Effective Communication

PTSD may result in our feelings flavoring our interactions with others. The result is that people avoid us because we treat them aggressively rather than assertively.  If you are unsure about the difference between the two, assertiveness is:

  • Knowing what you want or don’t want
  • Considering your rights and the rights of the other person you’re speaking with
  • Expressing your needs in a way that is respectful and clear enough to get the outcome you want.

Communicating assertively rather than aggressively is important because it allows you to get your message across without alienating others and increasing your isolation. The benefits of communicating assertively include:

  • Helping develop your self-respect by giving your own needs the same importance as those of others
  • Helping you get what you want
  • Helping you handle stress better

There are five basic styles of communication behavior:

  1. Passive, where you let things happen without saying what you want or need. Passive people usually feel guilty for having their own wants and needs. The problem is that you aren’t likely to get what you want. Being passive with others causes them to feel resentful.
  2. Aggressive, where communications are basically hostile, demanding or threatening. Aggression ignores the other person’s rights and feelings. People often react by becoming defensive and angry, and by avoiding you.
  3. Passive-aggressive, where you resist requests from others by delaying, or active stubborn, or sullen. Passive-aggressive people often say one thing while meaning another. People respond by becoming angry and confused and they lose respect for you. You seldom get what you want this way.
  4. Manipulative, where you try to get your needs met by making others feel bad for you, or afraid and guilty. It allows you to play the victim in the hopes that others will give you what you want. Manipulating people causes them to become upset and to avoid you. They often resent and mistrust you too.
  5. Assertive, when you ask for what you want in a clear way, respectful of others. Being assertive increases the comfort level of the other person because you are clear about what you want. The other person feels respected and heard, and you’re more likely to get what you want using this style rather than any of the others.

Assertive communication is possible when you take the time to consider the position of the other person, then voice your own wants without running their position down. It can make interactions with other people easier, and remove the hostility that the other styles of communication elicit.

(This information was adapted from the VA’s PTSD Coach website: www.ptsd.va.gov/apps/PTSDCoachonline/default.htm).