Sammy Says: Are You a Passive, Aggressive, and Effective Communicator?

Getting Back on The Dating Bicycle After Rape, Betrayal, and Ghosting

“It’s been 9 months since I dated, I’m afraid.” I’m at lunch with my Dad after moving home to rest. I’d had a number of traumatic experiences, and just needed a break. I needed to go home. 

“You fell off your bicycle, but you need to get back on. That’s the only way to get stronger.” He is nervous, but trying to give his best advice. I’ve never been one to talk about these kinds of things with my Dad, but it’s become necessary. 

“Dad, I didn’t just fall off my bike. I was shoved and then ran over by the bikes that were behind me, and I’ve just been able to drag myself home.” 

His mouth drops a bit, but he hides it. He’s trying to be empathetic, but it’s hard. My Dad has never been raped, he’s never been cheated on, and he’s never been ghosted. I’m happy about that, but it makes it hard for him to give advice. 

“I know it’s been hard, but you need to find a way to move on. We want you to be happy again.” He puts a forkful of food in his mouth. 

“I know, Dad. I want to be happy again, too, but it’s hard.” The silence is heavy and I want to start crying again, just like I used to – crying feels so good. Talking about my problems, sometimes makes me feel better. But crying, crying always makes me feel better. 

I promised myself that I would stop crying and be brave. If something made me feel like crying, I would speak up instead of hiding in my room and writing in my journal. I would take action, but it is hard. It is a complete change of behavior from the way I’ve been living my life for the last 25 years. 

Two months later, and 10 therapy sessions – I’m on Bumble. I’ve started dating someone. It’s been a month. It feels like I am walking in a minefield. Bombs littered on the ground, trying to avoid or explain before they are triggered. When they are triggered, practicing how to communicate instead of running for cover or quitting the game. 

Relationships are all about communication. I have been a passive communicator my whole life, and now I am learning how to be an effective communicator. Hell, I’ve been so passive that I actually learned how to dissociate myself from my negative feelings because I felt so trapped in being the ‘nice girl.’ It’s also the reason I’m a great writer. I was so afraid to confront people and tell people what I actually thought – the good, the bad, and the ugly – that instead I wrote them down. People may get upset and judge you but a blank piece of paper never would. When I felt anxious at night, I used to imagine a blank piece of paper. It would calm me down, until a pencil would appear and that would turn into blood, and then — blank piece of paper, blank piece of paper. 

The problem was after writing down my thoughts, I was still too afraid to communicate my thoughts to the person that had caused them, thus they were unable to change their behavior. They repeatedly made me upset until I couldn’t take it anymore, and would change friend groups, change schools, or change cities instead of standing up for myself. Most of my friends were aggressive communicators, and could not understand why I had such a hard time speaking up for myself. When I would try to speak up and get nervous and anxious, they would say “Why is this so hard for you?” which only made it worse. 

I was not aware that I was a passive communicator, I was not aware of my mental state or what was causing my feelings, and now they were asking me to stand up for something I didn’t even understand. It’s only now at 25 after being raped, betrayed, and ghosted to the point of a mental breakdown and hitting my rock bottom that I am aware of what was happening and feel the confidence to speak up. 

It’s important to be aware of your communication style. It’s only through awareness and acceptance that you can begin to improve. 

Passive Communication: 

A passive communicator will prioritize the needs, wants, and feelings of others, even at their own expense. They find it difficult to express their own needs and stand up for themselves, which can result in them being taken advantage of. People who are well meaning may take advantage of these kinds of people because they are unaware of the passive communicator’s needs and wants and thus will unintentionally disrespect the needs of the other person. 

Visual Cues: 

  • soft spoken / quiet
  • struggles to make eye contact, and will look down or away when speaking
  • constricts body to take up less space, ex. leg crossing or arm crossing or bad posture as an expression of lack of confidence 

Verbal Cues: 

  • will say, “I don’t care, I’m easygoing” or go along with the group’s decision 
  • often prioritizes the needs of others over their own
  • does not express their own needs or wants
  • allows others to take advantage of them doing something they don’t want or don’t have time for, such as double or triple booking themselves, going out partying even though they are sick or have an important day at work tomorrow

Aggressive Communication:

An aggressive communicator only expresses their own needs and prioritizes their feelings and wants over other people, often bullying or ignoring the needs of others. They find it easy to stand up for themselves, and do not understand why others struggle to do the same. They are often unaware of the effect that their communication has on other people, and find it difficult to apologize.

Visual Cues: 

  • Taking up more physical space than necessary, wide legs, expanded arms
  • Intense eye contact
  • Speaks loudly in an overbearing way 
  • Often interrupts or doesn’t actually listen and respond to the other person’s emotions but instead will criticize or humiliate them 

Verbal Cues: 

  • Get frustrated easily and blame others for inconveniences
  • Often will not compromise, things must be done their way
  • Will question or judge another person’s thoughts or actions instead of accepting them, asking “Are you sure?” or “Why would you do that?” 
  • Disrespectful towards others through judging, labeling, or ignoring people who they do not consider good enough to engage with 
  • Speaking for most of the conversation and not asking questions about the other person 

Assertive Communication

An assertive communicator expresses their needs and wants while taking into account the needs and wants of the other person. They are able to stand up for themselves while also listening to and respecting the needs of the other person. They are willing to compromise in order to find agreement so that both people get what they want. 

Visual Cues:

  • Good posture and confident body language 
  • Speaks calmly with authority
  • Good eye contact 
  • Listens without interruption and waits for the person to finish their point before speaking 

Verbal Cues: 

  • Clearly states needs and wants while also recognizing the concerns of the other person
  • Stands up for their own rights and does not allow themselves to be taken advantage of
  • Willing to make compromises to figure out how to get both people’s needs and wants met
  • Not afraid to be wrong, but realizes the importance of being authentic
  • Asks questions and will repeat what has been said to them in order to be sure that they have understood the meaning correctly before responding 
  • Works to make the conversation balance with both people speaking for an equal amount of time 

Which one are you? What are ways that you can improve in your communication? 

Information reworded from Therapist Aid LLC Hand out.