Effective Family Communication

by Stanley Selinger, PhD - Family Therapist

In what areas does your family communications break down?  Everyone in a family is affected by another family member’s problems. Yet the family can have a major influence on long-term recovery and adjustment from eating disorders, substance abuse, trauma, mood disorders and most other problems.

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People erroneously believe that because they can speak words, they are talking clearly; similarly, they believe that because they hear words, they are listening attentively. Effective communicating, listening and skills are critical keys for healing, emotional and cognitive growth, change and improvement.

What is your model for good communication and what styles did you experience in your family of origin? For example, when we examine the family communication style we might discover that a father yells because his father did so, or a mother realizes that she retreats into silence and isolation because that was her own mother’s style. These have become automatic patterns within the family and the negative impact is usually unrecognized or minimized.

Families often have to learn a whole new skill set. They learn new speaking rules; to take responsibility for their feelings by using “I” statements, instead of blaming others by using “you” statements. That there is no place for “name calling,” since that is pejorative, or there is no shouting since that implies domination. Family members must also learn to be active listeners, not allowing distractions. To do this one may be encouraged to paraphrase what was said in order to ensure attention and clarity. The negative side of these examples illustrates actions that result in the breakdown of clear communication and meaningful discussions.

The goal of effective communication is to understand the other person and appropriately express oneself regardless of whether there is agreement. The family needs to have a SAFE forum to express their experiences, thoughts and feelings. If one person can’t tell another in the family what they are experiencing or whether something upsets them, they will resort to unproductive methods, like passive aggressive actions that will slowly inflame the relationship.

Good communications increases a sense of empowerment and decreases isolation and disconnection.  Improved communication creates new choices and possibilities for the entire family.

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