“Befriending our Jackals”


Understanding needs behind hard to hear messages and actions


Penny Wassman



Jackal is a word we use in Nonviolent Communication to refer to thoughts or behaviours in ourselves or other people that may be challenging to hear or to experience.  An example of inner jackal might be calling ourselves “ stupid” instead of connecting with unmet needs behind the particular choice we made.  We might experience another’s jackal when we hear words of blame or experience punitive actions.


Perhaps the easiest way to develop compassion for our own or another person’s jackal is to imagine jackal as a friend… a dear friend experiencing difficulty connecting with his or her needs.  This wonderful friend, whether the “alter ego” within ourselves or within another, has a great deal of information to offer us.  His or her language is often alive with poignant clues that will assist both of us to identify unmet needs and construct a bridge of understanding between us.  If we are able to pay heart-full attention to the clues presented, we will likely experience a quality of connection that will contribute to harmony within ourselves or within another person, as well as compassionate learning and growth.  And, as we become clear of unmet needs, we will assist ourselves or the other person to develop strategies or solutions that will ultimately most support us.


Six steps which will assist us to befriend Jackal, within ourselves and within others:


1.         Pause and breathe.  If the jackal you are experiencing is originating from

someone else remember:  This is not about me.”


2.         Shift your consciousness from your head to your heart.  (I am helped by taking in a deep breath and bringing to mind a favorite mountain vista…simply recalling this special place facilitates the shift of attention to my heart).  Make a conscious decision to bring the same heart-felt energy to your connection with the jackal that you are experiencing right now, whether it be within yourself or another person.  Be fully grounded and 100 % present to this opportunity to be with the jackal. 


3.         What was the stimulus in this situation?  Remember, as you view this stimulus from your heart, you will experience no evaluation or judgement….instead clearly recall your observation.  What were the words that were said, or the situation that was experienced?


4.         Look for clues:  What thoughts or words is the jackal expressing?  Often words like “should” or “must” present clues.  I should have paid attention” might translate into an unmet need for responsibility.  Labels are wonderful clues: “I’m such an idiot” might translate into an unmet need for competence or reliability.  A statement like “I feel so unwanted” may reveal an underlying need for inclusion, acceptance, and/or friendship…. and so on….  Sometimes, when words are not forthcoming, look for clues in the body language.  A person who has turned his back to you, for instance, may need respect and/ or trust.  As you become aware of needs which may be unmet, imagine the feelings that might be present underlying these unmet needs.  For example, if a person’s need for respect or trust is unmet, he or she might be feeling apathetic and/or exasperated.


5.         Check out the feelings and needs underlying the jackal expressions. 

  (a)  If you are looking at your own jackal, check to see if the needs and feelings you are coming up with make sense.  If necessary, take another deep breath and review the situation again with a focus on connecting more fully with the needs underlying your jackal.   Then as core needs are revealed, create an empathic statement to yourself… something like “No wonder I feel so sad and downhearted.  I‘d really like inclusion and friendship and that’s just not happening in this situation”.

  (b)  If you are responding to another person’s jackal, check with them to see if the needs and feelings you are intuiting are also real for them.  To do this, you would express an empathic statement to the other person…. something like, “I wonder if you’re feeling exasperated and needing trust and understanding about what’s going on for you?”  Stay with the other person through continuing rounds of empathy until he or she becomes quiet or indicates they are complete.  A great way of checking this out is to ask: “Is there anything else you’d like to talk about right now?” or “Is there anything further you’d like to say?”


6.         Explore a possible solution or strategy to support the needs identified. 

If you are assisting another person, check first to determine whether or not he/she is ready to go to this step. It may be that this person would prefer to do this alone, at another time, or with someone else.

If you do decide to explore a solution or strategy to support the identified needs, sometimes, even a strategy which may not have any correlation to the original stimulus can work wonders to foster hope, confidence and connection within yourself or another person. 

Imagine the following stimulus:  Your supervisor says, “I’m sorry.  You are the only staff member who will not attend the Christmas celebration at the Ritz Hotel.  It’s all because of a management rule that employees must have worked at least 6 months to attend such functions.” (You have been employed for 5 months).  You have processed your inner jackal (“how insensitive” “what snoots those people are” “how could they include absolutely everyone but me” “I don’t matter here… they don’t even see me!” etc. etc. etc.).   As you determine your needs and underlying feelings in this situation, you realize you are feeling sad and disillusioned and would treasure inclusion, consideration, companionship and some fun.  A possible strategy to address these needs (which has no direct correlation to the stimulus) would be to get together with some close friends for a night of fun and celebration of your friendship.  A different strategy (which would correlate to the original stimulus) would be to request an appointment with your boss to express your feelings and needs and voice a specific request. (“When I realize that I’m the only staff member not included in the Christmas party, I feel disillusioned because I value inclusion and consideration for everyone in the office.  Would you be willing to reconsider the six month rule and include me too?”)  Perhaps neither of these work for you and you may choose other possibilities (eg: taking a course which might support you to gain employment elsewhere)…


Remember, getting your needs met does not depend on a specific person or persons doing something.  In fact, you limit yourself when you fixate on specific strategies or specific people to meet a particular need.   Additionally, the needs identified in one situation are likely to re-surface as other situations are processed.  Building awareness of your needs as part of an ongoing process in life and realizing that you alone are responsible for meeting them through a variety of creative strategies is tremendously liberating and empowering.   As you honour your own needs, you will gain increased confidence in your ability to support others with empathic presence.  As you support others, you gain experience and knowledge that ultimately supports yourself and all life on this planet.  Nonviolent Communication is, after all, a “mutual giving from the heart  (Dr. Marshall Rosenberg).


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Copyright © 2005 Penny Wassman