Ask Golden Willow

Violent communication undermines feelings of safety


Dear Ted: I am a Taos High School student and recently I went to a forum on safety and it got me started to thinking about all the different ways safety can be taken away. I always think about physical safety, but now I have been observing how much communication affects safety. Would you please talk about communication, emotions and safety? Thank you, Sandra

Dear Sandra, It is always exciting when our younger people reach out and ask such profound questions. I'm glad to see that you are thinking about the impact communication has on aspects of the vast environments in which we live.

Communication factors into so many areas of all of our lives, and the ripple effect is larger than we could ever know. There has been an action and educational movement for quite a while called Non-Violent Communication, which helps people become more aware of their communication and how non-violent communication helps navigate the interactions of people in a way that can be receptive rather than reactionary.

Most people think of violent communication as rageful behavior. This is true, but violent communication can show up in many forms of passive and aggressive expressions, such as eye rolling, interrupting, talking over someone, withholding, negative expressions, answering questions with irritation and any other type body or verbal language that negates or attacks the other person's feeling of safety, autonomy and individuality.

Communication is the bridge that can build understanding by honoring the other person's thoughts, opinions and questions. When this happens, emotional safety is established. Your emotional world then feels safe enough to be authentic, less guarded, willing to share, and you are more likely to listen openly to truly hear someone's truth.

Many people will make an attempt at communicating, and when they perceive to be cut off or dismissed by the other person, they will start to isolate and quit attempting to connect, leading to a larger gap within the relationship. One of my fears is that violent communication and larger gaps between people is being normalized.

If you happen to listen to the news or follow politics, you will see people being dishonest or withholding (another type of violent communication), interrupting, blaming, name calling or holding the stage, so the other person has no opportunity to speak.

To survive as a species, we adapt to a certain behavior and then normalize that behavior. If instead, we can quit competing for stage time, be open to other people's opinions and be willing to see, hear and value each other with non-violent communication, we have a chance to close these great gaps that separate us.

Bridges can be built that allow each person to be recognized as an individual while working together in interdependent partnership. If we can move to this type of conscious communication, the emotional safety can grow, and my bet is physical safety will improve due to each person having the chance to be accepted and heard.

Thank you for the question. I wish you well. Until next week, take care.

Golden Willow Retreat is a nonprofit organization focused on emotional healing and recovery from any type of loss. Direct any questions to Ted Wiard, LPCC, CGC, Founder of Golden Willow Retreat at (575) 776-2024 or

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