If you were raised in an unhealthy home, perhaps with addiction, domestic violence, neglect, or codependency, then likely the way you’ve learned to relate to others is also not that healthy. You might have learned to be sarcastic, negative, or critical towards others. You might have learned to make fun of others as a way to connect and relate to them. Often, the way we relate to others is the way that our family members related to us. And the way that our parents related to each other also has an influence on how we reach out for connection with others.
You’re probably learning new ways of relating in your recovery programs. If you’re attending support groups, 12-step meetings, or therapy, then you’re probably noticing that people behave and connect with others in a more positive way. In fact, connecting with others in a healthy way is much more than being nice. Healthy relating requires a few easy-to-learn skills, such as those described below:
Listening: The degree to which you listen is a skill that strengthens over time. Most people listen long enough in order to say what they want to say. When you listen, use all of your senses, including your intuition. Watch the other person’s body language. Listen for what he or she is communicating underneath the words. Then, when you respond, repeat back to him or her what you heard in your own words. This process strengthens trust and respect. The other person will feel heard and understood versus being pushed or coerced into anything. If you succeed in this task, the person you’re speaking with will be more willing to discuss what he or she is experiencing. And, more importantly, he or she will also be more open to what you have to say.
Sharing: Addiction comes with a deep tendency for denial. For this reason, as you discuss your feelings, ideas, thoughts, it’s important that you use an “I” statement. This is a way of phrasing your sentences so that you take responsibility for your own feelings, choices, and behavior. For instance, “I feel validated when I hear others talk about feelings that are similar to what I experience.” Or if you need to say something not so positive that will also require the use of an “I” statement. For instance, “I feel angry when you leave without saying good-bye”. Healthy communication is being mindful of what you say and how you say it. It requires honest self-expression, empathy for yourself, as well as empathy for others.
Authentic Connecting: If you’re trying to connect with someone, don’t make things up just to prove that you have something in common. Finding a common hobby, goal, or dream in life will come naturally if you stay true to yourself. This is part of having empathy for yourself. And you don’t have to look for something to have in common, just by having a conversation, making eye contact, and enjoying brief moments of laughter already creates connection between two people.
If you know that your social skills could use some improving, try these suggestions for getting to know others in your sober living community.
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