by Erin Oden, ASW, Clinical Director
Sometimes asking for what we want or need is difficult, especially when we are faced with situations that elicit an emotional response. When we are experiencing fear, anxiety, or frustration it can be difficult to verbalize ourselves in a healthy, appropriate manner.
Have you ever misread a situation, felt ignored and demanded someone’s attention? Have you ever said, “yes,” to a request, even though you had other commitments and couldn’t give the task at hand your undivided attention? I, personally, have been guilty of both mistakes in communication. I have allowed myself to be a doormat, leading to feelings of lack of value or worth, immediately followed by overshooting the mark and feeling that I was overbearing in an interaction. What I have found is that neither of these communication styles: passive vs. aggressive, creates a feeling of contentment and/or fulfillment when utilized. Both styles of interaction ultimately lead me to feel increasingly vulnerable and insecure.
Healthy, self-honoring communication does not include belittling nor bolstering oneself or others. In order to truly honor oneself, it is important to practice assertive communication, in contrast to passive or aggressive tactics. What exactly IS the difference between the three main styles of communication of one’s needs? I believe a quote by Edith Eva Eger is a great place to start; “To be passive is to let others decide for you. To be aggressive is to decide for others. To be assertive is to decide for yourself. And to trust that there is enough, that you are enough.”
Different communication styles explained:
Passive communication: “You are important and I am not.”
This communication style comes from a place of feeling less-than or not good enough. Someone with a passive communication style may struggle with saying ‘No’, or setting boundaries with others. Oftentimes, people struggling with addiction believe that they are intrinsically bad or permanently damaged. This belief can lead one to shy away from asking for what s/he wants and needs. This inability to stand up for oneself can lead to increased feelings of depression and anxiety, which creates a cyclical pattern of denied self-worth.
Some markers of passive behavior: compliant, submissive, talking very little, inability to set and maintain boundaries, putting self down, non-committal communication – speaking in a vague manner.
Aggressive: “I am important and you are not.”
Aggressive communication is not always presented with violence, oftentimes it is subtle communicative attempts at control: sarcasm, superiority, putting-down, harshness, always right, interrupting or patronizing. This type of behavior has the ability to anger the person you are speaking with and puts a wall up between you and him.
Aggressive behavior is often the result of feeling fearful – fear of lack of attention, lack of importance, lack of power and/or lack of resources. Try to notice if you go into an interaction from a place of insecurity or fear, and be careful not to become a bully, an attempt to control an outcome.
Assertive: “I am important and you are important”
When we act in an assertive manner, we honor our own feelings, thoughts, and experiences, along with those of the other people involved. We can state things in a courteous, kind manner while also being steadfast. We recognize that there is an abundance; there is an abundance of resources, attention, and importance. Assertive communication is polite and clear, along with being respectful of self and others.
People struggling with addiction oftentimes have backgrounds that are marked with turmoil – lacking in day-to-day structure or stability. In the study of human psychology, we have learned that a life of chaos can lead to lack of trust in self and the world around you. Through learning that they have intrinsic value, just as any other human being does, addicts and alcoholics can learn to honor themselves through the practice of assertive communication.
by Erin Oden, ASW, Clinical Director