Am I deserving of appreciation

Friday January 5, during Shabbat service, I was formally welcomed into the community of the Jewish people, making myself available to “become a partner with God in the work of creation and in the healing and redemption of the world”.

It is a festive, joyous evening of community and celebration. My husband is there, my stepdaughter, my friends Jen, Margaret, her kids and parents-in-law, and of course my congregation. We sing, we pray, we hug. My stepdaughter and I lit the candles to welcome in the Shabbat and recite the prayer. We are a bit nervous about whether we remember the whole Hebrew blessing. My husband reads one of his poems to express how I have contributed to his life. The congregation president reads one of my blogs. She thought it was the best way to describe how I show up in life. My stepdaughter jumps up and shouts “Yeah, Elly”. The cantor sings a song about being held by the wings of Shechinah (Spirit) and says I am a gift to the congregation.

I feel a bit shy with this shower of appreciation. I think of a quote by Marshall Rosenberg:

“For many of us, it is difficult to receive appreciation gracefully. We fret over whether we deserve it. We worry about what’s being expected of us… Or we’re nervous about living up to the appreciation.”

These people who share their appreciation, do they know that I have lied? That I get angry and yell? That I have people I let down? That I have done things I feel ashamed of? Would they still appreciate me if they know the whole truth about me, and nothing but the truth?

Maybe. Maybe not.

As I sit there and receive congratulation after hug after welcoming, I start to relax. Yes, I have done things in my life I wished I could undo, and I have desisted from doing things that I wished I had done. That’s the truth. And even though that is correct, it is also incomplete. Because I have also helped others, listened to my friend’s suffering, refrained from saying hurtful things, committed to a 95% vegan, eco-friendly, fair-trade diet, tried the best I could.

As I open up to the appreciation and love, I see more clearly that I have contributed to other people’s needs. I see that I have the capacity to make life more wonderful for others. And since I already am aware where I have made life more miserable for others, receiving appreciation helps me better see the whole picture of who I am and how I show up.

How does this land for you? Let me know, I would love to hear from you.

My Mother’s Day Ode to aunt Ria

“Happy Mother’s Day! Thank you for all you do to help me as a mother, guide and support Maya and Kiran through life.”

I feel touched. Even a bit teary. I’m grateful for her appreciation of my role in her children’s life and of my dedication to help them grow into happy, healthy, self-connected adults.

Foto (1)I never gave birth to a child. I carry sadness and a sense of loss around that. I once thought I would have at least five kids. I imagined us sitting at the dinner table, laughing, talking, playing around. A bit chaotic and noisy, and super fun. An adult household version of Pippi Longstocking.

After I realized this would not happen (and even before that) I decided to direct all my motherly energy and love to the children in my life that I do have: my nieces and nephew, kids of friends, my Dutch foster child, my step daughter. If I can’t be a mom, I can be an aunt, a foster-mom, a nurturing adult in the lives of the children around me. I can reinforce their self-worth, remind them that they matter, and coach their autonomy.

Ria van Wijlen jeugdfoto img878This Mother’s Day I thought of my aunt, tante Ria. She had such love for children. She didn’t give birth to her own children either.

She is my inspiration for how I want to show up for the children around me: respectful, accepting, tolerant, lots of fun, supportive, interested, and engaged in the relationship.

There are many children who don’t get the love, support and acceptance they need. A social worker once told me how difficult it is to address these issues with the parents. The best you can do is to offer the children an alternative relationship. A relationship that conveys that you care about them, respect their experience, and value their needs.  Your actions and respect acknowledge them as autonomous human beings, who are entitled to their own dreams and goals.

I know from experience how valuable such an aunt can be.  I grew up struggling to find support for my sense of emotional safety, acceptance, understanding, support, and belonging.

So this is my ode to my tante Ria.

Thank you for supporting me on my path to self-worth and mattering. You did this over and over againfrom the day I was born to today, and even beyond the bounds of your death.

Safe travels David. Thanks for editing!

Appreciation NVC-style (3/3)

We “receive appreciation with the same quality of empathy we express when listening to other messages. We hear what we have done that contributed to others’ well-being; we hear their feelings and the needs that were fulfilled. We take into our hearts the joyous reality that we can each enhance the quality of others’ lives.” (Rosenberg, M, Nonviolent Communication, A Language Of Life, 2003, p. 188)

2015, Nov-12, Pedernales2There is nothing to be shy about. There is nothing to be proud about. There is everything to be happy about: life is wonderful when we contribute to needs being met! We celebrate needs met: ours or others. Receiving appreciation is letting go of our inferiority complex, our superiority complex, or even our notions of equality.

Appreciation is beyond judgement.

