Eight Ways to Practice Assertive Communication in Recovery

Addiction stems from low self-esteem, often meaning that those that possess this quality are more likely to develop an addiction. Individuals who do not think highly of themselves are often more influenced by those around them; this is why peer pressure plays a significant role in addiction development, as many individuals do not know how to say no. In treatment, you most likely engaged in activities that helped you boost your self-esteem. You must carry these practices into your new life as you navigate sobriety on your own; this means being more assertive and knowing how to set boundaries and stand up for yourself. Here are eight ways to practice assertive communication in your recovery journey.

Know Your Values and Boundaries

You cannot know what you are standing up for if you do not sit with yourself and ask what matters to you. Before taking any actions towards asserting yourself to others, you need to be comfortable knowing who you are and what you stand for. Hold true to what you believe, feel, want, or need. From there, you can make a list of boundaries to let others know what is or isn’t okay in your life. This way, you will know precisely what you are communicating to others rather than sounding unsure of what you want, which can be a one-way ticket into manipulation. Once you have done these things, you are ready to start taking steps towards assertive communication.

Make the Decision to Be Assertive

Once you know what is essential to you, you need to decide to be assertive; this means you cannot allow yourself to be treated like a doormat by being passive, but it also means you cannot be aggressive with others either. There is a proper way to practice assertive communication that respects both yourself and others. Keep this in mind when making your decision, and commit to following through.

Open Up and Show Honesty

You cannot expect people to know your boundaries or values unless you communicate them. People can’t read your mind, and you need to have the backbone, to be honest about what you want in life. However, you must also remember that what others want or need may not align with what you believe in. This is okay. You can still communicate effectively and respect others while asserting your needs.

Be Upfront and Direct

People won’t know what you are trying to communicate to them unless you tell them directly. When you try to assert yourself, don’t beat around the bush and avoid the subject. Tell others what you need and be direct about it; this can help you gain respect and build your confidence over time. However, remember there is a difference between being straightforward and being a bully. Show respect when you are communicating your boundaries.

Practice Being Assertive

You cannot be assertive with others if you do not know how to be assertive with yourself. Remember, there is a fine line between being assertive and being rude. Consider practicing being assertive in the mirror with yourself or a trusted friend so you can see how you come across. You should pay special attention to your choice of words, which can profoundly affect what you are saying. Keep in mind to also watch your body language, as this can affect the way your words sound as well.

Use “I” Statements

Remember that you need to talk about yourself to communicate your feelings. Using aggressive “you” statements can defeat the purpose of what you are trying to say - the person you are communicating with may not listen. Use statements that describe yourself, such as:

  • “I feel...”
  • “I need…”
  • “I would like…”

Use Conflict Resolution

You most likely learned various conflict resolution and problem-solving methods during addiction treatment. These are perfect to use when practicing assertive communication - it keeps things civil and helps you remember that the other person is not against you. Try to keep things calm and collected during the discussion and remember your purpose.

Be an Active Listener

No good communicator gets anywhere without active listening. After you explain your views and boundaries, make space for the other person to respond. Don’t interrupt while they are talking to you, and actively listen to what they are saying; this will help you come together and agree to disagree if you have different points of view. Practice active listening often and see how it improves your communication.


When you have been sober for an extended period, you may want to do anything you can to avoid putting your recovery in jeopardy. A great way to prevent this is practicing assertive communication, as it helps others know where your values and boundaries lie. This way, you can protect your recovery without being rude. Knowing how to practice assertive communication without coming off aggressive can be difficult, but practice makes perfect. If you need help, call Northstar Transitions. We offer various programs for alumni to help them maintain their recovery. You can be sure to receive individualized care and advice on how best to maintain your sobriety. The Northstar difference is clinical excellence, evidence-based therapeutic modalities, and personalized treatment plans. Located in the beautiful mountains of Boulder, Colorado, we encourage clients to find peace in themselves to boost their recovery. Call us today to learn more about our programs and alumni programs at (303) 558-6400. Navigating real recovery starts at Northstar.

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