an astonishing array of perspectives about what empathy means and little by way of how one acquires the capacity. I learned that what some people call empathy is what some others call sympathy, and vice versa. I learned that some people see empathy as actually feeling what the other person is feeling, while others specifically caution against doing that.

Because of this, it seems important to me that any of us who engage with writing or teaching about empathy find clarity about what we mean when we use this word. My late sister Inbal created a learning packet about empathy which I then expanded, called “Empathy for Self and Others: a Compendium,” modified excerpts from which are part of this post. Here’s the simplest way that we describe what we do when we orient empathically to another person: “focusing our hearts’ intention on being present and receptive to another human being.”

As Marshall completed the codifying of NVC, he offered a particular framework for empathic reflection, which is the guessing of feelings and needs and checking with the other person if our guess matches their experience. Considering that feelings and needs are two of the core moves of the NVC practice, it makes total sense to me why this is the focus. Framing things as feelings and needs supports the release of habits of judgment, separation, blame, and the like. It starts with how we frame things to ourselves, which influences everything about our experience as well as how we orient to another’s experience. And it shapes what we will choose to say. In particular, when we are orienting to another’s experience, focusing on their feelings and needs – whether we ever articulate them verbally or not – keeps our awareness on our shared humanity, reduces the chances that we will take what they say personally, and brings compassion and presence to our interaction.

It’s a whole other question whether or not we will actually choose to use words that point to feelings and needs. This is where my own unease with how NVC is often taught and practiced arises. This, again, is despite seeing the translation into feelings and needs as immensely powerful and potentially transformative. The reason I am nonetheless uneasy is because this potential and the power that feelings-and-needs guesses work most reliably within a context of shared exploration between all involved in which everyone agrees to use this practice and can orient to this particular way of framing our experience. That’s when the practice is immensely helpful for deepening self-connection, for learning about self and others, for liberation, for healing, for repairing impacts, and much more. Those of us who have frequently been in such environments regularly experience it as breakthrough magic. And, still, if such an agreement isn’t in place, using this format can actually create a gap with the other person rather than a bridge.

This is how I understand, also, why Marshall himself, who is the one who put together this format and way of focusing and taught it in every workshop of his I have ever attended (and that was dozens of them), very rarely did “pure” feelings and needs guesses when he actually worked with people, both in workshops and in one-on-one meetings. His speech was generally more nuanced and complex, using what I now call full-phrase needs instead of one-word needs. He fit his speech to the context, and almost always found a path to connection with those he worked with. Understanding why this is so takes me into an exploration of perspective taking and its relationship with empathy.

Perspective taking and empathy

Perspective taking is usually defined as being able to understand how another person sees the world: what story they will tell themselves about this or that situation; how they will explain to themselves why they are doing something or how they are reacting to something; or how they will make sense of other people’s actions. When we take someone else’s perspective, it’s as if we aim to imagine, on the body level, what it’s like to be this other person; literally imagine what the world would actually look like if we were this other person. What stories would we tell ourselves? What experiences would we have? Who would we like? Who would we hate? If we can tell ourselves the story from another person’s perspective, then we step into their world. This is likely why instead of this technical term we usually speak, instead, of walking in another person’s shoes.

Most people will never tell themselves a story that is about feelings and needs. When we lean on NVC empathy, we take what a person says and translate it into the language of feelings and needs, which is the closest we have to where we are all the same, especially the needs. It brings us closer in some way, and it doesn’t bridge the gap, because those are not the terms that the person we are listening to has in relation to their experience.

It’s a tiny, tiny minority of the global population who have learned anything about NVC. And even a smaller fraction of this tiny minority has actually adopted the practice of framing life to self through the lens of feelings and needs. Only that group of people spontaneously think in terms of feelings and needs. For everyone else, it’s a jump. Then, if we respond to them with “are you feeling … because you need…?” we’re actually inviting them into our world rather than walking into theirs. Because their world is different. The question entails a shift in the meaning field. We are actually asking them to temporarily adopt a feelings-and-needs perspective on life in order to understand what we even mean when we make the guess. This requires work from them instead of us doing the heavy lifting and walking towards them.

This is a great paradox: learning NVC empathy is an astonishing training program for being able to understand and bring compassion to other people, and it can still result in distance. Sometimes, when there is enough tension or mistrust, however much we may experience what we are doing as empathic, the guess at the level of feelings and needs can easily feel like a violation/intrusion to the person receiving it.

