Whether you are clean and sober or actively living in addiction, the fact is that you won’t always get what you want in life. From the relatively insignificant things (like the movie you had been looking forward to turning out to be a total fail) to huge life-altering events (like an unwanted divorce), how you process the issue and still get your needs met can play a big role in how you function in your recovery and whether or not you stay sober.
Some people find that voicing their unhappiness about issues large and small helps them to feel better in the moment. Additionally, bonding with people over a shared dislike or inconvenience can feel very satisfying, a confirmation that you are right to be upset or were not the person in the wrong. If sympathy is what you are looking for, then in limited doses, there may be some benefits to that choice. But if your goal is to incite others to high levels of uncomfortable emotions like you are feeling, then you may be making it harder for yourself in the short-term as well as in the long run.
So how can you best manage the art of getting your needs met in recovery without sabotaging yourself on one hand or bottling up your emotions on the other?
While it may be helpful to journal about all the details of your experience, talk to a therapist, or share with a good friend, spending too much time dwelling on the negative things in life can actually cause health problems as well as contribute to unhealthy relationships with others, both of which can in turn contribute to an increased risk of relapse in recovery.
Dr. Brad Bushman is a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University. His studies on whether or not venting by hitting a punching bag helped people to calm down found that attempts to “work out” aggression in this manner actually increased feelings of anger and aggression in participants.
Says Dr. Bushman: “There is no scientific evidence that venting helps us calm down.”
Similarly, other practices that will likely sabotage your efforts to get your needs met include:
- Passive-aggressive behaviors (e.g., saying that you are fine but doing things that are meant to undermine or hurt the person who didn’t give you what you wanted)
- Screaming and yelling at someone, name calling, bullying, using curse words, or being sarcastic or undermining
- Physical aggression of any kind
- Engaging strangers angrily or aggressively over any dispute
- Nagging someone in an effort to get them to do what you want
- Whining to communicate that you are unhappy or otherwise not getting your needs met
Someone does not have to agree with you, or agree to do what you want, to have a positive and functional relationship with you. Respect does not equate with agreement. If you can learn how to respectfully disagree, and respect yourself when you are making your needs known, then you will have a better chance of getting what you need now and in the future.
Know what you want – and be sure. If you go into a discussion unsure of what you need, then how will you be able to effectively communicate what you want to anyone else? Take the time to think things through and weigh different options, both the pros and cons. Determine what will work best for you before you begin the conversation.
State what you want clearly. Explain how you view the situation, what you need, and why you need it. Amplify when necessary, but stick to facts and keep it simple as well. People will stop listening if you ramble on for 20 minutes or lose yourself in hyperbole.
Talk to the person who can help you right the situation. Be sure that the person you are talking to is actually the person who can make the situation easier for you or address your concern.
Be nice. Even if you are frustrated, even if the other person is being rude, and even if the other person does not seem to be understanding what it is that you want or the importance of your request, remain calm. Your tone of voice, your word choice, and your body language can all communicate offense to the other person, which in turn can trigger a defensive response, and that is not going to help you get what you want.
Know when to walk away. If you find that your best efforts are not getting you anywhere, and the person has made it clear that they cannot or will not help, agree to let it go. You may be able to find a solution elsewhere – or you may need to focus your energies on getting accustomed to the unwanted issue – but you will gain nothing from arguing.
Working toward a Solution
In most cases, there is no single way to handle a problem. There are, rather, numerous possible solutions, each of which has positive and negative consequences. Though there is one that may seem to clearly serve you best in this moment, you can opt to make changes if your initial needs are not met and work within the new bounds created by that situation, making your recovery stronger rather than weaker in the process.