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Assertive, passive and aggressive and the delicate balance between them

During addiction treatment and counselling, one of the most important topics approached is the different styles of communication.

The manner in which one communicates plays a crucial role in addiction recovery. Furthermore, knowing the difference between different styles of communication will assist in using the most effective style.

Passive, Aggressive and Assertive Communication - Addiction Counseling South Africa

Addiction Treatment and Counselling

While undergoing addiction treatment and counseling, alcoholics and addicts are encouraged to learn new, beneficial life skills that can be used to replace their previous ways of living.

Two of the most important of these skills are healthy relationship and communication skills. Although these two are separate fields, they work closely together and are conducive to a healthy recovery.

Communication in any relationship is the ultimate tool in gaining trust and developing and maintaining a healthy, loving relationship.

Effective communication ensures that everyone involved has the opportunity to express their feelings or opinions in a safe space and the result is that everyone’s needs are met in a healthy and respectful way.

In addition, how recovering addicts communicate with themselves is equally important. Addicts tend to have relatively negative conversations with themselves which is extremely harmful to the recovery process.

Passive, aggressive and assertive communication

There is a delicate balance between being either passive, aggressive or assertive. Many people tend to get confused between these three methods of communicating and end up using a misguided approach to expressing themselves effectively.

Someone who is addicted can often be either too passive, allowing others to dictate their choices or too aggressive which is often a means of defence.

Drug addiction, alcoholism and other addictions often stem from poor communication skills. Furthermore, poor communication skills are a symptom of underlying issues such as trauma, oppression and abuse.

Passive Communication

When someone is passive they often feel as though they are not worthy of being heard. Passive people are generally people pleasers, therefore are prone to becoming involved in harmful activities.

Someone who is passive usually has an underdeveloped sense of self-worth and will allow others to dominate them in conversation and other areas of their lives.

People who communicate in a passive manner will:


  • - Not be able to stand up for themselves or others
  • - Find it difficult to say no
  • - Fail to openly express the way they feel
  • - Speak softly or in an apologetic manner
  • - Struggle to maintain eye contact


It is clear to see why passive communication can be detrimental to the recovery process. Often passive people believe that by keeping quiet they are doing no harm to others.

However, in allowing others to dominate them is causing major harm to themselves and by being passive, addicts in recovery will more than likely relapse.

Passive people are likely to feel confused, resentful, depressed and anxious. These are all as a result of them ignoring their own feelings and not having their needs met.

These feelings often cause people to look for other means of comfort such as alcohol or drugs. Using alcohol or drugs allow them to forget these feelings of anxiety, depression or confusion.

Aggressive Communication

Aggressive communicators are those who will stand up for their own rights or that of others in such a way that it violates the rights or safety of someone else.

Often, people who are aggressive communicators have extremely low self-esteem and have an overdeveloped defence mechanism. This is usually due to a sense of powerlessness.

People who are aggressive are likely to have an abusive past and find that being aggressive is the only way they can protect themselves.

Aggressive communicators will:


  • - Often humiliate others as a means of controlling them
  • - Frequently interrupt others
  • - Speak loudly and over someone else
  • - Be impulsive
  • - Insult, criticize, threaten or blame others
  • - Not listen well when others are speaking
  • - Maintain eye contact that is piercing and uncomfortable


Aggressive communicators completely disregard the feelings, opinions and rights of others and will always put their own first.

Recovering addicts who still use aggressive communication are likely to believe that they are not in the wrong, that there is a reason they make the choices they make and that there is no need for them to change.

In this way, aggressive communication will only hinder the recovery process. During alcohol and drug addiction counseling, an aggressive addict will not allow the counsellor to point out that there is room for improvement.

Assertive Communication

Assertiveness is the healthiest means of communication. Assertive people are ready and willing to stand up for themselves and others in such a way that it does not harm or intrude on the rights of someone else.

People who are assertive value themselves and their different needs. Assertiveness involves knowing what their needs are and taking responsibility for them.

Assertive communicators will:


  • - Feel connected to others
  • - Listen well when others speak
  • - Not interrupt others
  • - Value the opinion or feelings of others
  • - Feel empathy for others
  • - Express themselves clearly and confidently
  • - Treat others with respect
  • - Stand up for their rights in a calm, respectful manner
  • - Confidently say no


Assertiveness is all about balance. Learning to be assertive can hugely benefit an addict’s recovery process.

Developing the skills necessary to stand up for your rights and learning how to say no is incredibly empowering. A recovering addict who feels empowered will not easily fall into temptation and therefore is less likely to relapse.

However, standing up for yourself should never include disrespecting someone else by violating their rights.

Step Away - Addiction Treatment and Counselling South Africa

During addiction treatment and counselling at Step Away Rehab Centre in Port Elizabeth, patients are taught the vital skill of being assertive which is fundamentally important for a healthy recovery.

For more information about our centre, please contact us.

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