Marshall often used the phrase “connection before education” to remind us that when we are not connected, we are far less open to receiving new information, especially if there is any hint of mistrust, shame, or other forms of active separation. In many contexts and with many people, using empathy feelings-and-need-style is, within itself, mixed in with education. What the education is about, oddly enough, is precisely the reframing of an experience into feelings and needs. It’s as if we are sending a message to the person that their way of framing their story to themselves needs to be changed before we can offer it back to them.

Again, I am not in any way suggesting not to offer empathy to people in the form of guessing feelings and needs. I am only inviting myself and all of us into clear discernment about whether the jump it entails is one that is likely to work. And, even when we don’t, doing the reframing within us is one potent way to imagine our way into their world. It’s the latter which ultimately counts.

Bridging the gap with another

I want to illustrate all this with a story. Some time ago I was on a zoom call with 5 Palestinian women I worked closely with over some time. On the call, one of them told me about wrestling with her feelings of happiness about three Israelis that had just been killed by Palestinians.

It was an intense moment for me for many reasons. I am an Israeli Jew, and, in a narrow sense, here is someone being glad that my people are being killed. Then, the horror of seeing in front of me some of the stereotypes that I had been fed about Palestinians for decades. Then, the knowledge that it’s an immense and unusual honor for Palestinians to trust an Israeli Jew at all, and then, on top of that, to trust me with this. And then, also, that this is a woman who is deeply committed to nonviolence and there was a searing sense of loss of companionship, one of my most core needs… And the tension and expectation from the others… And on and on.

What helped me was perspective taking. I took a deep dive, within me, into imagining the reality of her life, all that would make her happy in that moment. There was nothing in it that was feelings and needs in any direct way. I just opened my heart to see it. And then I shared with her what I saw, and then that helped her to bring tenderness to herself so she could relax the inner war between her commitment to nonviolence and the feelings of happiness about someone being killed. In the language of needs: Israeli soldiers being killed was a very deep and fast strategy to experience some sense of efficacy and power and some complex form of dignity. Once she was able to rest in the tenderness, she almost automatically realigned with her longing and commitment to nonviolence. It was powerful for all of us to feel the connection that then ensued. And we went on.

Open your heart to see it from their perspective

It so happened that a year later, on another call, that same woman was asking me some questions about empathy, especially how empathy is done. I then told them all about perspective taking, framing it as a kind of precondition for empathy. At some point in that conversation, I referred to the earlier interaction, which she had totally forgotten. We then shared another powerful moment as they all grasped what I couldn’t have told them at the time given the delicacy: how it was perspective taking that made it as easy as it was for me at that time to receive that message from her, and how difficult it would otherwise have been for both of us. It was clear as a bell to all of us how, in that moment, if I had directly gone to guessing her feelings and needs, it would have been a disconnect despite our longstanding trust. It would have taken her off her flow.

Because of all this, any time I am with people who aren’t on a path of shared exploration, inner learning, and liberation, I don’t use the feelings and needs format without, first, telling the other person that I would like to offer my understanding of their experience using different language from what they used, maybe at a deeper level than they had expressed, and check if they are open to hearing it and letting me know if it matches.

Perspective taking in the face of harm

I now want to take this further. As difficult as it was to connect with my Palestinian colleague, the gap is actually quite small to bridge: she is relatively close, she functions in ways that are more or less similar to mine, we share many values, and she was entirely open to dialogue with me within a high degree of trust. Can I also open my heart to people far afield, people whose thoughts or actions frighten me? Can perspective taking support me in this? As someone deeply committed to nonviolence, this isn’t an idle question. Because if we are to love our enemies, those who hate us, as Jesus and Gandhi invited us to do, being able to see the world from within their perspective is vitally necessary. I want to illustrate with two vignettes.

In the wake of Scott Olsen’s injury

In the height of the clashes between Occupy Oakland and the police in 2011, a young protestor who was a Marine veteran who had been on duty in Iraq twice, Scott Olsen, was critically injured by the police. His skull was fractured by a lead-filled bean bag that was used as a projectile and hit his head. This happened during what I understand to have been, until then, a peaceful though confrontational march.

As millions in the world were shocked, as occupiers, supporters, and even non-supporters were outraged at police actions, I found somewhere online a response from a tea party person, John S., who wrote: “I, personally hold all of the organizers and aforementioned planners and provocateurs responsible for the injuries sustained by Scott Olsen as they are the ones who put Scott into harm’s way. There is no honor in this movement for using innocent individual citizens for ideological gain.”

