Phases of the Moon, the newsletter of the Maine NVC Network
Volume Four, Issue Six: The neurobiology of NVC

Our newsletter appears once a month around the time of the new moon. Our purpose is to contribute to the NVC learning of people who have taken at least an NVC Level 1 workshop, and help us stay connected as we endeavor to deepen a culture of peace within ourselves, our families and the world. We believe a Level 1 offers so many new ways of thinking that additional support for learning and integration could be helpful.

We endeavor to make each edition informative, connecting, inspiring and fun. Please let us know how the newsletter might contribute to your NVC well-being.

This month’s guest writer, Sarah Peyton, explores the convergence between the cutting-edge inter-disciplinary studies of Interpersonal Neurobiology and the language-based work of NVC. In August, Sarah will be one of the trainers at the New York NVC Intensive.


An Invitation to Resonance: The Practice of Nonviolent Communication

by Sarah Peyton

This month’s guest writer, Sarah Peyton, explores the convergence of Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB) and somatic empathy (the healing work of NVC). IPNB, pioneered by Dr. Dan Siegel and others, is the study of how our brains react, learn, and affect one another in relationship. This inter-disciplinary field sythesizes contributions from the fields of neuroscience, psychology, systems theory, and relationship studies. In recent years, neuroscientists have begun to track how various parts of our brains are working in various relational situations. It is exciting to learn that our brains remain flexible and continue to change throughout our lives; this can give us optimism that it is never too late to change how we respond. The following article has been abridged, with permission of the author, from an article published in the GAINS (Global Association of Interpersonal Neurobiology) Quarterly: Connections & Reflections, Spring 2010. Underlined terms within the article are defined in the sidebar.

The dark haired, middle aged woman stood on the "enraged" placard, choosing her place in the line of laminated cards ranging along the anger continuum from "annoyed" up to "enraged" and "livid."

"I’m so angry at him – he’s a sick man, and I don’t want him to poison my son!"  Amanda said, crossing her arms to stop herself from shaking.

Different voices in the room called out guesses about her experience, resonant with coherence and empathy:

"Would you like the man who is your son’s father to be modeling a better way to live?"

"Are you exhausted and wanting some support?"

"Do you long for partnership and support from the person you are co-parenting with?"

"Are you wishing for emotional health and well-being in your family?"

"Do you feel hopeless, and really want to look into the future with a sense that things will be better?"

After a few more exchanges between Amanda and the group, the group facilitator asked Amanda, "Where are you now on the anger scale?"

Amanda stepped away from the line of cards laid out on the floor.  "I’m actually not angry any more.  Now I just have a sense of mourning for my ex-husband’s alcoholism, for my son, for the years I’ve spent in pain about this.  And I have a sense of acceptance.  I see that he’s trying as hard as he can.  And I see that part of my anger has been anger at myself, for having a child with him."

What happened in that exchange?  How did a woman who had been carrying anger for over five years put down her burden in a matter of minutes?  How can this be possible when so many of us wander around with unresolved anger and pain for years on end, without resolution?  What can help us transform the pain of our history into a sense of calm self-understanding and compassion?  

In this excerpt from a Nonviolent Communication workshop, every speaker referenced Amanda’s universal human needs, spoken of as her values and dreams.  They also named possible feelings that might underlie the strong emotion indicated by Amanda’s placement of herself on the anger scale.  This accurate recognition of feelings behind the anger helped Amanda’s limbic area calm (as evidenced by her movement off the anger scale, and her report of a sense of acceptance), and allowed her prefrontal cortex and her hippocampus to work together to see herself and her ex-husband with compassion and ‘mindsight’.  Amanda was heard and acknowledged.  She experienced something transformative in her sense of a shared reality with others, something that we can call empathy, although neuroscientists are not yet in full agreement about how to define it.

The field of Interpersonal Neurobiology gives us some hints about the mysterious and transformative experience of receiving empathy.  For example, the research of Matthew Lieberman and his colleagues at UCLA points to the importance of naming experience in self-regulation—calming the amygdala and activating the prefrontal cortex.  Stephen Porges, Allan Schore, and Daniel Siegel have contributions to make to this puzzle, as well, with their writings about the effects of a neuroception of safety, right hemisphere circuits of attachment, and resonance circuits in creating new neural pathways and enabling ‘mindsight’ for self and others. In the words of NVC Certified Trainer Robert Gonzales, 

We all have a deep yearning that goes beyond words. It is a quality of yearning that is not for something outside of us, but for a resonance of something deep that's alive in all of us….  There is this place that lives in each of us where we yearn for something beautiful…. This yearning exists in a domain of our consciousness [different] than most of us are used to accessing. This is the (inner) territory where the qualities of the heart reside. The qualities of the heart manifest as universal human needs.

