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Trauma Impact: Communication in Relationships

Hands of people talking about how trauma affects communication

Most people who encounter addiction at some point grew up in a home with unwritten rules like “don’t talk, don’t feel, don’t trust.” These early experiences shape how we learn to communicate or fail to communicate in our adult relationships, as well as the likelihood of us getting our needs met healthily. This is how trauma affects communication skills. Fortunately, people can learn how to move past the effects of trauma on communication in a trauma therapy program. Call to speak with someone from the caring and compassionate team at BRC Healthcare about how post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and communication skills are connected and how they can help you or a loved one move forward.

The Four Types of Communication

There are four types of communication:

  • Passive – With passive communication, individuals are silent about their needs—often putting the needs of others before theirs as they have learned their needs are not important or might not be met by others if they were to be expressed. This is often called “people pleasing.”
  • Passive-aggressive – Passive-aggressive communication makes a statement about a need but is done in a sideways, sarcastic, snarky, or joking way. If the other person does not respond as an individual would have liked, the need can be played off as not serious to prevent being vulnerable.
  • Aggressive – Aggressive communication expresses needs in harsh or threatening ways while disregarding the needs of others.
  • Assertive – Assertive communication is when needs are expressed in clear and direct ways that are considerate of both parties.

Among these types, the ideal is assertive communication, using it to express one’s needs openly and honestly while being mindful of the other person’s feelings.

How to Express Yourself Effectively

It is possible to learn assertive communication skills, even after experiencing trauma. If you are struggling with how trauma affects your communication or need assistance healing from post-traumatic stress disorder, reach out for professional help today.

In early recovery, the questions “How do you feel?” and “What do you need?” are often daunting, yet they are crucial to understanding oneself and supporting recovery. To have healthy and rewarding relationships, feelings and needs must be communicated regularly to prevent resentment, disappointment, and rifts in the attachment. People cannot expect others to read their minds or act as they might in certain situations. And yet these are tools individuals must learn and practice as they were not instilled in them early in life.

The Consequences of Unhealthy Communication

Expert relationship psychologists have identified four types of communication in couples that show—with a high degree of accuracy—which couples will get divorced and their antidotes:

  • Criticism – This is a verbal attack on someone’s character or personality. Instead, individuals should use “I feel (emotion) when you (action)” statements to distinguish between the person and their actions.
  • Contempt – This is intended insults or abuse directed toward the other’s sense of self. Alternatively, if individuals can build a culture of appreciation for the other person’s strengths, they can practice gratitude for what they do well.
  • Defensiveness – This protects against a perceived attack by victimizing oneself or displacing blame. The replacement action for this is to take responsibility by accepting the other’s perspective and apologize for any wrongdoing.
  • Stonewalling – This avoids conflict by cutting off communication altogether, which conveys separation and disapproval. Here, individuals can practice self-soothing behaviors—such as taking a break and asking to return to the conversation later when calm and open.

It’s critical to note that these forms of communication occur in non-romantic relationships, too.

Learn How Trauma Affects Communication at BRC Healthcare

While learning healthy communication can sound overwhelming, people can approach it as they do with any recovery—one day at a time. While it might be anxiety-producing to consider being open and vulnerable, taking this risk with healthy people who can reciprocate allows individuals to build lasting, fulfilling, and rewarding relationships. Contact BRC Healthcare today at to learn more about the effects of trauma on communication and how our trauma-informed care can help you or your loved one.