Receiving appreciation NVC-style is stepping into the understanding that we inter-are and that your happiness is connected to my happiness, that we share an inter-happiness. We don’t need a special skill to contribute. We don’t need to hide in embarrassment when our contribution is appreciated. We don’t need to pretend that everyone would have done the same. Receiving appreciation has nothing to do with wondering if we are worthy of appreciation.

Receiving appreciation is the unique opportunity to deepen our understanding of the needs that are alive and important to the other person. It is a quality of understanding that is like reading a personal manual of their idiosyncratic well-being.

It is also an opportunity to know ourselves and understand our contribution-niche: these are the actions that I enjoy taking that others enjoy receiving. It may be a signpost for the crossroads of our purpose in life: “this is what I am good at, that brings more joy and happiness in the world.” When we receive appreciation we open up to “the awareness that God has given everyone the power to enrich the lives of others.” (Rosenberg, p. 189).

When we receive appreciation in this way, we give a boost to our aspirations: what if we did this everyday? Wouldn’t that make the world a better place? For you and for me?

You want help to receive appreciation? Contact me for a free, discovery session, 512-589-0482.

Appreciation NVC-style (2/3)

“The beauty of appreciation is spoiled when people begin to notice the lurking intent to get something out of them.” (Rosenberg, M, Nonviolent Communication, A Language Of Life, 2003, p. 185, 186)

There is a difference between appreciation and praise and compliments. Appreciation is an expression of how our lives are enriched by the actions of others, the needs that are met and the feelings that arose from those needs being met. Praise and compliments can be a shortcut for appreciation. “That was a yummy dish” can have the same intention as appreciation, a summary with fewer words.

TeacherPraiseGirl-HiAnd often praise is used to get someone to do something. Sit still in the classroom. Do chores. Work harder. “You’re such a good girl.” “Thanks for being a team player.” These compliments often hide a request to continue certain behavior to support needs that are unspoken, and sometimes even unclear to the speaker. The speaker doesn’t reveal the needs met by the action they praise, nor the happy feelings that arose from these needs being met. There is just an evaluation of who you are and what you did. As if they are God and know who is good and who is bad, what is right and what is wrong.

I find the sticker sheet that parents use to encourage their child to do their chores a clear example of the lurking intent behind praise and compliments. ‘If you sweep the floor, you are a good boy and you’ll get a sticker.’ And after 10 stickers for 10 chores, you get to buy your favorite toy, or watch your favorite movie, or get to eat ice cream.

These praising and complimenting strategies certainly get your child to do what you want. They work. So much so that we continue to use them in the workplace with salary raises, job evaluations, choosing the best employee of the month.

But they only work to a certain extent. They get people to behave a certain way, but we don’t get them to do so out of the joy of their heart. They contribute to get the results they want for themselves. We are not sharing how their action meets our needs, so they can’t understand how they make a difference in our lives. Praise and compliments reinforce instrumental contribution. They don’t inspire us to contribute out of the intrinsic joy of contributing. Once the reward loses it’s appeal, we lose our excitement to modify our behavior.

I believe that appreciation is the way to go. Simply sharing the actions that have contributed to our well-being, the particular needs that have been fulfilled, and the pleasurable feelings engendered by the fulfillment of those needs. Appreciation expresses how others contributed to our needs. It is a celebration, not a hidden request.

You want help to appreciate NVC-style? Contact me for a free, discovery session, 512-589-0482.

Appreciation NVC-style (1/3)

“When we use NVC (=Nonviolent Communication) to express appreciation, it is purely to celebrate, not to get something in return. Our sole intention is to celebrate the way our lives have been enriched by others.” (Rosenberg, M, Nonviolent Communication, A Language Of Life, 2003, p. 186)

Appreciation NVC-style inspires us to express ourselves in a way that fully reveals our experience without judging others. We share the specific actions that contributed to our well-being, the needs that have been fulfilled, and the feelings engendered by the fulfillment of those needs. The focus is to create a clear understanding of how our life was enriched. The specifics of our observation and the honesty about our feelings and needs enhance the impact of our communication. The lack of judgement invites a shared acceptance and connection around the purity of the celebration.

12287525_910657528989506_173872630_oWhen our needs are unmet, requests help to ask for what we want.

When our needs are met, appreciation celebrates what worked for us.

Here is an example of what NVC-appreciation can sound like:

“When I saw your FB-message “You can absolutely use my cartoons! I just went to your blog and the cartoon looks so cute and I love your post! I’m thrilled that you like my cartoons enough to put some on your wonderful website.”, I felt excited, happy, and enthralled. It met my needs for support, creativity, and collaboration.”

Or, maybe less formal:

“Wow, I felt excited, happy and enthralled, when I read your FB-message. I so like the support, creativity and collaboration!”

