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How anxiety affects the way we communicate with and treat others.

I have talked before about the link between thoughts, feelings and actions with anxiety and the way we think can have huge consequences for how we feel and what actions we take.

Anxiety can lead to a huge range of actions from avoidance (which is the most common) to more self-destructive behaviours like substance abuse.

In this blog I am going to focus on how anxiety affects the way that we communicate with and treat other people.

There are two main aims of this blog, one that you understand other people a little bit more and hopefully show some compassion for their behaviours that affect you and secondly so that if you are someone who does many of the things I am going to be discussing, you can understand why you do them and hopefully see how you could change them.

It is important that a person with anxiety does take steps to change these behaviours as it will drastically improve the way people perceive you and respond to you.




The way we communicate with people generally is through the language we chose to use, our tone of voice and our body language. The extent to which each of these aspects of communication is important depends on a number of things such as the persons ethnicity, whether they are deaf or blind and even how we are brought up by our parents. All these aspects are important though and as you will be communicating with lots of different people through your lifetime, it is worth considering all of them.


Three styles of communication


To illustrate the impact of anxiety on communication and to keep things simple I am going to talk about the three main styles of communication: passive, assertive and aggressive. There are more obviously but for the sake of this blog I am going to stick with these.  

Passive communication is characterised by being; compliant, submissive, talks little, vague non-committal communication, puts self-down, praises others.

Assertive communication is characterised as; actions and expressions fit with words spoken, firm but polite and clear messages, respectful of self and others.

Aggressive communication is; sarcastic, harsh, always right, superior, know it all, interrupts, talks over others, critical, put-downs, patronising, disrespectful of others.

In an ideal world, everyone would use assertive communication as it has the best chance of being accepted by others and can help resolve differences of opinion effectively. What tends to happen is that we all do a mixture of these styles in different situations and in response to other people’s communication styles. Have a think yourself about when you display each different style and in response to what.


What leads to different styles?


Generally speaking aggressive communication styles are preceded by thoughts of unfairness or a threat of some sort, whereas a more passive style can be a more dissociative approach where a person believes that they will never get their own way and so accepts whatever another person wants.

It all comes down to what an individual believes about themselves in that situation.

Someone who defaults to a passive style has the belief: Your OK, I’m not

They have no opinion other than that the other person/s are always more important, so it doesn’t matter what they think anyway.

Someone who defaults to an assertive style has the belief: I’m OK, you’re OK


They believe or act as if all the individuals involved are equal, each deserving of respect, and no more entitled than the other to have things done their way.

Someone who defaults to an aggressive style has the belief: I’m OK, you’re not

They believe they are entitled to have things done their way, the way they want it to be done, because they are right, and others (and their needs) are less important.

Different types of people respond differently to the different styles, often aggressiveness will be met with more aggressiveness as most if us will have experienced in arguments. Sometimes a person being aggressive will elicit a passive response in others, this is often seen in bullying where the bully justifies their actions and the victim becomes as passive as possible to avoid being subjected to further abuse.

Sometimes passiveness elicits an aggressive response in some people as it can be seen as a way of avoiding responsibility for a decision or in a situation. A common example among couples is when one asks the other what they want for dinner and their partner responds with “I don’t mind, you choose”. This can bring about an aggressive response as the person asking feels that they unfairly have to put all the mental effort into the decision making.

Sometimes even assertiveness can elicit a passive or assertive reaction. If a person thinks “they seem confident, I’ll go along with them” then they can respond in a passive way. If a person sees the assertive person as a threat, then they may respond in an aggressive way.


So how does anxiety affect these styles?


In my clinical experience, most of the people I have worked with who are struggling with anxiety default to a passive communication style. What can often happen is that they default to a passive style until things become too much or they get to a tipping point where they feel really taken advantage of and then tip over into an aggressive style. This is then followed by feelings of guilt because they never actually meant to be like that, it just all got too much.

People who struggle with anxiety generally have low self esteem and lack confidence in themselves and so have self-beliefs such as “I am not good enough”, “Why would anyone listen to me?” and many more.

It is these self-beliefs that lead to us acting in the ways that we do.

You can find out what negative thoughts are impacting your communication style with my free exercise.

What are the consequences of each style?


Those who default to a passive style will find that they give in to others, don’t get what they want or need, self-critical thoughts, miserable.

Those who default to an assertive style will find that they have good relationships with others, happy with outcome and to compromise.

Those who default to an aggressive style will find that they make enemies, upset others and self, feel angry and resentful.


Discover which common negative thinking patterns you have.

The way we think has a huge impact on our mental health. If you are looking to overcome your anxiety or just improve your mental health then first you need to know what thoughts are making things worse.

This download gives you a list of the most common ways we think negatively. All you need to do is see which ones you do most.

Also, keep an eye on your emails! I will be sending you a really useful video that goes with this exercise.