My grandfather inspires me to WANT to be me

I’m out in the woods again, with my grandfather.

Image courtesy to Creative CommonsI feel tired. I much, much rather go to sleep. I tell him. He looks at me and reflects my longing for rest. There is so much acceptance in his response, so much understanding, such a deep desire to support.

As soon as I hear his reflection, something shifts. I feel relieved, energized. I realize how I never open up to being penetrated by my fatigue. I never bring Tonglen to my exhaustion. Just resistance: I should not be tired, I should chunk along, I should finish all my self-assigned duties till I fall asleep. And -of course- the comparison: Obama doesn’t get eight hours of sleep! Thich Nhat Hanh doesn’t take days off to space out! Sister Teresa worked relentlessly to relieve suffering! Who am I to complain and sit down? They slept way less, and got much more done!

I feel surprised by my own rejection of my fatigue.

And today, with my grandfather, I allow myself to get to know it. And as soon as I do, the energy that I had invested in my resistance frees up. I get in touch with my excitement about my work with my clients. I feel so proud, honored, and happy with our partnership. I feel touched by their invitation to witness and embrace the rawness of their pain. I feel amazed by their courage to step into a life of vulnerability, aspiration, and connection.

My grandfather and I find a spot to sit down. He looks me in the eye. “Elly, your job is not to continue where I left off, your job is not to relieve hunger in Africa, to bring peace in former Yugoslavia. If that had been the case, you would have long done that. Your job is to find your passion and purpose in life. Your job is to contribute right here, right now. Your job is to be where you are in this moment and do what you love to do: work with your clients on self-acceptance and self-compassion, encourage them to step up to the plate, and inspire them to bring their unique gifts to the world. Your job is to open up to all the places where you are stuck, where your judgments and labels take you out of compassion and acceptance. To empathize with the needs underneath your enemy images and create a space of connection, inclusion, and support. That is how you inspire people, that is where your leadership is.”

I look him in the eye. There is a sacred silence. I get him.

My fatigue has been dissolved. I feel empowered and encouraged.

I am ready to do what I love most: being more fully me and support others from that place of authenticity and vulnerability.


You want help to WANT to be you? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary, discovery session.

Transforming my hero image into self-acceptance

I’m in the woods with my grandfather. I’ve never met him. He died when my dad was not even eleven. He was a member of a resistance movement in the Netherlands during WWII, betrayed, arrested by the Nazi’s, and dead after ten days in prison.

Image courtesy to

He stood up for his principles and was willing to risk his life for his values: compassion, inclusion, care for those who are vulnerable.

As a child, every May 3, the night before our national commemoration day, I would sneak downstairs and take out a book with his name, picture and short bio. It contained the names everyone in Limburg who had given their lives standing up for love, peace, and justice. I never told anyone I did. My grandfather was a secret hero in my life, one that I looked up to with awe and reverence.

I admired him and aspired to be like him: courageous, fearless, and truthful.

I always fell short of my hero image of him. I never went to a war zone and rescued people. I never offered myself to take the death penalty so the convict could live, I hardly ever showed up as a silent witness when someone was executed. I have a client scheduled, I have to clean, I am too tired.

Gosh, all those things that I hold dear and don’t act upon.

During the Mediate Your Life retreat, I realize I need his help. I need his help to find balance between my aspirations and my fear of scarcity. I decide to spend half an hour in the woods each day for the next two weeks.

I invite myself to bring a bag with my meditation bell, my journal, and my pen. I carry it on my left shoulder and look to the right when I speak as Elly, and swap it to my right shoulder and look to the left when I speak as him.

I feel uncomfortable at first. It seems too forced and unnatural. I much rather speak out loud as Elly and respond in silence as my grandfather, than this left-right stuff. And I’m willing to give it a try. I’ve heard it helps.