Appreciation NVC-style might take more words. It might even be a bit more vulnerable to share our feelings and needs directly and honestly. I find NVC less gratuitous than praise (“You’re such an awesome person!” “That was a fantastic thing you did”), as it zooms in on the clarity of our experience and not on judging our supporter through praise. Marshall describes all “praise and compliments to be life-alienating;… it establishes the speaker as someone who sits in judgments.” (Rosenberg, M., p. 185)

We don’t want to sit in judgment. We want to be vulnerable and authentic. Appreciation takes us out of playing God. It brings us back to who we are and what we need. Appreciation helps deepen connection between two human beings who both have the power to enrich life and appreciate the contribution.

You want help to appreciate NVC-style? Contact me for a free, discovery session, 512-589-0482.

Thank you, Amy, for allowing me to use your cartoons on my website. I feel real excited to work together on a world with more compassion, empathy, and veganism! Add a link to RedandHowling, if you want to repost this cartoon.

My appreciation for the life and contribution of Marshall Rosenberg

Today I learned of the passing away of Marshall Rosenberg, founder of Nonviolent Communication.

“Empathy is a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing.”

It is the ability to postpone judgment, interpretation, and evaluation, so you can be with someone’s observations, feelings, needs, and desires. It is the willingness to be vulnerable and accept their perspective, to understand the world through their eyes.

Image thanks to thomas.theo.kuleuven.beMarshall Rosenberg’s teachings helped me to acknowledge the fact that I had needs, a fact that was unknown to me at that time. Yep, I always thought that I didn’t need anything or anyone. Never considered I wanted acceptance, belonging, respect. After the first revelation that I had needs, I learned that my feelings arose from my needs…. Du-uh?!… Aren’t others responsible for my feelings? I can’t blame them? Or thank them? Don’t I make people happy? (or sad, angry, lonely, scared) Am I not responsible for what they are feeling?

After a few years of calibrating the ideas that I have needs, and that my feelings are a result from my needs being met or unmet, I started to experiment with Marshall Rosenberg’s insights on requests. Making requests that are an invitation to collaboration and connection. Different from a demand, isn’t it?

Six years later I can tell that I think I am getting it. Maybe not completely, and I am getting there. Even better, last night I taught a class on collaboration. I used all my understanding of Nonviolent Communication. The assistant professor thought it was a phenomenal session that exemplified collaboration.

I want to share one precious memory I have of him. I participated in a training that he led. I was invited for a healing session with him. He impersonated my three-day old sister, who died when I was two. I had always seen her in my mind’s eye as an incapacitated person. Then he started empathizing with me, as her. And while I was talking with him -Marshall Rosenberg impersonating my younger sister- I clearly saw her aura around him.

I cried tender and much needed tears. After the session I realized that the younger sister that I always held as handicapped, had transformed into a mature woman, who was there whenever I needed her. This transformation was so profound that my life opened up, and I made choices I would never have dreamed of making.

Not everyone was happy with my choices. For me they were an expression of my autonomy and authenticity. I am deeply grateful for Marshall’s contribution to my courage to be honest with others and following my dream.

Marshall, you didn’t die January 7, 2015. You continue to live in my heart and through your contributions to this world. Thank you.

Tante Ria

This is a tribute to my aunt. Tante Ria. She died last Monday. Peacefully. Trusting that she would enter Heavenly Paradise, and be welcomed in the house of her Father.

I am flying out today to attend her funeral.

I feel a deep sense of sadness and loss.

And more deeply than that, of gratitude and appreciation.

Image courtesy to

She offered a warm, welcome home every Summer holiday for my sister and me. She organized fun events, exuberant barbecues (and even now, being a vegan, I enjoy thinking of those gatherings), and special activities. I always had such a sense of love, acceptance, belonging, appreciation, and delight, whenever I visited her house, at a time when I didn’t experience much of that in many other places.

She never talked about my troubles. She never asked about my pain. She just offered love and acceptance.

Teyber and McClure call that a restorative emotional experience. Through tante Ria I knew that love, acceptance, belonging, understanding, and joy were possible. Also for me.

We cannot always prevent children from feeling pain, hurt, loneliness. We can’t always repair the damage done by neglect, criticism, and ignorance. But we can always offer our open heart, welcoming hands, and radiant smile to let a child know how delighted we are that they are in our world.

Tante Ria, thank you, for inspiring me to bring out those qualities in myself for all the children and grown-ups in my life.

I love you.


I’m back home. In Austin. I said the same thing when I landed in the Netherlands July 12: “I’m back home.” I have two homes. Well, actually, I have many more. Or actually just one.

