Being assertive is simply being able to stand up for yourself without being aggressive or manipulative. It’s about being calm while communicating and interacting, and getting your point across without causing harm or disturbance - that’s why it’s the ideal mode of communication. Assertiveness is a balance - something addicts lack, and desperately need.

Communication in Recovery

When in recovery, addicts have to stop manipulating people and “throwing their weight around”, like they did for their entire drinking or drugging career. It is essential that they maintain calm and respectful communication with themselves. This ensures that these alcoholics and drug addicts are able to have their needs met in a safe, honest way. This helps them gain confidence, which is key in recovery. In order to further consider this idea, it is essential to understand the other styles of communication:

Passive - the passive style of communication is involves shrinking away and not voicing opinions or needs. People engaging in passive behaviour may think they aren’t causing harm. They may not be causing any short-term harm to themselves or others, but their dysfunctional communication will eventually result in damaged relationships, and then low self-esteem. Passive communicators can be easily identified. They cross their arms or legs while speaking, avoid eye contact and keep their volume very low. They overuse the phrases “I guess” or “kind of”, and use filler sounds like “um” or “aah”.

Aggressive - aggressive people put themselves first. They manipulate and control conversations and situations to get what they want; they hurt or anger other people in doing so. They can be identified by their forceful eye contact that comes off as glaring and threatening. They are loud and make demands; they modulate their voice so that it’s loud and overbearing. They slam doors, give “dirty looks” and sometimes resort to using offensive language in order to make their point.

Passive-aggressive - this is perhaps the most dangerous and manipulative form of communication. Passive-aggressive people put themselves first (aggressive) while acting like, and sometimes convincing themselves, they are putting others first (passive). These people don’t communicate their needs or wants, but expect people do understand them nevertheless. They avoid addressing conflict, but create it anyway.

 Why is it so Difficult?

Being assertive is incredibly difficult for alcoholics and drug addicts because they rarely face problems without the aid of alcohol. This gives them the tools to be aggressive and mask their low self-esteem. Low self-esteem either makes people withdraw passively, or overcompensate for their lack of self belief by being aggressive or passive-aggressive.

Conducive to low self-esteem, is the fear of not being liked. Addicts or alcoholics are often people-pleasing, and therefore resort to passive communication. In addition, they have an inflated ego, which actually makes them lean further towards passive-aggressive communication. When educated on the importance of assertiveness on entering a rehabilitation centre, such addicts or alcoholics may mistake assertiveness for aggression.

 How to be More Assertive

To be assertive, people have to become comfortable with taking responsibility for their own needs. Honestly is essential, as people learning to communicate assertively have to be forthright but not confrontational. At Hope Trust rehab, there are several techniques used to help recovering alcoholics and drug addicts communicate assertively. They are made to participate in role-play activities, engage in positive visualization and, perhaps most importantly, are given an accepting environment in which they are free to be honest and true to themselves.