Amanda, by having her feelings and universal needs spoken to by a room full of people, and by experiencing resonance, shifted in her view of herself and the situation.  In Siegel’s terms, she was being held with mindsight…..  In that place of resonance, she was able to step out of her fight or flight reaction and move into a coherent understanding of self—the ability to see her own, her husband’s, and her son’s autobiography in context. 

Is Nonviolent Communication something radically different from what we already know and do?  Yes and no.  "NVC is founded on language and communication skills that strengthen our ability to remain human, even under trying conditions.  It contains nothing new; all that has been integrated into NVC has been known for centuries.  The intent is to remind us about what we already know—about how we humans were meant to relate to one another…. The form is simple, yet powerfully transformative"  (Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, Rosenberg, p. 3).  The difference from our usual patterns lies in bringing the power of mindfulness to the space between us, largely, but not exclusively, reflected in our use of language with one another.

There is more happening than the words describing the universal needs themselves. The empathetic relationship includes someone trying to be present, no matter what they say (intention, attention, and attunement) and the experience of a direct hit (resonance) when a feeling or a need is named with precision.  The attempt to be present interrupts whatever cycle was happening, and then together the two people can attend to what the need might be until they hit on the right one.  Given the way resonance circuits are suspected to provide both people in a relationship with similar information, getting the direct hit may not be too difficult once they are calmly connected. Before interpersonal neurobiology and the discovery of mirror neurons, such an approach would certainly have been considered unscientific. 

NVC classes and practice groups encourage people to bring this resonating awareness of needs into our daily lives, providing an ongoing verbal foundation for conversation, and a continual nonverbal extension of empathy for others and for oneself as a practice of self-compassion. Sharing the self-calming out loud can also be an interesting preventative measure to communication problems.  I was in the kitchen with my 28-year-old son not long ago, and told him I had made a call to an old friend of ours.  There were a few beats of silence, and then he said,  "That’s just stupid."  I was quiet for a moment, and then, without even realizing what I was doing, I said, "I feel so embarrassed hearing you say that—I guess I was wanting to share my excitement."  My son looked up at me in shock, and said, "Oh, no, I wasn’t saying what you did was stupid. I can’t get this lid open. It’s made really badly."  The relief rushed through me, as well as a curiosity about how many times in my life I have interpreted other people’s words as a reproof, and tried to learn from them, when in fact the lesson was merely that they weren’t talking to me.

Just as with any mindfulness approach, the more we embrace a daily practice, the more we strengthen the new neural pathways that permit us to first calm ourselves, and then use our mirror neurons and resonance circuits, in their fullest expression of mindsight, to connect with and offer the experience of being seen to others.  As we bring the focus of our conscious awareness to how we use language with one another, we become aware of the power of resonance to calm and connect on a minute-by-minute basis as we move through the world.

Sarah Peyton is an independent facilitator and a candidate for certification from CNVC. Her workshops and teleseminars integrate the latest brain research with NVC, focusing on the transformative power of words and empathy. Her work focuses on how we hear and understand one another, effective ways to connect hearts, and what the cutting edge of neuroscience has to tell us about what happens in relationship. Her presentations are fun and inspiring, and she makes the abstract information about what happens in the brain accessible for all. website / email


  1. parts of the brain
    • limbic area: a network of neurons that influences many deep-rooted drives and emotions including pain, anger, hunger, sex, thirst, and pleasure 1
    • prefrontal cortex: controls abilities to differentiate among conflicting thoughts, determine good and bad, better and best, same and different, future consequences of current activities, working toward a defined goal, prediction of outcomes, expectation based on actions, and social "control" (the ability to suppress urges that, if not suppressed, could lead to socially unacceptable outcomes) 2
    • hippocampus: the part of your brain that is vital for the formation of memories 3
    • amygdala: two areas of the brain containing lots of neurons that influence anger, aggression, fear, and rage 4
  2. functions of the brain
    • neuroception of safety: The perception by the brain that one is in a physically safe environment. This perception takes place mostly without our conscious awareness. 5
    • right hemisphere circuits of attachment: "The right brain is centrally involved in not only processing social-emotional information, facilitating attachment functions, and regulating bodily and affective states, but also in the control of vital functions supporting survival and enabling the organism to cope actively and passively with stress." 6
    • mirror neurons: neurons that fire both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron "mirrors" the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting. The mirror neuron system is thought to be an essential aspect of the neural basis for empathy. By perceiving the expressions of another individual, the brain is able to create within its own body an internal state that is thought to "resonate" with that of the other person. 7
    • resonance circuits: Limbic resonance is the theory that the capacity for sharing deep emotional states arises from the limbic system of the brain. These states include the dopamine circuit promoted feelings of empathic harmony, and the norepinephrine circuit originated emotional states of fear, anxiety and anger. 8
  3. other terms
    • mindsight: This is a term coined by Dr. Dan Siegel and the following definition is quoted from his website. "Mindsight is a kind of focused attention that allows us to see the internal workings of our own minds. It helps us to be aware of our mental processes without being swept away by them, enables us to get ourselves off the autopilot of ingrained behaviors and habitual responses, and moves us beyond the reactive emotional loops we all have a tendency to get trapped in. It lets us "name and tame" the emotions we are experiencing, rather than being overwhelmed by them. Consider the difference between saying 'I am sad' and 'I feel sad.' Similar as those two statements may seem, there is actually a profound difference between them. 'I am sad' is a kind of self-definition, and a very limiting one. 'I feel sad' suggests the ability to recognize and acknowledge a feeling, without being consumed by it. The focusing skills that are part of mindsight make it possible to see what is inside, to accept it, and in the accepting to let it go, and, finally, to transform it." 9
    • naming experience in self-regulation: Our ability to choose our response when emotionally stimulated is assisted by being able to clearly identify and give presence to what we are experiencing internally. Another person giving us empathy can assist us in this when we are triggered and unable to do so ourselves. 10

