When we enter into recovery, we are essentially experiencing a second childhood, during which we will develop, grow, and learn essential life skills that may have previously eluded us. We may believe that getting clean and sober will be sufficient enough, but the truth is that this is only the very beginning of what will (hopefully) be a lifelong process of personal progress. One of the most crucial life skills we will need to develop and hone is that of healthy communication. In the beginning, it may feel as if we are being asked to learn an entirely new language. Communication skills are typically inherited from our parents or primary caregivers, and even if they teach us to communicate in a healthy and effective way, years of addiction will undeniably mar any pre-existing proficiencies.
Barriers to Effective Communication
Certain ingrained patterns are liable to make the process especially challenging. Many of these patterns we learn from our primary caregivers; some we pick up all on our own, over the course of active addiction.
We will likely begin to feel a great amount of shame as we start to honestly face the consequences of our previous actions. We may also carry shame with us rom childhood into adulthood. Regardless of how we acquired feelings of shame, they can be absolutely paralyzing. When we feel shame, our attention is directed inward. This causes us to struggle greatly when it comes to listening attentively, being honest, and remaining fully engaged.
We often put a great amount of pressure on ourselves to constantly say and do the right thing – or what we believe is the right thing, in any case. This is especially true in early recovery, when we are still struggling to develop a sturdy sense of self-identity. Of course, authentic relationships are not showy or perfect; rather, they are defined by authenticity, and a willingness to accept all flaws.
- Low Self-Esteem.
When we lack a sense of self-esteem, it is difficult to maintain healthy relationships, and effective communication will inevitably suffer. We may become consumed with worry and anxiety, fearing that those we are interacting with will not like or accept us unless we behave or speak a certain way. We also are liable to push people away – either consciously or subconsciously – deeming ourselves unworthy or love and attention.
We may struggle to find balance when it comes to communication. We may close ourselves off emotionally, not speaking up even though we may want to – or need to. We may be overly harsh and demanding, expecting others to inherently know what it is we want out of the relationship without effectively communicating our needs. We may also be passive-aggressive, acting a certain way during our interactions and then retaliating privately. In order to communicate effectively, balance must be maintained.
- Lack of Boundaries.
We often learn how to set and maintain boundaries from our primary givers. If we grow up in a household that lacks healthy and stable boundaries, we may grow up to constantly compromise our own personal needs and desires. We may say ‘yes’ to everything and everyone. On the other hand, if we grew up in a household where boundaries were overly stringent and immovable, we may learn to inconsiderately trample on the rights of others. By setting healthy boundaries in regards to communication, we learn to practice self-care while respecting the feelings of others.
During active addiction, dishonesty becomes a valuable protective function – our main goal is to continue behaving in the way we have been, and we will go to great lengths to make sure that our behavioral patterns go uninterrupted. Over time, we become fluent in dishonesty. It begins to come naturally to us. Lying and manipulating eventually becomes our nature, and telling the truth may become seemingly impossible. Of course, dishonesty is the predominant enemy of effective communication. We must learn to be honest, open, and vulnerable if we with to develop intimate relationships with others.
Just like other essential life skills, effective communication can be learned at any point in life. It is difficult to break free of such deeply ingrained patterns – however, practice makes perfect. Of course, it is crucial that we know what skills to put into practice.
5 Crucial Communication Skills
- Positive Self-Talk.
The way we talk to ourselves sets the tone for the ways in which we interact and communicate with others. If we are constantly harsh and condemning, we are more likely to embody and drag a round a sense of shame and worthlessness. And as previously mentioned, a lingering sense of shame will prevent us from properly engaging in communication. We can challenge negative self-talk by affirming ourselves daily, and doing what we can to recognize that we are human, fallible, and perfectly imperfect.
Being assertive does not mean being demanding, pushy, or aggressive – rather, it means to clearly communicate our wants and needs without resorting to manipulation or dishonesty. When we are assertive, we not only protect ourselves from being taken advantage of by others, we actively prevent misunderstandings from occurring. By enforcing healthy boundaries through assertion, we can make sure our own needs are being met while respecting the needs of others.
- Give and Take.
While active in our addictions, it is likely that we engaged in significantly more taking than giving. If we suffer from codependent tendencies, we may be doing all of the giving and very little of the taking. When we enter into recovery, we learn that relationships are a two-way street. Learning to give and take will not happen overnight, and will require a fair amount of both patience and practice.
One of the most fundamental human competences, empathy is also one of the first faculties to be hijacked by active addiction. When we feel empathy towards others, we are able to step into their shoes for a moment, and view things from their perspective. In many instances, attending 12-step meetings help recovering individuals restore a sense of empathy, and lays an essential foundation for a lifetime of meaningful and fulfilling interpersonal interactions.
- Picking Up On Social Cues.
Effective communication is not all about verbal interactions. In fact, some of the most important components of healthy and effective communication do not involve words at all. In order to fully understand others, we must learn to pay careful attention to their body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. Picking up on social cues is imperative to both listening and being heard.
Learning the skills involved in communicating effectively will be an absolutely indispensable part of the recovery process. To learn more about our comprehensive program of recovery for men, please contact us today.