An important skill to have during recovery—and in life in general—is how to stay true to ourselves while participating in relationships with others. Unfortunately, it’s not a skill that most of us are taught. Instead, we grow up believing that in order to be in a relationship, we need to always put the other person’s needs before our own—and that the only way to truly be ourselves is to be by ourselves. But there’s a better way.

Choosing Attachment

We’re all born with two very strong drives: The drive to attach to our caregivers, and the drive to become our authentic selves. Throughout childhood, we find these two drives coming into conflict—and, more often than not, the one more necessary for survival (the drive for attachment) wins. We need to attach to those who can feed us and provide the care we need. It’s basic biology—but it doesn’t come without sacrifice.

Imagine a small child asking his mom for a cookie.
Mommy says: “No, we’re having dinner in an hour so you have to wait to have a cookie.
The kid starts to throw a tantrum. “I want a cookie; I want a cookie!”
Mom, exasperated, yells: “If you don’t stop that, you’re not getting any cookies at all!

The child says: “Okay, I don’t really want a cookie now,” and pretends not to be disappointed and frustrated in order to appease their caregiver.

Now, this conflict is over something small (wanting a cookie) but if you grew up in a troubled household, you can easily apply it to larger issues. And you know how diminishing it is to constantly pretend that everything is okay when it’s not.

Choosing Authenticity

As we enter into adulthood, the tendency to choose attachment and connection with others overstaying connected to our authentic selves remains—even though survival is no longer at stake. If we’ve learned that achieving attachment means sacrificing our true selves, we believe that the only way to be our true selves is to be by ourselves. This leads us to isolate and create walls—which then become our prisons. And we rely on coping mechanisms to combat the overwhelming loneliness.

Shopping, sex, alcohol, drugs, disordered eating behaviors—these can all become part of the pattern as we do anything to distract or numb ourselves from the pain of feeling alone. And the pattern is perpetuated every time we abandon our true thoughts and feelings for obsessive or addictive behaviors, to once again act like things are okay when they are not—or to choose attachment, saying yes when we want to say no. It all leads to more loneliness.

Balancing Both

Fortunately, there’s a way to break this pattern and have both attachment to others and connection to your authentic self: assertive communication. By honing the skill of assertive communication, we’re able to learn how to participate in healthy relationships while also staying true to ourselves at the same time. It’s an invaluable skill to learn in life—and, I think, the most important recovery skill.

Like any other skill, assertive communication is one that anyone can learn and practice—and I look forward to helping you do just that in my upcoming course. So, here’s to you learning how to communicate in a way that strengthens your connection to your true self while also creating healthy, lasting relationships with others!

Now I would love to hear from you, how as assertive communication helped you in your life?



  • You just hit the nail on the head for me, I am 51 years old and have been struggling with my relationship with disordered eating behaviors for years. This post just gave me so much clarity as to the root of my behavior. I have had your book for years, have I read it, no, well I am going to now.
    Thank you.

  • So beautiful to read this assay.
    Yes assertive communication is a life long journey.
    I often notice, specifically when I’m learning something, the need to show what I know, the urgency to be seen and the pressure to be good (and even more…almost perfect or the best). If I look a little deeper I can see like this very old feeling is coming from my childhood and from the feeling of being abandoned if not meeting the other’s needs and desires. Surely when I come up with that fire of showing myself, even if well wrapped in a more adult and polite behavior, I feel the strength of it and the aggressive competition well hidden behind…. I feel uncomfortable in that even more then the others around…. I feel uncomfortable because I feel the slavery of not being free of doing mistakes or of taking a relaxed time to learn…..and I dream of being alone…. like if that relaxed time can be only when I’m alone….the risk of the opposite side is behind the corner, making me feeling bad and awaking my inner and sharp judge, wanting to disappear, to fly away and go out of the game…. Right now watching the pendulum and staying with this feeling is a little start….. Amazing I’m noticing how many situations I have been avoiding for not entering in this inner conflict.
    I will have a lot more to share, but this it is something I’m facing in these days, even though it is a special angle from which to speak about the assertiveness.
    Thank you Anita for your precious work and thank you all for listening.

  • Through working through Anita’s great work, I have become my authentic self. While I am no longer “with” some of the circles I was in before, the feeling that comes from authenticity is INCREDIBLE. It’s truly like winning the lottery. Its improved my marriage, some friendships, and made me available to TRUE relationships I enjoy. Thank you.

  • My husband and I began couples counseling to learn how to communicate better. It has helped us both so much, not only in communicating with each other but with our friends, family, colleagues, etc. I still have a long way to go, but already feel like I’ve come so far. Being able to assert my needs, emotions, and desires has propelled my recovery forward. I don’t need the coping mechanisms to deal with difficult emotions as much as I used to.

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