Do you often find it hard to say no and have the fear of letting others down? Or have you ever found yourself in a situation where you’ve lost all control when trying to get your point across? If so, you’re not alone. Perhaps even in the past, you’ve either relied on alcohol or other drugs to give you the courage to say what was necessary, or it was a state of intoxication that prevented you from truly effective communication. In fact, many people struggle to communicate their wants and needs clearly, and it can be difficult to walk that line between passive and aggressive communication.
Aggressive communication involves a win-lose type situation, where the aggressor is solely focused on their own needs. This communication uses power and bullying to bulldoze over the interests of another. An aggressive stance can lead to dismissive acts, yelling, verbal abuse, and escalate any conversation to a heated argument.
Passive communication is classically thought of as someone not standing up for themselves, and being walked over like a ‘doormat’. You may find yourself in a passive state when you are constantly saying yes or agreeing to things you don’t want to do, or “walking on eggshells” around someone else. Your wants and needs remain unexpressed which can turn into pent up frustration and pain. At times, this can turn into passive-aggressive communication when using manipulation, dropping hints, or relying on sarcasm to express unmet needs.
Assertive communication attempts to find a middle ground by both acknowledging your own needs and the needs of others. Communicating with assertiveness can open up ways to be honest with others through means that are not meant to lead to conflict. This communication style is rooted in respect and boundaries and can take time to practice and implement.
- State the facts by explaining the situation that is frustrating you clearly without using stigmatized words. This allows the other person to hear what the problem is, and becomes the foundation for the conversation at hand.
Instead of: “There are dirty dishes everywhere and you’re just sitting there being lazy”.
Try: “We had agreed last night that you would wash the dishes and I’ve noticed they are not done yet”.
- Use “I” statements to hold back judgement and avoid placing the responsibility for your feelings onto others. This helps lessen blaming so the other person does not feel attacked and instead shifting to sharing your feelings.
The general formula for success is “I feel _____ when ____ happened”, although as this becomes incorporated into your skill set, it begins to feel more natural.
Instead of: “You don’t even care about me, all you do is play your video games”.
Try: “I feel hurt and like I’m not a priority to you when I have to ask for your attention”.
- Collaborate together in order to problem solve with the other person. This shows that you are not wanting to fight, but instead work towards a mutual solution.
Instead of: “I keep trying to tell you this isn’t going to work”.
Try: “How can we work together to make sure this doesn’t happen again?”
- Acknowledge the feelings of others by reflecting what the other person is saying or experiencing. This does not mean that you need to agree with them or change your point of view, but it can increase understanding and connection.
Instead of: “You’re being a jerk”.
Try: “I see that you have been stressed at work, and I know how difficult things have been with the new boss lately”.
- Set clear boundaries that reflect your values and determine what behavior is acceptable and what is not. Be willing to stand up for yourself and say “no” when needed. This teaches the other person what is appropriate around you.
Instead of: Listening to someone yell at you over the phone or in person.
Try: “I do not think that this conversation is helpful right now, let’s come back to it when we’re both calm”.
Practicing assertiveness can help you feel empowered to share your experience, build self-esteem, and strengthen relationships. It is important to be mindful of tone, posture, and gestures so you are communicating from a place of calm. This is a skill that is essential to master in recovery, and can be a part of getting your life back on track after relapse.
Note* Assertive communication does not guarantee positive results as some people may not respond well to you being assertive. It is essential to consider your safety when talking to others, especially in abusive situations. It can help to learn and practice these skills with an experienced therapist within a safe therapeutic space. Learn about how we’ve structured our sober living to help you structure your life after addiction.