When someone is in recovery from substance use disorder (SUD), they often have to learn how to create and maintain relationships all over again. When abusing drugs and alcohol, their relationships may have mainly revolved around their substance of choice, using that substance, and finding ways to obtain it. Once they enter treatment and start to learn a new way to live, they will have to repair relationships and build new ones. In order to do so, they must learn how to communicate healthily.
Defining Healthy Communication
Healthy communication is the ability to communicate without offering hateful or undesirable responses. Learning how to communicate in a healthy way means learning how to understand the emotions and intentions behind a person's words. When practicing healthy communication, an individual will be able to clearly convey their message while also listening in a way that helps another person feel heard and understood.
Barriers to Healthy Communication
While healthy communication sounds straightforward, it can be challenging for many people. Common barriers to healthy communication include:
Stress and Intense Emotions
When a person is stressed or emotionally overwhelmed, they are more likely to misread people, send confusing or off-putting messages, and return to unhealthy patterns of communication. In order to practice healthy communication, an individual must be able to calm themselves before carrying on a conversation.
Lack of Focus
People cannot communicate effectively and healthily when they are distracted. If a person is checking their phone, planning what they are going to say next, or daydreaming, they will most likely miss nonverbal cues in a conversation and make the other person feel unappreciated.
Negative Body Language
If an individual does not like what another person is saying, they might use negative body language to rebuff the other person’s message. Negative body language can include things such as crossing arms, avoiding eye contact, or tapping feet. While individuals do not have to agree with everything that a person says, they must work on not sending negative signals when trying to communicate in a healthy way.
How to Practice Healthy Communication
Luckily, there are many ways people can practice healthy communication, including:
When communicating with others, people often focus on what they should say. Healthy communication places emphasis on listening to others. Listening means not just understanding the words or the information being communicated but also understanding the emotions the speaker is trying to convey.
When individuals work to practice engaged listening, they will hear the subtle intonations in someone’s voice that tell them how the other person is feeling and the emotions they are trying to communicate. When practicing engaged listening, individuals can better understand the other person. They will also be able to make that person feel heard and understood, which can help build a stronger, more profound connection.
Ways people can practice engaged listening include:
- Focusing fully on the speaker
- Avoiding interruptions or trying to redirect the conversation
- Showing interest in what is being said
- Setting aside judgment
- Providing feedback
Sometimes, the way individuals look, listen, move, and react to another person tells that person more about how the individual is feeling than words alone. Nonverbal communication includes facial expressions, body movements and gestures, eye contact, posture, tone of voice, muscle tension, and breathing. Developing the ability to understand and use nonverbal communication can help individuals connect with others, express what they mean, navigate challenging situations, and build better relationships.
Individuals can improve how they read nonverbal cues by:
- Being aware of individual differences
- Looking at nonverbal communication signals as a group
Individuals can improve how they deliver nonverbal cues by:
- Using nonverbal signals that match their words
- Adjusting nonverbal signals according to context
- Avoiding negative body language
Stress can make individuals lash out in ways they normally would not. Working to keep stress in check and return to a calm state before communicating can help people avoid regrets. People can only practice healthy communication when they are in a calm, rational state.
For individuals in recovery from SUD, managing stress may include using tools such as mindfulness meditation. It may also mean ensuring they are keeping up with a treatment plan, such as attending regular therapy sessions. Other ways individuals can work to relieve stress quickly in a conversation include:
- Taking a break from the conversation to calm down
- Looking for humor in the situation
- Being willing to compromise
- Agreeing to disagree
Direct, assertive ways of communicating with others make for clear communication and can help boost an individual's self-esteem and decision-making skills. When an individual is assertive, they express their thoughts, feelings, and needs openly and honestly while also standing up for themselves and respecting others. Being assertive does not mean being hostile, aggressive, or demanding.
Ways individuals can improve their assertiveness include:
- Valuing themselves and their opinions
- Knowing their needs and wants
- Expressing negative thoughts
- Learning to say “no”
When you decide to quit using drugs and alcohol and enter a treatment program, you find a new way of life. Part of creating a new life free from addiction is building and maintaining relationships with other people. However, you cannot maintain relationships without learning how to practice healthy communication skills. At NorthStar Transitions, we help those who choose treatment with us develop the life skills necessary to live a sober life; these skills also include healthy communication. Our treatment facility uses evidence-based practices along with experiential therapies to help you overcome addiction, trauma, and co-occurring disorders to live the life you deserve. The NorthStar difference is clinical excellence, evidence-based therapeutic modalities, personalized treatment plans, and our location in the serene and majestic setting of Boulder, Colorado. For more information on our treatment program or for more tips on healthy communication, call NorthStar Transitions today at (303) 558-6400.