When I first arrived in Austin in April 2009, I was homesick for the Netherlands, my family and friends, my two cats. For many years.

blue_globeThis time before I flew out to the Netherlands, I had what you might call a little epiphany. I was driving through Texas hill country, enjoying the beauty of nature, the gorgeousness of everything G*d created and is creating, when I realized with a sudden insight “G*d created this piece of Earth, just like She did the Dutch piece of Earth. I am always home in G*d’s Earth, no matter where I am.”

Even though we, humans, establish boundaries, Immigration control, and property lines, Earth knows no such thing. Presence and energy just continuously morph from one manifestation into another. From mountain, into meadow, into river, into ridge, into cliff. There is no sign “Stop here. Go no further. Identify yourself first.”

It is not hard to understand the wisdom of the speech the Indian Chief Seattle gave in 1854 “How Can you Possess the Earth?” when you connect to your breath. Do you know who exhaled the breath you’re breathing in now? Or who will inhale your breath after you exhale? You can hate the person in front of you -or far away- and you cannot stop inhaling her out-breath. Nor can he stop inhaling your out-breath. You share the same air and ‘inter-are’, whether you like it or not. Even if you succeeded not sharing the same air, you cannot stop your dead bodies being held by the same Earth. And even if you could do that, you’ll always be part of the same Universe.

It is Thich Nhat Hanh’s simple message of interbeing.

I am home. And I have always been. Wherever I am.


You want help to connect to the interbeing of all life? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary discovery session.

Stuart is my role model

When is the last time you heard someone say: “Peter? Peter is highly successful. He did very well for himself. He opened his heart, speaks in a way that encourages others, learned to transform his anger in requests, and listens to his friend when she is down and out.”

I never did.

Such things are usually not counted as accomplishments, as something others are impressed by and want to copy.

When we talk about success we usually talk about careers, houses, cars, maybe fame, hopefully a stable family life, although we would not say “Margaret she did SO well: her husband loves her SO much!”

Yet, most possessions don’t go into the grave. And even if they do, they are mainly interesting and valuable to archaeologists 1000, 2000 years from now, not so much to you. The only thing we take into our grave are our intentions and efforts. Financial enoughness can help us stay more focused on those -because we are less distracted by survival struggle- and that’s all.

Image courtesy to FlickrLet me tell you about Stuart.

I met Stuart four years ago, when he asked me for money as I waited for the traffic light. He walks with braces on both legs, which -of course- makes it harder for him to reach cars in time and receive what’s been offered. He had polio when he was one, didn’t receive much support during life, managed to find work on only a high school diploma, and finally got fired from his last job, because he couldn’t climb the ladder anymore. I never heard him complain. He always told me that every situation is an opportunity to thank G*d for support and love. He received every dollar with gratitude and grace.

Can you imagine the world we would create if we’d call people like him successful? How would your life be if he is your role model for modesty, gratitude, and trust? Can you imagine the big smile, appreciation, and openness we all would have?



You want help to live of life of love, openness, and gratitude even under challenging circumstances? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary discovery session.

I want to matter to myself

I want to ask for a raise. I don’t receive my pay check as appreciation for the value I add. I think my empathy and mediation skills are unique and contribute to the emotional, social, and academic development of my clients. I empower them to be autonomous, authentic, and responsible. I teach them to include all needs and figure out strategies that work for everyone. I want to be seen and appreciated for these qualities.

I talk with my empathy buddy about this. I tell him I should earn more, that I deserve it with the level of commitment I have for my clients.


I just read in Nonviolent Communication that ‘should’ and ‘deserve’ language conveys that a request is actually a camouflaged demand.

I fall silent. I check in with myself. I am making a demand. I am so scared I will hear a ‘no’ that I am using force to get a ‘yes’. I’m too afraid to hear the ‘no’ as proof that I don’t matter, that my employer doesn’t care about my needs.

“Mattering to whom?” my buddy asks. Duh. To my employer, of course! I need to know that I matter to them.

Then I fall silent again… Or is it mattering to myself? Am I afraid that I will walk out on myself, as soon as I hear a ‘no’? Am I scared that I will give up on myself and my needs to accommodate the relationship?

Image courtesy to

Silence… Yes… That’s it… And I realize that if I matter to myself, I would use this request as an opportunity to express what’s alive in me, what my inner experience is. Not to get what I want (NVC is never a good tool for that purpose), but to be known for who I am and what I need. To create a relationship that’s based on honesty and empathy.

And all of a sudden I realize that this conversation is actually a chance to support the inner child in myself. The little, stuttering child who so often thought she didn’t matter, that no one cared what was going on within her. Who was too scared to speak up, because she feared disconnection. This is the time to invite the adult within me to squat next to her and encourage her to speak, to help her find the words. This is not about a salary raise, this is about healing. Learning to ask for what I want, in a way that conveys to myself that I matter. That’s all that matters.


You want help to matter to yourself? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary, discovery session to see if and how I can help.