We tend to think of communication as an inherent skill; an innate ability that each of us acquires as soon as we exit the womb. In some sense, this is true. We know to cry when we’re hungry or uncomfortable, to laugh when we’re pleased, and to reach out our arms when we want to be held. Non-verbal communication – the very basics – come rather instinctually. As we grow older and our brains develop further, our style of communication begins to change based on our surroundings. We observe our parents or primary caregivers, paying careful attention to the ways in which they interact. We learn to speak, and begin to acquire a vocabulary. Perhaps our parents read to us, and our vocabulary steadily expands. We attend kindergarten, and then elementary school… all the while, we pick up varying communication styles. We observe and retain, observe and retain. Perhaps we hear one of the cool kids using swear words (or sneak an R-rated film that our parents forbade), and we pick up some vulgar language. By the time we are young adults, ready to live on our own, we have accumulated a wide variety of techniques and methods – words and phrases. Of course, our style of communication will always fluctuate (often based on who it is we spend the most time with).
And the backbone of our communicative skills – those we learn from our parents or primary caregivers – will typically remain the same unless it is consciously changed.
Communication – A Learned Skill
There are few things as crucial to functional relationships as communication. In fact, healthy communication skills are arguably the most important piece of every mutually-beneficial and meaningful relationship. Many mistakenly believe that just because two people are talking to one another, they are communicating. Of course, it could be argued that every verbal exchange is a form of communication. But healthy communication is truly what makes or breaks a partnership. As previously mentioned, we learn to communicate by observing and mirroring our parents. If we grow up in an emotionally stifled household, our communication skills will likely be limited. We may have a difficult time effectively expressing our feelings and needs, and feel unheard, overlooked, and insignificant. If we grow up in a household dominated by rage and hostility, we may be inclined to express our feelings through angry outbursts – yelling, screaming, and resorting to physical aggression in order to get our point across.
Each individual within any given relationship will possess different communication skills and styles. It is important to understand that a ‘healthy relationship’ is not characterized by constant harmony and a complete lack of disagreement. It is normal for partners to butt heads on occasion – it is even normal to fight. What really matters is how quickly and effectively each dispute is resolved.
Attachment and Communication
When we experience secure attachment in our earliest relationships, we become better equipped to communicate effectively in our adult lives. Secure attachment occurs when our parents or primary caregivers show us adequate love and attention – when they do their best to meet all of our emotional and physical needs. Attachment is never flawless, because our parents are human, and every human tends to fall short in some capacity. But if our parents play an active and healthy role in our early development (and teach us to effectively communicate through example), we will likely find it easier to develop and maintain fulfilling and mutually-beneficial relationships later on in life.
What does healthy and secure attachment look like?
Infants convey their needs through body language and crying. The way the primary caregivers respond to these non-verbal signs will determine how secure an attachment relationship is (if attachment is not secure, it may be anxious, avoidant, or disorganized). If attachment is secure, the caregiver will appropriately respond to the needs of the infant. As the infant grows, the parent will practice healthy and reinforcing communication skills. Some of these may include maintaining eye contact, offering praise when praise is due, implementing teamwork, listening (rather than lecturing), and focusing on the behavior (rather than the child). These are all skills that will prove immensely beneficial in adult relationships, as well.
Even if we experienced insecure attachment in infancy and early adolescence, we are able to change our communication styles and improve our relationships at any point in time. In order to do so, we must trace our negative behavioral patterns back to their roots (oftentimes, patterns are instilled in very early childhood). Once we have done this, we can begin to heal our wounded inner children.
Healthy communication is vital to the quality of every interpersonal relationship. Many individuals who have undergone moderate to severe relational trauma will have a difficult time communicating, and will need to relearn healthy and effective skills. We at Next Chapter work hard to improve the communication skills of each of our patients. To learn more about our male-specific program of trauma and addiction recovery, please contact us today.