And it does. I tell him how much I admire him and how sad and scared I feel about the continuous failure to live up to my self-imposed standards of courage and commitment. I shift to the right position and look myself -as my grandfather- in the eyes. I hear him say “You have a unique quality  ‘zachtmoedigheid’. That’s where your power is and your leadership lies: the balance between soft and tender (=zacht) and courage (=moedig). Don’t try to be Pat, Joe, Ike, or John. Be yourself. That’s more than enough, and that’s what this world needs most.”

Be myself. Acceptance, support, and appreciation. Never expected that from him.


You want help to transform your hero image into self-acceptance? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary, discovery session.

Is this ego or a behavior I don’t like?

I am not a big fan of the word ‘ego’. I find the term too judgmental. I associate it with being egoistic, which I hear as rejection. I don’t want to be egoistic, and I certainly don’t want to be seen as such by others.

Image courtesy to

I also want more compassion and empathy for the behavior we label as ‘ego’. I want more love, care and understanding for the stuckness and habit energy I now want to change.

And I don’t like the black and white thinking implicit in the term. “My ego gets in the way of my true self. If I let go of my ego, then I will live a life of integrity and alignment with my values.” I see our lives and choices as a continuum, not good versus bad.

I much rather use the Mourning and Celebration Process offered by Ike Lasater and John Kinyon to process my regrets and to make new choices. When we empathize with the universal, human needs we were trying to support with the behavior we call ‘ego’, we can relax in the beauty and preciousness of these needs, even if our strategies sucked. This appreciation of the needs we were trying to meet, allows us to empathize with the needs we did meet with these choices.

In this place of mourning needs unmet and celebrating needs met, we can come up with solutions that support all these needs. We can use our understanding and acceptance, to learn from our mourning and celebration.

I went to an event with two friends, where I evaluated their energy and way of showing up as unhelpful. Instead of speaking up, I went quietly into distress and disconnection. This is what the process looked like for me. “Hum, not speaking my truth doesn’t support my need for authentic self-expression, transparency, and connection. It did meet my needs for safety and social acceptance. Shoot… I want all these needs to be supported… Hum.. Let’s just focus on my breath, my physical sensations, my feelings… Hum… I want some forward movement… I want to live in integrity with my values… I long to express truthfully. I want to care, contribute, cultivate compassion… Hum… What can I do to support all those needs?… Maybe I can schedule three empathy calls? To process what triggered me in this event, so I can transform my enemy images and blame into connection, support, and understanding… Yes! Then I can speak my truth with care, compassion, and contribution. Openly and honestly. Then I can be authentic and maintain connection.

It is that simple.

And it takes intention, consciousness, and effort to transform blame, judgment, and evaluation into learning and new choices. I would be honored to help. Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary, discovery session.

Fear in, jackals out

Sometimes our blame, criticism, and anger is actually an habitual, automatic response to our fear.

We perceive we’re in danger and we get so scared we immediately react with counterattack. We don’t allow ourselves to stop, breathe, feel, and connect to our needs. We don’t even think about it, our reptilian brain takes over. Fight and flight at the same time.

Image courtesy to David Nayer

It goes something like this: “Michelle is teaching an intro Nonviolent Communication at church.” “What a bitch!! She didn’t even connect with me first!! Who is she to barge in and think she is the big star?! Over my dead body: it’s not gonna happen without my support!! I’ll offer another workshop that same day, and make sure that no one shows up at her event. She is a selfish, inconsiderate taker.”


Anger in full explosion.

There is something yummy about anger. You’re bumped up, you’re in control, you’re riding the wave of adrenaline. A little bit like flow, but without the peace part. Ready to crush, to slash out, and destroy. No one is gonna fool you, you stand your ground.

Feeling into your fear is much harder. To allow it to rush through you, to feel what it’s like to be that scared, to be thinking you’re helpless and cannot protect yourself from harm.

Yet, that’s where your empowerment lies.

In your vulnerability.

In this precious place of longing for safety, acceptance, inclusion, and belonging. All these needs that help us to survive and thrive.

