We always hear communication is an art but that’s a watered down version of reality. Communication is not an art, communication is a martial art. And what’s common between communication and martial arts? They need daily practice. Communication needs discipline. What is discipline? Doing something you want to do even when you don’t want to do it. And over time, we start to develop these psychological and emotional muscles that we’re able to articulate what’s inside of our head and what’s inside of our heart to those around us in a way that they can understand and that’s where the closeness happens.
Why Do We Have Communication Issues?
If you are someone who is struggling with communication and you have a hard time connecting with your family members around you, or connecting with the world, it is not something you can just fix overnight. So first and foremost, you have to accept, understand and acknowledge that you didn’t get here overnight.
Oftentimes, our problems with communication in our family unit doesn’t have anything to do with the family. It has to do with our own upbringing within our own family unit long before you ever had a family, long before you had kids. These issues and challenges actually existed inside of us. There’s a lot of different cultures, backgrounds, and parenting styles. If you come from a house where kids were supposed to be seen and not heard, or if you come from a house where the elders are always talking down to the children, or if you come from a house where showing your emotions was a sign of weakness, if you come from a household where you were experiencing some type of abandonment, loss, or trauma, that person, long before they get into their own relationship, long before they have their own kids, already is in an impairment and is a disadvantage with their communication skills. We think our communication issues are due to our current relationship but it actually has to do with where our relationships were formed/originated.
Every individual in your family is each living and experiencing a different world.
That may sound abstract, profound, or controversial, but the reality of it is that even though we all live in the same world, this planet Earth, we are all experiencing different worlds within that world.
How Recovery Can Help With Communication
In older times, families did not sit down and talk about emotions and feelings. With the new movement of addressing addiction and mental health challenges, communication issues are coming to the forefront. We are starting to realize that not communicating takes a toll on the mind, body and spirit. In recovery, you begin to understand the importance of it because it’s all about connection and communication is the bridge that connects two people to each other. When you acknowledge that everybody is on their own individual journeys, each individual in their own different world, we’re practically aliens to each other. Our mind tells us that because a person is related to us, that we should be able to communicate with them, but that is not true.
The goal of communication is to be able to learn how to bring all of these worlds together. When family members and loved ones start working a recovery program doing the self-awareness work it creates a common language of recovery that you can actually start to vibe and talk to each other a little bit better. That’s why oftentimes family members are suggested to go and do their own recovery.
Step #1: Communication Starts With The Self
The #1 step to do if you’re struggling with communication with your family, whether that’s with your spouse or your loved ones, is to remember that communication starts with self. If you want to learn how to communicate you have to start with yourself.
How well do you communicate with yourself?
What does it mean to communicate with yourself?
How well do you actually know yourself?
Do you know yourself in a way that you look at yourself and you recognize who and what you are, how you ended up where you ended up, why you ended up the way you ended up?
Do you have all that awareness about the human being, that self?
How well do you understand your emotions when you’re feeling sad, when you’re feeling angry, when you’re feeling frustrated, when you’re feeling overwhelmed?
Can you internalize all of that and can you understand it?
How well do you manage your own emotions?
If you recently got into recovery, within the last year, you probably don’t know yourself well. As you start to gain a deeper understanding of self, you start to become at peace with yourself.
It is only when you are at peace with yourself that you are at peace with the world.
Most people don’t want to do that inner work. We’d rather just fix something externally. But it always starts with self, ends with self.
Step #2: Go Deep Within Yourself First
They say a clinician will never ever be able to take a client as far as they’re willing to go themselves. People are incapable of going places with others, having conversations with others that they’re not willing to have or have had with themselves. So if you stay on the surface level but you want your kid or your spouse to go deep that’s not likely to happen. You must go deep first because then you’re able to take people down there with you. When you can model it, you can show that you can be vulnerable, you can talk about what you’ve discovered, what you’ve uncovered, and what you’ve discarded. You can talk about what you’ve learned through the journey of self-exploration.
The reason why our family members don’t talk to us in specific situations is because they haven’t felt comfortable or safe enough to do so.
Step #3: Curb Your Expectations
Allow people to be where they are in their journey. If someone’s really not talking to you it’s not just about you – it’s their own world, their own experience, what they are going through, what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, the lack of connection that exists.