Extending love and understanding to John requires, first, that I embrace in full the difficult-for-me premise that he completely believes what he is saying. This is a core aspect of perspective taking: instead of thinking about John from the outside, we aim to imagine the experience from inside him. Before I can even find the human logic, I must bridge the gap of realities in which he and I live. How can I imagine believing that a person who is making a conscious choice to participate in a movement is being “used” for “ideological gain?” What else would I have to believe in order to come up with such ideas? It takes conscious intention. Sometimes, when I do this, I need to remind myself that I want to live in a world where no one is a throw-away person. I want to create a world that works for all of us, not just those who are easy for me to understand. I want John S. to have his humanity honored, to have access to resources, to have food and shelter, health, and, yes, love and friendships. How far can I go to embrace his humanity? Clearly, he is not seeing the people he holds responsible for Scott’s injury as fellow citizens, humans deserving of respect. He is not extending to them the care I want to extend to him. This is exactly the situation Gandhi was talking about: were John S. to know me, he would likely hate me. Can I still love him?

Dylann Roof, killer of nine

In 2015, in the wake of a shattering episode of a young white man, Dylann Roof, killing nine members of a church in Charlseton, South Carolina, after being with them for an hour doing Bible study, I wrote a piece called “Together and Apart: Reflections on the Shootings in Charleston.” My purpose in writing it was to look at the situation from within a commitment to nonviolence and what it can mean in a situation like this. In that piece, one section is called “humanizing.” I quote from there:

Humanizing. As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to understand everything. In this case, although the conditions that gave rise to Dylann’s action are structural – the continued presence of dehumanization and denigration of groups within society; the overall consequences of living in a violent culture; and so much more – he does remain an individual. Looking at his pictures as they appear on his “manifesto,” the suffering is so clear. What is the inner life, the emotional logic, of a man like Dylann? What could be so intense that would overcome the connection he shared for an hour with human beings? He was clearly aware of that connection because, as the Wikipedia entry says, “he reportedly told investigators he almost didn’t go through with his mission because members of the church study group had been so nice to him.” Although I will never know, I find thinking about all this to be immensely valuable and challenging in just the ways I want to be challenged as a human being.

Afterwards, I engaged in a conversation on one of my calls from which this next section is adapted. The person I was talking with was saying that even though the church members seem to be really in touch with their spirituality, that still did not touch Dylann enough. This exploration is of course in hindsight: they didn’t know, during that hour, that he walked in intent on killing them. They didn’t fail to prevent the killing, because they weren’t trying. This exchange invited me into a difficult thought experiment. If we imagine that, contrary to what actually happened, here we are in a group, studying the Bible with this man, and we know that we have an hour, at the end of which, if we are successful, he won’t shoot. And if we are not successful, then what already happened would happen. Is it possible to do this? Or, when is it possible and when not? Because we also know of another young man, Michael Brandon Hill, whose intended school shooting did not happen because Antoinette Tuff, a bookkeeper in that school, successfully connected with him. So we know that at least some of the time human connection completely transforms the most difficult situations. What can we learn from this wrenching event?

My starting point in trying to understand, to imagine in full, what is the experience within him that was strong enough that even though he was affected by the human contact, as he said to his investigators, he was not affected enough to change course. This is part of why I chose to read his “manifesto.” It was all I had to be able to imagine him, because he is the one who wrote it. As I looked at parts of it, I saw sections that people were naming “rambly” or “incoherent.” And, still, to me what he wrote did not look like a person who is not in their right mind. It actually looked like an articulate human being who is in the grips of a worldview so different from mine that it’s easy to fill the gap with diagnoses. Still, as extreme as it is, this is a worldview that is quite prevalent, and actually gaining more adherents, the world over. To diagnose it away, to me, means not taking the opportunity to grapple with the immensity of the challenge on the human plane.

Unless we release the label “mental illness,” we can’t in good faith investigate the question I just framed: is there anything we can do when someone like this is in front of us that could actually subvert the plan? For this, I decided to look at pictures of him and, through that, to truly try to imagine being him. And when I am him, in his shoes as best I imagine them, if I go deep enough, maybe I can have an intuitive sense of what might reach me as him.

So I found and looked at length at this young man’s face in the booking photo. Again, now, as I look at his eyes, I see that they are essentially dead. The person whose face it is looks hidden from me. The sense I have, when looking at it, is as if everything in this person is intent on having no expression whatsoever. This lack of expression signifies something to me. It reminds me of a recent experience, about which I plan to write one day, of being stopped by the customs people in Germany, and seeing their face displaying that same blankness when they were being inhuman to us when we drove through Germany recently. Same as, sad to say, the Nazi officers. Is this what it takes to train people who can kill, whether it be state violence or individual violence?

