There always seems to be at least one person in our lives with whom we don’t feel we can share our true thoughts and feelings about. There can be several reasons for this. Maybe we want to be liked. Maybe we’re embarrassed, or we’re simply afraid of what might happen if we tell them. If you were to confront the person or people with whom you have an issue, just imagine how this would free up space in your brain to think about other things.
There are three ways in which people often communicate that are NOT effective. One is not saying anything and letting resentments build. This is called being passive. Another is aggressive communication. This might seem obvious, but aggression doesn’t really do anything for us either, except maybe land us in jail. Aggression can take the form of verbal or physical violence. Trying to control someone else is never the answer, nor should this be an option.
Another is being passive-aggressive. Although passive-aggression might spark memories of high school girls, the truth is we all communicate in passive-aggressive ways at some point or another by accident or on purpose. For example, not inviting that one person to a get-together because he said something at the last gathering that made you feel stupid. Making a pot of coffee after you’ve repeatedly asked your spouse to do this chore and she hasn’t followed through. Telling your supervisor all the frustrations you’ve experienced towards a coworker without confronting the coworker first. These examples are extremely easy traps to fall into, and engaging in passive-aggressive behavior only ignores the real issue, leads to resentment, and reinforces our lack of solving our problems effectively.
I get it. Communicating openly with others is hard. It’s scary. And no, I’m not perfect at it either. I talk about communication on a daily basis in my practice. There’s one thing in particular that communicating openly solves: Resolution. The truth might hurt, catch us by surprise, feel warm and fuzzy, or downright scary; but talking openly with those in our lives allows us to have authentic relationships based on sharing our true selves.
Assertive communication is the way to communicate openly with those in your life with respect while also respecting your own goals and values. This healthy communication is calm and fair while both parties listen to what each other has to say without interruptions or blaming. It requires understanding. Resolution may be reached on the first try, or it might take several times of going back and forth. If you incorporate healthy communicating into your life I would expect you to notice a reduction in anger, resentment, grudges, and betterment in your overall well-being. Your relationships will become more authentic and trustworthy. You will find that at first communication is hard, but with practice, it becomes more and more like second nature. If you are looking for help on your journey to better communication and healthier relationships, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah Trueblood is a licensed mental health counselor, working with individuals with a variety of challenges including mood disorders, anxiety, trauma-related issues, difficult life changes, grief and loss, addiction, and low self-worth.