Oftentimes, when there’s addiction involved, it really separates people. Addiction disconnects people from their loved ones. A lot of addiction happens in the dark where there’s a lot of shame, guilt, anger, pain and trauma. When someone hasn’t dealt with all that stuff they can’t communicate well. People are in different places at different times of the recovery. Some recover faster, some recover slower, some don’t recover, some just won’t recover, some don’t care about communication as others care about communication so control the things you can control, which is self. Your expectations should be based on your understanding that everyone comes from a different world even though we’re all living in the same world.
Expectations can kill communication with others, especially family, especially with family. Because the closer you are to people the higher the expectations. The higher the expectations, the lower the level of serenity.
Step #4: Set Up Weekly Family Dinners
In recovery it’s really important to have a home group, a place that you go every single week, no matter what. This is important because people can see you week to week and see how you are once you get comfortable enough, you start opening up more, and being more vulnerable. They may not be comfortable at the first meeting, but slowly they open up, start communicating with people, they give out their phone numbers, they connect, they go do social things together, they become a part of something. That’s because of their commitment to continue to show up at their home group.
A family dinner is the same way. If you live at a distance from your family, set up a family Zoom call for once a week. Communication doesn’t flow the first time, or the second time, but overtime, family dinners help thaw out people’s ice.
Only talk about here and now when you’re at family dinners. Don’t talk about the past or the future that can lead to anxiety or guilt or stress in the people around you, especially if they are in recovery.
Step #5: Small And Gradual Improvements
When you start making an effort to establish communication with your family, it may be tempting to look for big changes, wanting your loved ones to open up immediately. However, it is best to look for small and gradual changes. If they are showing up consistently, that’s a win. If they say hello and ask how you’re doing, that’s a win. If they offer to help you with something, that’s a win. Overtime, these small changes add up to bigger changes. Anything done consistently gets better.
Step #6: Don’t Get Discouraged If Not Reciprocated
If your loved ones don’t seem to appreciate your efforts, don’t be disappointed and give up. Many times family members back out completely when they feel like they are putting in effort but it is not being reciprocated. If you consistently model what you want to see, despite the outcomes, eventually the other family members will start to show up too. They start to trust you, and they feel safe knowing that you are there for them.
On the other hand, codependent family members may go to the other extreme and try to pull their loved ones forward. That kind of behavior can be draining. Instead, do your part in the relationship, control what you can control, and model what you want to see.
Step #7: Model What You Want To See
There’s a simple key to successful communication. If you want your loved ones to talk more about their emotions, you talk about your emotions. If you want your loved ones to talk about their goals, their dreams, their hopes, their aspirations, you talk about your goals, hopes, dreams, aspirations – not theirs, yours. If you want others to realize the things that are important, you want them to talk about the things that are important to them, talk about the things that are important to you.
Eventually when people realize that someone is primarily focused on themselves and their own stuff they’ll start sharing a little nugget about their own. If they want to tell you they’ll tell you. It all starts with self. Model what it is you want to see. Learn how to communicate and be honest and authentic and sincere with yourself and then watch the ripple effects come in your world.
Step #8: Family Is Not Everything
Knowing that this is difficult, challenging, and hard work, it’s very important to make sure that you have your own outlets and communication like support groups, counseling, sponsorship, therapy, journaling because it can get lonely. When you feel discouraged, go to your support group where they may be willing to listen, or go write in your journal about your frustrations, or go out at night time and tell the stars. These are all ways to get your frustrations off your chest. This way, you don’t lose your connection to yourself.
Sometimes it’s not the family communication that we truly are looking for, it’s just the fact that we want and need to be seen, we want the need to be heard, we want the need to be connected. Sometimes when that connection comes from an external source it may not feel as deeply meaningful as it is with your family, but it still fulfills the need for connection, being able to articulate your feelings, and not feel as lonely.
Some people have extended family, some people have family of choice, sometimes you might be closer to a friend than you’ll ever be with a partner or spouse, you might have a best friend in life, you might have a person – a support person – a peer that you’re able to open up to and have deep level conversations that your spouse or your loved one or your child will never have, so why not embrace what we can get and have those and be fulfilled?