Overcoming negative communication patterns can be challenging. The way families and couples talk to each other can be a form of manipulation, a demonstration hostility, or a clear sign of passive-aggression. Where there are negative communication patterns, codependency reigns.
Why codependency develops from negative communication patterns
Codependency often develops when children are not encouraged to understand what's happening around them and express their thoughts and feelings. Stifling expression is very common in families with Substance Use Disorder (addiction), but is also a function of all unhealthy family systems. When feelings are repressed or held inside, unhealthy communication results.
3 Types Of Negative Communication
You may recognize some of the results of feelings and thoughts that can't be expressed because loved ones can't or won't listen. Being angry and acting out that anger. Feeling depressed and isolating from others. Blaming others and feeling resentful. You may be communicating in 1 of 3 ways: aggressive, passive, or passive aggressive. Others experience these types of communication in a negative way and may mirror your behavior back to you.
1. Aggressive Communication
Here you find yourself being a bully:
- Perhaps, being physical such as throwing things or hurting someone.
You enjoy other’s pain and tend to humiliate others. Also, you tend to be impulsive and react to your thoughts and feelings without examining issues. You are feared by others and you enjoy their discomfort and fear. This is a way to keep others away from you and to avoid taking responsibility.
Aggression comes from unresolved anger and instead of coping with that anger, you act out in your own way, similar to how the addict acts out with inappropriate behavior.
2. Passive Communication
This often happens when you give up. You don’t express your needs at all, but hibernate and withdraw from life and living. Passivity can also look like anxiety, depression, and the “poor me’s.” You cower in the face of adversity. You don’t use direct communication, you agree with everyone, you apologize for everything (including things that aren’t your fault), and you let the dysfunction rule your life. You have no sense of trust in yourself and you depend on others instead of taking responsibility for yourself. Perhaps you make excuses for the addict, perhaps you buy him his alcohol so he won’t yell at you, and perhaps you choose to lie in bed with the covers over your head. In this manner, you basically opt out of life.
3. Passive-aggressive Communication
This is a combination of the above 2 styles where you appear to be passive, but in reality, you are acting out of anger. This can be done in a subtle way which can be confusing to others. Here, you use sarcasm in your communication, drop snarky comments, act rudely, and feel smug about your communication. You are resentful and angry but cannot express feelings appropriately. This style lets you act aggressively in a sly manner as you undermine basic communication. This is the style of back-handed compliments – a compliment with a nasty zinger attached. You know when you’ve said a really good passive-aggressive statement when you are smirking on the bomb you’ve just dropped.
Overcoming Negative Communication
The problem with negative communication is that people around you do not respond to you the way you'd like. You work on becoming assertive. Changing your communication pattern can be difficult, even though you recognize it needs to change. You may benefit from counseling to help change a life-long pattern. Healthy, assertive communication depends on prep work and communicating in the moment.
Healthy Communication Prep Work
- Feeling your feelings
- Keep the focus on yourself
- Doing affirmations daily (these are positive statements about yourself)
- Exploring what you are grateful for
- Focusing on your positives
- Recognizing that you are a valuable person with EQUAL rights (such as being treated with respect, being accepted as to who you are, etc.)
- Above all, accepting who you are
- Examining your own behaviors to see if they are healthy
- Accepting your role in changing your communication style and in communicating with others
- Focusing on the positives of others
- Listening, listening, and listening some more
- State your thoughts and feelings directly, using phrases like:
- “I statements” such as “I feel angry when…”.
- “When you____________________, I feel_______________.”
- Allowing others to communicate in a healthy manner and supporting this
- Compromising and accepting compromise
Long-term communication patterns can be difficult to change, but in order to deal with others, this is a major step. You will find yourself feeling better as you engage in such communication and will find that others may also want to change their styles as well.
Carol Anderson, D.Min., ACSW, LMSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience in the fields of mental health, addictions, and co-occurring disorders. Her other specialties include grief and trauma, women’s issues, chronic pain management, holistic healing, GLBTQ concerns, and spirituality and transpersonal psychology. Dr. Anderson has been educated and trained in the fields of education, social work, and spirituality, and she holds a Doctor of Ministry degree (non-denominational/interfaith) specializing in spirituality.