Angie is angry with her boyfriend Eddie. They have been living together for 7 years and Eddie is a complete slob. While things have improved somewhat over the years, Eddie still leaves his dirty dishes on the table and his hobbies and projects strewn around the living room. He doesn’t properly close bread bags and cereal boxes, he leaves his dirty laundry on the floor and eats all over the house, leaving trails of crumbs.
This morning, Eddie left all the lights on and didn’t put the milk back in the fridge. The last straw for Angie was when she followed a trail of brown crumbs to a half-eaten brownie in their bedroom.
Below, we will explore the 4 different communication styles that Angie can use in addressing her issue with Eddie.
While Angie is upset about Eddie’s carelessness, she suffers from low self esteem and feels that her needs don’t count as much as other people’s. Angie grew up in a dysfunctional home where her feelings and opinions were not validated or taken into account. Due to the way she was raised, Angie has grown into an adult who doesn’t feel that she can express her feelings or deserves to have her needs met. Therefore, Angie’s pattern is generally to put up with Eddie’s slovenly ways and clean up after him, even though she doesn’t like doing so. She would rather pick up after Eddie than respond directly to hurtful or anger inducing situations because the idea of addressing her emotions with another person is terrifying. As a result of Angie not being able to fully recognize or express her feelings, she often feels anxious, out-of-control, confused and depressed.
Angie feels angry with Eddie but at this point she is so sick of dealing with his messiness and carelessness. At a loss for what else to do, she ignores Eddie when he comes home. When he speaks to her, she gives him clipped one and two word answers. Finally, Eddie asks Angie what’s wrong and Angie smiles and replies “Nothing”. Then she mutters something about feeling tired because of all the cleaning up she’s had to do.
Angie acts passive-aggressively because she feels weak and powerless to affect change. She may have difficulty acknowledging that she is angry or deny that there is problem. She doesn’t know how to communicate in a more productive way and she feels too defeated and afraid to face the issue head on. The only way she knows how to express herself is through sarcasm, distance, manipulation and dishonesty.
Aggressive communication is a form of communication that violates the rights of others. As an aggressive communicator, Angie uses humiliation, criticism, and blame to try to get her points across. She acts impulsively and abusively. She has limited distress tolerance and limited ability to regulate her emotions. Angie feels that after living with Eddie for 7 years and trying in every way she knows how to get Eddie to change his sloppy ways, she has had enough and she is going to let him know. As soon as Eddie gets home that evening, she laces into him:”I’ve had it up to here with you, Eddie. This morning you left the milk out, all the lights on, and crumbs all over the place. Do you think I’m your $%#& maid? For goodness sake Eddie, I’m so sick of you leaving your crap all over the place. You are so damn selfish. Do you think I have nothing better to do than constantly clean up after you?”
Angie’s aggressive nature is a result of her low self esteem and feelings of powerlessness. Because she feels so powerless and out of control, she has come to the conclusion that the only way to get what she wants is to dominate and intimidate others. Due to her aggressive communication style, she isolates others and generates hatred and fear.
Angie is angry that Eddie leaves messes for her to clean and that he wastes money and resources by being careless. She plans to address the issue with him that evening. After she and Eddie enjoy a pleasant dinner together, Angie gently broaches the topic:
“Eddie, please make sure to clean up after yourself. I found the milk out and all the lights on this morning. I found crumbs and food in our bedroom. I’m tired after a long day at work and it stresses me out to come home to disarray and then have to start cleaning.”
By communicating assertively, Angie preserves her relationship with Eddie. She states her needs in a clear, appropriate and respectful way. She is in control, and empowered to influence change.
Which communication style are you most likely to employ? If you recognized yourself as a Passive, Aggressive or Passive-Aggressive communicator, it may be time to begin practicing assertiveness. Being assertive means that you are able to state your needs and express your feelings in a calm and respectful way. It means that you are able to listen without interrupting, remain in control, and preserve your dignity and the dignity of those around you. Assertive people know that everyone is equally entitled to express themselves to one another respectfully. Assertive people are confident, take responsibility for getting their needs met, know that they cannot control others and don’t feel entitled.
Assertiveness is a trait that anyone can learn and develop with awareness and practice. If you’ve been living your life as a passive or aggressive communicator, now is the perfect time to being practicing assertive communication!