All of the above definitions, except 10, were obtained online; the exact sources are listed in the footer of this newsletter.


Suggestions for Practice

  1. To experience and learn more about the convergence of Interpersonal Neurobiology and NVC, attend the New York NVC Intensive, where Sarah Peyton will be teaching.

  2. To learn more about mindsight, read Dr. Daniel Siegel's book, Mindsight: the New Science of Personal Transformation, as part of your summer reading.

  3. Participate in one or more of these upcoming NVC in-depth sessions:
    • 10 month-long Maine NVC Integration Program, beginning in September pdf icon details

    • Workshop with Robert Gonzales, Bar Harbor, ME, in October
      pdf icon details

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Upcoming Trainings

Trainings listed here are in the Maine region. If you wish to list an event, please follow our guidelines for submission. Please note that both certified and non–certified trainers, (who are willing to follow certain requirements of the Center for Nonviolent Communication), may be leading the posted trainings. Listing here does not imply endorsement by the Maine NVC Network of the trainer or the event.

July 29 – August 2, Belfast, ME
Sustainable Communication: Theory and Practice of Nonviolent Communication

This 3 credit university course can be taken at the undergraduate or graduate level.
Learn NVC while earning university credit. Great for re-certification too.
Taught by Peggy Smith / pdf icon details and registration


Sept 2013 – June 2014 Maine NVC Integration Program
Opening My Heart – Opening Communication

An Intermediate NVC Experience
Now open for enrollment!
Led by Peggy Smith (Certified NVC Trainer) & Leah Boyd (NVC Mediation Program graduate)
pdf icon details and registration
Feedback from participants in the 2012-13 Integration Program:
"This is FAR more than I imagined."
"This is just what I was hoping for and more so!"
"The practices are so accessible and I am getting so many insights already."
"I am so grateful and looking forward to the home practice."


Oct. 4–6, Bar Harbor, ME
Awakening Our Passion, Living in Compassion:
The Embodied Spirituality of Nonviolent Communication

with Robert Gonzales pdf icon details and registration


Oct. 25-27, South Portland
From Conflict To Connection: the Fundamentals of Nonviolent Communication

Taught by Peggy Smith / pdf icon details and registration


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Special announcement

Open Communication is thrilled to announce a new office in Belfast, ME. CNVC certified trainer, Peggy Smith, is available for
private NVC coaching at this location.
FMI: website / 207-789-5299

Also available: NVC based mediation services with Leah Boyd of
Peaceful Purpose.
FMI: website / 207-336-2423



Do you want to receive emails about upcoming NVC trainings and other NVC events in and near Maine?

Join the Maine NVC Network
Yahoo Group

The group is moderated and is only used for announcements of regional workshops and other Maine NVC Network events. Inclusion in list serve announcements does not imply endorsement by the Network.

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Invitation to
Empathy Circles

WEEKLY: Mondays 10-11:30 am, Belfast
FMI contact Marshall or Carolyn:
Phone 338-0842

MONTHLY: First Friday of each month, 10am-1pm
at The Start Center, 37 Start Rd, Camden
You are welcome to come when you can. If this is your first time coming, please contact Linda beforehand:
Phone 322-2122 / email


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Waiting for Safety
by Danna Faulds

Fern furled,
a question mark
waving in the wind,
holding to the fetal curl
and safety of the winter womb.

Nothing, not the gentle
kiss of sun, nor stream
voice, calling, can coax
that frond to unfurl
one single moment
before it does.



Call for Volunteers

The health of the Network depends on the joyful efforts of all who yearn to bring nonviolent consciousness to our region.
To learn more, email our volunteer coordinator.

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