If we dare to stop, if we have the guts to step into our fear, breathe, and be penetrated by it, we can open the door to self-care and self-compassion. “My beloved self, I see you’re scared she will get more attention than you. I get how afraid you are that she will attract more NVC-enthusiasts than you. I know how you’ve come to believe that being popular and interesting will bring you love and belonging and a sense of worthiness and mattering. I understand your pain. I’m here for you. I love you the way you are and I care for you.”

When we acknowledge our pain, we can offer ourselves support and understanding.

That’s how jackal ears out can help you to heal old, old pain.


You want help to translate your jackals out into self-care and self-compassion? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary, discovery session.

Hearing the cry for help in your self-blame

You can also have jackal ears inward that are actually trying to cover up a deep sadness, maybe even a sense of not being worthy, and a fear that you will never be good enough to get the acceptance and love you long for. The pain is buried underneath the self-judgment, self-blame, and self-criticism.

It goes something like this “You’re an idiot that you missed his performance. You’re stupid that you spent time on completely irrelevant things like doing the dishes, you should have left in time to celebrate his first performance, cherishing the deep love you feel for him. What a moron you are for ALWAYS being late!”

Somewhere deep down, hardly audible, the voice continues. “You’re not worthy of his love, you’re a terrible person, you don’t deserve to be called a friend.”

And maybe even deeper: “You should be rejected, excluded, outcast.”

Image courtesy to David Nayer
Image courtesy to David Nayer

Jackal ears inward.

If you listen carefully enough, you also hear what you really want: “Please, love me, even if I make choices you don’t understand, hell, that I don’t even understand. Please, let me know that I am still welcome, that I am still okay.”

Jackal ears inward can be hard, even painful to decipher. They often echo messages you heard in your childhood, and that you’ve come to believe were a true reflection of you. They trigger the pain you felt as a child, when you heard you were not good enough, didn’t do enough, didn’t have enough. They bring up the loneliness, sadness, and pain you felt then.

Fortunately, you are an adult now, and you have a choice. You can chose to believe what the jackal ears inward tell you, and you can chose to empathize. You can offer compassion to the pain they are expressing and an open, empathic heart. I bet, you’ll hear the jackal ears inward say “See me as beautiful, embrace me with love, accept me for the precious human being I am.”

Who can say ‘no’ to that?


You want help to translate your inner jackals into self-empathy? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary, discovery session.

Use your self-criticism to nurture self-compassion

“Michelle is offering a free intro Nonviolent Communication at church.”

Sounds neutral, yes? And yet, all your jackal ears are pricked up. Turned inwards.

Image courtesy to David Nayer

Remember the jackal? The animal that’s the Nonviolent Communication symbol for all the criticism, judgments, evaluations, labels, and blame?

Well, you can be perfectly able to empathize with others in a compassionate, generous, and open-hearted way, and have BIG judgments of yourself.

In fact, I have found many people who are drawn to Nonviolent Communication experts at empathizing with others, and blaming themselves.

After hearing that Michelle is offering a free intro at the church, my internal monologue would be something like this: “Of course she is teaching. She should do that, she is a fantastic, inspirational teacher. Lots of people will show up, and become NVC-converts because of her. She is WAY better than you, little loser. You just sit there in the corner of the room, whining that only two, maybe three people show up at your classes. And those are losers too, people who have absolutely no one else to turn to, otherwise they would not chose you.” (Sometimes inward jackals invite outward jackals, just to reinforce their point. They are highly collaborative in that way, and offer their support eagerly.) “You’re never gonna make it, and you’ll never be recognized and appreciated for your qualities, which were not much to begin with.”

This would just be the beginning. I could go on like this for a VERY long time. Self-criticism is a well-developed pattern I have, and one I’m not ashamed of at all. Isn’t that amazing? We would probably NEVER talk like that to someone else. We wouldn’t have the guts. But with ourselves we are okay with it. Brené Brown, Edward Teyber, and Bert Hellinger wrote about why we do this. I want to focus on what we can do with this.