As that conversation unfolded, the person I was speaking with was saying something about Dylann’s soul being numb. As a Jew, I felt compelled to reframe it: the soul is never numb; it is only the feelings that may be. In the tradition I come from, human souls are pure, always pure and innocent. This is in stark contrast to any notion of original sin. This gives me a way to frame the question differently: what does it take, when a human being has become so numb, to reach their soul? I have had a deep visceral sense that whenever any of us does actual harm, our soul weeps.

And even as it weeps, we may not be able to reach it, ever. Given the conditions in the world, it may well be the case that some people cannot be reached, regardless. We don’t ever know. When Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela engaged in a series of interviews with Eugene De Kock, nicknamed “Prime Evil” because of his role in the state torture and violence during the Apartheid regime in South Africa, she didn’t know nor necessarily expect that she would actually reach him. And yet, at least in moments, it happened, and she documented it in her book A Human Being Died That Night. We don’t ever know.

Still, I believe that at least some of the time, we won’t be able to, even when we try. And the question becomes, again: how do we know? How do we really know whether and when it’s time to reach that conclusion about anyone? This is an empirical question, not a philosophical question. The task that I see is to stand in front of a human creature that hides everything about itself and declare, from deep within the body, in wordless conviction: “You cannot faze me, you cannot make me think that you are not human. I don’t know how hidden it is, and still I know that deep inside you there is a human soul just like mine and I want to reach it. That soul is weeping now, because of what you did. And it is the fact that you did it that makes you now even less reachable than you were before because in order to connect with your soul you’d need to grieve. And you probably are incapable of grieving. Still, I am going to hold out the unshakeable faith that on the other side of those eyes, underneath that expressionless face, you are like me.” If there is any chance that we can get anywhere with a person like this, it seems to me it must go through that.

I watch for little clues, little crumbs that nourish my obstinate faith. There are more. A story about Hitler calling the Jewish doctor that treated his beloved mother for cancer when he was nineteen a “noble Jew.” The story of the man with swastika tattoos on his hand starting a journey of recovery from an extreme right-wing group a year after a cashier looked at his hand and said something like: “Why are you doing this to yourself? You’re better than that.” He credited her, and that small moment, for the transformation he went through. There are more. Many more. We don’t hear about them, because they put a crack in the thick narrative of evil people needing to be killed and punished to keep the rest of us, good people, safe.

And it’s not different for me in principle from a little story that a friend of mine told me. When her son was maybe 4 or 5, he was having some kind of “you can’t reach me” thing that children sometimes do. And she reached over to him, and with her finger drew a circle around his face, touching him very tenderly, and she said: “You want to cry, don’t you?” And he started crying and the whole thing melted. How does this apply to Dylann in this case? Obviously, what that would look like with him is a very difficult and very different question than what it looks like with a small child we know well. Still, I maintain that in principle it isn’t different. It is only different in that the task of loving Dylann appears so much bigger.

And when we can’t reach people, this is when the only option is to restrain them. Even then, I want us to do it with love, not punitively. This is the deepest essence of what Marshall meant by the protective use of force: it’s always with love. I wrote a long article about this called “Is Nonviolent Use of Force an Oxymoron?” With Dylann, for now, as I look at his eyes and see that depth of deadness and read what he wrote, I would not in any way let him walk free now, I would want to keep him locked up, probably forever, because I don’t know that he can be reached. And for as long as he cannot be reached, he is dangerous. This is the only thing that makes him dangerous. I am fully convinced that he would instantly stop being dangerous if he could be reached.

The phenomenon of severing relationships

I started this post with the story of someone who eventually walked away from my life. While writing this piece, I decided to look again at this phenomenon of close friends or colleagues walking away from my life through the lens of what I’ve written so far. In 2017, I wrote a piece about these experiences called “Staying Open to Life despite Losses.” This has continued to happen at the same rate of one or two a year, sometimes more often, never less, including one person who chose to walk away right after reading that post, understanding it to mean that I wasn’t open to changing. Coming back from the extremes to where I started this post, I am wondering, now, what made it so difficult for that one friend to actually step into my shoes. Did he somehow conclude that I wasn’t reachable, in some way similar to though clearly dramatically less extreme than Dylann? Or is it that, in the absence of a strong commitment to nonviolence and some deep practice of something like NVC empathy, the capacity to bridge with what’s different from us breaks down with smaller challenges? What actually happens inside any of us that makes continuing to engage with someone so beyond capacity that we must walk away? Having never done this in my entire life that I am aware of, I don’t have the visceral experience of this kind of choice. I only sense that it’s a symptom of where we collectively are. Even if my experience is far from common, the phenomenon it represents is widespread, ranging from people who won’t speak to their parents or siblings for years to what is now called “cancel culture.” I see it as a symptom of our collective low capacity in the area of bridging across gaps and remembering each other’s human soul. What would it take for us to find each other again, despite our most frightening differences? I don’t see how we can increase capacity for billions of people who have been socialized into patriarchy, and who continue to socialize more and more new humans in the same ways; it’s entirely outside the realm of my imagination. Instead, I keep coming back to the same question: could only some of us, those who are committed, create a field of love strong enough to pluck us all back from our conditioning, to shine the light on our aching human souls, and to rejoin life?


