Healthy and effective communication is a cornerstone of long-term addiction recovery. Setting healthy boundaries, honestly expressing feelings and emotions, and facing shame are all reliant on the ability to communicate effectively – and developing the skills necessary to healthy communication is essential to the maintenance of supportive and vital interpersonal relationships. While addiction recovery is a highly personal journey, it is one that cannot be taken alone – developing and maintaining relationships is absolutely indispensable.
Learn to Communicate Effectively
When learning to communicate effectively, you are likely to face several significant obstacles. Ingrained behavioral patterns may make expressing yourself seem an impossible feat – at first. You may find that dishonesty has become somewhat second nature over the course of your active addiction. You may have become so accustomed to manipulating your loved ones in order to get what you want that speaking openly and honestly feels unfamiliar and contrived. You may find that you bear a crippling amount of shame and self-doubt, or that an invasive sense of perfectionism hinders authentic expression. Take a look at the five following communication skills – with continued practice, you will find that over time communicating effectively comes naturally.
5 Essential Communication Skills
- Give and Take – Listening
All relationships are a two-way street – friendships, romantic relationships, relationships with your family members and even with your coworkers and acquaintances. It is important that you develop the ability to listen to others and offer support when necessary – especially considering that you will inevitably expect the same in return. In order to practice the essential skill of listening, try calling up a friend or peer who is having a hard time and simply hearing them out. Sometimes all someone needs to feel better is an empathetic ear.
What is empathy? Turns out, it is an essential human skill – one that is often ripped away immediately by active addiction. Empathy involves attempting to see a situation from another perspective – stepping into someone else’s shoes and making an effort to see things differently. Understanding the thoughts and feelings of others is vital to healthy and effective communication. Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous help instill a sense of empathy in those who have suffered a loss of basic life skills. Relating to others, offering feedback and support, and simply listening to others as they share their stories can help re-instill an essential sense of empathy.
- Positive Self-Talk
Low self-esteem and seemingly unconquerable shame might prevent you from attempting to speak openly with others. Learning to communicate lovingly with yourself is just as important as learning to communicate with friends and family members! During your addiction, it is likely that your inner-voice was your worst critic. In early recovery, this incessant self-criticism and disapproval will probably only intensify. Rather than numbing out reality, you are finally forced to face it – and the gravity of all you have done comes rushing to the surface. Rather than condemn yourself further for your past behavior, do what you can to affirm, love, and accept yourself as you are. You are making an honest attempt to change, and maintaining addiction recovery is no small task. Praise yourself every day for all you have accomplished.
Being assertive does not mean being pushy or aggressive – it simply means approaching conversations in an honest and straightforward manner. Assertiveness is essential to setting healthy boundaries with others, and knowing when and how to say ‘no’. If someone you have been attempting to maintain a relationship with repeatedly neglects or ignores the boundaries you have set, being assertive will help you to end that relationship altogether. This skill will also help you to become more aware of the boundaries that others set. Make sure your own needs are being met while simultaneously respecting the needs of those around you.
- Social Cues
Spoken word is, of course, an important part of communication – but body language and social cues are just as fundamental. Listen to the tone of voice of those you are speaking with, and watch for facial expressions. The more in-tune you are with those you are attempting to communicate with, the more effective the communication will be.
Try not to be too hard on yourself if you struggle expressing yourself from time-to-time – remember that developing healthy communication skills is a process. If you regularly practice the above-listed components, you will not only further bolster your own recovery, but your ability to help others will be strengthened and improved.