Actually, it is quiet simple. You listen deeply to yourself. You guess what your inward jackals are trying to tell you. Maybe you feel sad, because you wished you had more people in your class? Because that would convey that you add value, and bring you the appreciation and acknowledgment you long for? Maybe you feel scared, because you are afraid you’ll never receive this appreciation? Maybe frustrated that you don’t have enough self-confidence to step up to the plate and get out there?

After your guesses, you listen to their response. If your guesses are right, they will relax, and allow you to be in touch with your pain. If they don’t, you might guess more. The truth is that jackal ears inward are a HUGE help to understand what’s important to you. They’ll tell you straightforward where you’re stuck, what you aspire, and how you need support. Keep them on for a while, and deepen your self-compassion.


You want help to translate your inner jackals into self-empathy? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary, discovery session.

From blame and criticism to self-connection and understanding

Everything always starts with connection.

Image courtesy to David Nayer
Image courtesy to David Nayer

Well, maybe not always. Maybe not even so very often. Maybe, just maybe, hardly ever. Maybe, we usually start with a judgment, a counterattack, a criticism. We hear a message and something in us gets triggered. The message doesn’t even have to be a difficult one, it can be a neutral one, or even a positive one. Instead of listening, wanting to connect, trying to understand, we stand ready with our well-trained battalion of jackal thoughts.

“Michelle is offering a free intro Nonviolent Communication at church.”

Just that one sentence, and off you go. ‘She is an idiot. She has no clue what Nonviolent Communication is about, she has only be teaching it for half a year, she didn’t even study with Marshall Rosenberg himself, she just took some classes with Peter, who is an idiot too. Why didn’t they ask me? I have facilitated classes for more than three years, participated in all kinds of programs with renowned trainers X, Y, and Z, etc., etc.’

An endless stream of angry, blaming thoughts.

Oops. No connection there. Just disconnect through labels, judgments, criticisms. Doesn’t sound very NVC, does it?

And yet, these thoughts contain an immense richness, a whole world of inner experience, a wealth of feelings and needs if we would just empathize with them.

Maybe you feel hurt, you want acknowledgment and appreciation for the value you add. Maybe you feel frustrated, because you care about the integrity with which Nonviolent Communication is taught. Maybe you feel scared, because you want people to really get the support they need. Maybe you feel sad, because you were hoping for more collaboration and inclusion. Maybe you feel lonely, because you want more connection and acceptance.

Behind these jackal ears outward is world of beautiful, precious, human, universal, and timeless needs. And that is the basis for connection.


You want help to translate your jackal ears outward into feelings and needs? Contact me for a complimentary, discovery session 512-589-0482. I would be delighted to talk with you and see if and how I can help.

Joy for being alive

May 4, 8 pm. The Netherlands. Two minutes of silence. A national commemoration of everyone who died in any war around the world since WW II.

Image courtesy to!image/247010865.jpg
Image courtesy to

Children, elderly, veterans, peace activists, blacks, whites: we stand side by side at our local war memorial and are silent. Just two minutes. Complete silence. To pay tribute to those who died, to honor being alive.

I always cry.

There is so much suffering in the world.

I think of a dear friend. He was a child during WWII. His father was a member of an organization that helped Jews find hiding places. The Nazi’s found out, invaded their home, searched every room, and finally found the dad. They took him and mistreated him so badly, that he died within a week. A few weeks later my friend’s house was destroyed during a bombardment, and he, his mom, and his siblings were evacuated to a part of the Netherlands, where the people hardly knew of the horrors they had lived through.

So much suffering.

My friend still wakes up from nightmares. I think he will do so the rest of his life.

So much suffering.

I want to help, to heal, to relieve his pain.

I realize that’s not up to me. It’s up to me to respect his autonomy, support his path, and trust his inner resources. My friend doesn’t need my help, he needs me to be me, and show up with love, care, and presence. My friend is doing pretty well, actually. His experiences helped him to be appreciative of all the love, friendship and belonging he receives. It deepened his gratitude for being alive, because he knows how fragile and precious it is.