Path through trees photo by Leslie Becknell Marx with permission
Tools Photo by Ahmet Çiftçi on Pexels
Moves of NVC image by Leslie Becknell Marx with permission
Many shoes image by Leslie Becknell Marx using Shoe photos from Pexels
Hearts on eyes Photo by Artem Podrez on Pexels
Hands on Bible Photo by Leonardo Dourado on Pexels
Occupy Oakland photo by Oakland Local used with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Dylann Roof’s image used under the asumption that this qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law, like on wikipedia’s article
Soul within image by Leslie Becknell Marx with permission


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This is a space for discussing tough subjects: both personal experiences and the massive challenges in the wider world. The culture of this blog is one of looking for the possibility of forward movement through loving engagement, even, and especially, in times of disagreement. Please practice nonviolence in your comments by combining truth and courage with care for me and others you’re in dialogue with.

5 thoughts on “What Does It Take to Reach People? The Power of Perspective Taking as a Bridge to the Soul

  1. Marc Polonsky

    This is so deep and so important. Thank you. What a key insight: Paradoxically, trying to frame everything in the language of feelings and needs is, in itself, a disregard for another person’s feelings and needs, if they lack easy habituated access to that type of framing (as most human beings do at this time).

    So many traps in this world, so many ways to fall into hubris, to feel “more evolved” than someone else.

    And thank you for recommending A HUMAN BEING DIED THAT NIGHT. It sounds amazing. I just ordered it on Alibris.

    I am one of the people who has walked away from relationships, including one with a sibling. You acknowledge that you don’t have the “visceral experience” of such a choice. I can explain it very simply. It has nothing to do with resentment or a lack of forgiveness. It is about self-preservation and self-care. It’s about protecting oneself from abuse. It’s about setting an absolute boundary when no other boundary will suffice.

    I am sure you know a thing or two about the need to maintain appropriate boundaries, though that is not the subject of this extremely thoughtful piece. But it is worth reflecting on the distinction between setting a practical uncompromising boundary in life as it’s lived, and failing to recognize or believe in someone’s essential humanity and innocent soul. Those are two different things.

    Thank you again for this wonderful exposition. Your perspective both inspires me and strengthens my hope for humanity.

    1. Miki Kashtan Post author

      Hi Marc,

      Thank you for all this.

      I want to respond briefly to the question of boundaries. There are two parts to it. One is that I distinguish between boundaries and limits, and I imagine you might find the distinction interesting. Here’s the link to the article: https://thefearlessheart.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Boundaries-Limits-Restoring-Trust-2021.pdf.

      The other is that if I indeed go beyond capacity and need to move away from someone, I want to do two things. One is to say to them, exactly and in detail, why I am doing it. And the other is that I want to mourn it and take responsibility for it as my capacity limit instead of holding the other person responsible for my decision. I imagine your sibling wouldn’t agree with you that they are abusing you, and yet they could easily accept that you don’t have the capacity to navigate what happens in your relationship, and that you mourn that and wish it was different.

      I hope this makes sense, and thank you for your appreciation. It feeds me, as so often I say things that are less commonly said.


      1. Marc Polonsky

        I look forward to reading your piece about the distinction between boundaries and limits. But off the cuff, isn’t the assumption that the other person can hear your detailed explanation as to why you have gone beyond capacity a lot like assuming they have access to the language of feelings and needs?

        1. Marc Polonsky

          I will add that in my own case, I was in sibling therapy with this person for years, with two different therapists, both very skilled. This person was still never able, or willing, to hear me.

          1. Marc Polonsky

            And I don’t know why you would ” imagine” that my sibling could “easily accept” that I don’t have the capacity to navigate what was happening in the relationship. I stated my dilemma in very similar terms many many times within and without the context of our therapy sessions . If my sibling possessed the rationality implied by the ability to understand such a statement, I likely would not have had to ultimately go away. All in all, I confess that something in your response to me has caused me to feel defensive, which is unfortunate


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