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How to Change an Aggressive Communication Style While in Recovery from Addiction

Communication is the bridge that connects us to others. If we build it the wrong way, sooner or later, it will tumble down.

Rebuilding communication is even more challenging for people in recovery from addiction. They frequently feel frustrated and irritable and often act aggressively toward others.

In this article, we’ll discuss the ways to replace aggression with healthier communication strategies.

What Does It Mean to Be in Recovery from Addiction?

The definition of addiction recovery differs for every person since there are no two identical journeys to sobriety. Recovery is not only about stopping alcohol or drug use, gambling, or other addictions; the term has a unique meaning for every recovering addict.

One person tries to regain confidence, while others want to repair the damage they caused to others. Healthy communication is the way to achieve many of those individual goals.

Why Should It Concern You?

If you believe that you, of all people, are a great communicator, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you ever shouted at your relatives while in recovery?
  • Have you manipulated their feelings to get what you want?
  • Have you ended a conversation abruptly or stonewalled?
  • Have you used sarcasm as a defense mechanism?

If any of the above are among your usual tactics for conducting a conversation, you’re using unhealthy communication patterns. And people don’t particularly enjoy spending time with those who resort to manipulating, shouting, or storming out of the room whenever they want.

If you continue to use these tactics, you risk ending up socially isolated, which will deprive you of the support you need to fight your addiction. Switching to a healthy communication style will save you from losing important people and help you rebuild trust in your relationships.

What is Assertiveness, and How Will It Help?

Assertive behavior is one of 4 types of communication styles and is the best type for establishing positive relationships with other people. A simple definition of assertive behavior is expressing your thoughts and desires while respecting the feelings of others.

Assertiveness is the opposite of the three other communication styles outlined below:

  • Aggressive. Examples of an aggressive communication style include frequent confrontations, hostility, shouting, inattention to what the other person says.
  • Passive. This includes the inability to express needs and speak up for yourself, suppressing emotions, agreeing to other people’s demands even if they don’t align with your own.
  • Passive-aggressive. Examples of passive-aggressive communication are sarcasm, denial of a problem, subtle sabotage, bringing up uncomfortable topics to get to the other person.

Unlike the unhealthy communication strategies in the list above, assertiveness implies firmness in one’s beliefs but excludes rudeness or offending others. It is also associated with better mental health and less anxiety, which are crucial in addiction treatment.

How Does Positive Assertiveness Help Build Self-Esteem?

Several studies have found a strong connection between assertive behavior and self-esteem. People whose actions and words reflect their beliefs are more relaxed and confident. They know their worth and don’t let other people’s words influence their positive image of themselves.

Assertiveness involves healthy self-esteem and the ability to set your boundaries without hurting others. It helps make communication more honest, open, and respectful. And the more respect you get from others, the better you feel.

How to Learn Assertiveness

Recovery techniques for learning assertive behavior include several vital points. Mastering each of them will take time, so be patient with yourself. Recovering addicts can look to Lao Tzu for inspiration: “Great acts are made up of small deeds.” So, set yourself small goals and find success each step of the way. Then, move on to the next one.

Know your values ​​and set boundaries

First, you need to define your values, which are the things that are important to you. Then, set boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not and communicate those to other people when necessary.

Not everyone will try to manipulate you, so keep your guard up only for those who like to make everything go their way. When protecting your boundaries, be careful not to turn the conversation into an aggressive confrontation. Stand your ground but be respectful of other opinions.

Deal with the conflict using assertiveness, not aggression

If it so happens that you find yourself in conflict with someone, stay calm and confident. Assertive conflict resolution, by definition, means respecting both your rights and the values of others. Your task is not to point the finger at a guilty person; it’s about compromising and finding a solution to get along.

You don’t need to surrender your beliefs or make other people change their minds. Assertive conflict resolution is the foundation of respectful relationships.

Be honest and open about your feelings

You can’t expect others to know what you want or how you feel until you say something. Talking honestly about your feelings is a skill that gets better with practice. At first, you might be scared of the reaction to your openness, but after a few tries, you’ll feel liberated.

For instance, if you don’t like the words your relatives use to describe the alcohol or drug use (e.g., calling someone an “addict” instead of a “person with an addiction problem”), say so. As a result, people will learn to respect you and understand you better.

Speak in the first person — I feel/need/want

Try using “I” statements whenever you need to communicate your thoughts and feelings. For instance, suppose you’re annoyed that your partner always throws your addiction problem in your face during every conflict. The right way to handle this would be to say, “I am frustrated that you bring up my addiction in every argument. I would like us to use only positive words about my recovery. It will help me a lot.”

And don’t expect other people to agree with you immediately, since they probably have different views of the situation. Instead, repeat your point several times and give them time to come around.

Train to be an active listener

After outlining your boundaries and expressing your point of view, give the other person a chance to do the same. Don’t interrupt, and listen carefully. Show you’re interested while waiting for your turn to speak. Understanding the other person will help you find workable solutions to any problem.

Practice assertive communication every day

Use a mirror to rehearse possible conversations that might be challenging for you. You can remember some of the past ones that went wrong and reconstruct your answers and reactions to make them less aggressive and more assertive. In addition, since non-verbal signals make up 55% of communication, your body language is essential. It should reflect your words, which are only 7% according to the 55/38/7 Formula.


One path to a sober lifestyle lies in changing your communication patterns. And the first step is to replace an aggressive style with an assertive one. The more assertiveness you include in your daily communication, the less aggression you will show and the more your relationships will improve.



About the Author: Natalie Maximets is a certified life coach and an expert in cognitive-behavior therapy critical to treating alcohol and chemical addiction. Natalie is also a contributing writer at OnlineDivorce.com, where you can read more posts on improving communication in romantic and family relationships.

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