There is so much suffering. And so much joy for being alive. Thank you, dear friend, for being my role model of celebrating life in each and every moment.

(I changed the details of my friend’s life to protect his privacy).

Everything always starts with connection

You want to ask for a raise. You have been working in this job for several years, and you feel confident that you add value. You want appreciation for the unique qualities you bring to your clients, acknowledgment for the results you’ve accomplished, and support for your financial sustainability.

You feel anxious even thinking about it. Expressing yourself vulnerably, is just not something you’re good at. You have some shame around your feelings and needs, and you fear rejection, ridicule or simple lack of interest. How can you ask for support for your needs?

It starts with connection.

Everything always starts with connection:

Sharing your feelings and needs. Your fear, your anxiety, your vulnerability. Your needs for acceptance and support. Maybe just your needs, if your boss is not a touchy-feely person.

You can ask for a reflection to make sure that the message intended is the message received. The other person might hear blame, or that you’re playing the victim, or a demand, even if that was not your message. Asking for a reflection allows you to clarify your message.

You can also ask for a response. Maybe she feels irritated, upset, or embarrassed. Maybe she needs understanding, connection, or acceptance. Giving her space to tell what’s going on for her deepens the connection.

This connection creates a context for your request.

Well. That’s easier said than done!

At least for me. I so often struggle with asking for what I want, that I often don’t even try.

The Mediate Your Life Intensive helped me.

We did a neat exercise: ‘the need behind the no’. You share your need for appreciation, acknowledgment, and support. You share your vulnerability and anxiety. You make a present-tense, action-oriented, positive-language request: “I want to earn $20 an hour starting next week.”

Your practice partner says ‘no’.

Hum? That’s not what you want! You’re stuck… Now what?

Well, the simple next step is to ask your partner which needs would be unfulfilled if he would say ‘yes’! Invite him to think of something that would support his needs and your needs!

To you it probably sounds as simple as 1+1=2. For me it was an eye-opener.

Engage your partner in a collaborative effort to brainstorm solutions that nurture ALL needs.

Not just his, not just yours, but everyone’s.

I’m gonna practice this right now with you, hoping to support your need for choice, and my needs for connection, acceptance and support.

It’s about my blog. I feel tender, excited and honored when I imagine you subscribe to my blog, because you find it funny, interesting, and encouraging. More subscriptions help me build an ‘author platform’ and -eventually- publish my book. Are you willing to decide today if you want to subscribe? I post five blogs a week, it is free, and you can always and easily end it. And if not, are you willing to share in one sentence why not? To support our need for understanding, and hopefully connection?


Empathy helps. It always does.

You wake up in the morning and you are already dreading the conversation with this parent in the afternoon. You fear he will blame you for the poor grades of his daughter. You don’t like these difficult conversations. You anticipate conflict, and want connection. You want tools to listen to and talk with the angry parent and maintain your inner calm.
Maybe it is not a parent, but your boss. Or your colleague. Or your spouse. Or even yourself.



Empathy helps. It always does.



We all share the same human needs, and if we focus on those -no matter how the other person expresses him/herself- we immediately create connection. Because we understand what it is like to want support, or respect, or belonging, or to be heard, or to matter. We all have these beautiful, universal needs.



Now the discussion is not about being right or wrong, your way or the high way, it is about finding ways to support all needs. It is about being creative enough to find strategies that everyone likes.



And that’s possible.
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Nonviolent Communication helps us to capture a language of feelings and needs that supports connection. It is easy to learn and effective to use. A community helps to practice this language in a safe setting, so we can experiment with new behavior and set ourselves up for success.


I am honored and happy to invite you to our Communication for Connection Practice Group. We meet every Monday, 7-9 pm, 6405 Culpepper Cove, Austin, TX 78730. Suggested donation $10. We can also work one on one to help you learn these compassionate communication skills.


Contact me if you want to see if the group or individual work is a good match for you, 512-589-0482.