I hate to say it, but I’ve spent the vast majority of my life being a doormat. I spent the majority of my early adult years being a “yes man” who let people walk all over me because I (falsely) believed that it was better to be agreeable than to possibly start a conflict. I thought that if I asked for what I needed or said no to someone’s request, I would permanently lose them in my life.
However, I’ve since learned that many of those beliefs I previously held about relationships were actually false. In fact, I’ve learned how to effectively communicate my needs without losing control.
Interpersonal Effectiveness In A Nutshell
In the most basic sense, interpersonal effectiveness is the ability to interact with others in a way that is, well, effective. In fact, we can use interpersonal effectiveness in all of our relationships, whether it’s a professional relationship with a boss or a romantic relationship with a sexual partner.
Interpersonal effectiveness skills help us all maintain existing relationships, balance priorities and demands, and build our own self-respect. This is because the way in which we communicate or interact with others directly influences the quality of the relationships we build. Furthermore, our interpersonal relationships also impact our internal mental health as well as our self-worth.
Therefore, mastering interpersonal effectiveness is important for everyone. However, it’s especially important for those who already struggle with maintaining healthy relationships and self-worth, such as those who experienced childhood trauma or deal with attachment disorders.
DEARMAN: Getting What You Want Without Losing Control
When we communicate with others, we usually have one of three goals in mind. Sometimes you want to maintain or even improve your relationship with someone, whereas other times your focus is more on your own self-worth or getting your needs met.
Attempting to get your needs met or decline a request that will interfere with what you want can feel like a difficult task, especially if you don’t have the skills to do this. Some people hate confrontation and avoid asking for what they need because they don’t want to seem selfish, whereas others only know how to make requests with aggressive body language and harsh words — but neither of these methods is effective.
Luckily, DEARMAN is an acronym that can help you get your needs met or make a request in a way that is assertive and effective. Each letter of the acronym walks you through the approach, and the steps go as follows:
D: Describe the situation
E: Express your feelings
A: Assert yourself
R: Reinforce your request
A: Appear confident
How I’ve Effectively Used DEARMAN
Since starting my recovery journey and learning the DEARMAN Skill, I have noticed significant improvements in all of the relationships in my life. Because of this skill, I pause and plan out responses more frequently, which means that I speak from my emotional mind far less often. I also feel less victimized and more equipped to communicate my needs effectively.
For example, I used DEARMAN last fall to explain to a social worker why I needed to stop participating in an outpatient program recommended after my last hospitalization. My request was received well, and I ultimately felt my mental health improve when I stopped attending that group.
I’ve used DEARMAN with friends and other loved ones to urge them to seek help when they needed it, and although I felt like a broken record, the skill allowed me to remain present in the moment without spiraling into an emotional meltdown.
And, most recently, I used DEARMAN to set some much-needed boundaries with my ex. Although the idea of confronting him terrified me, using the skill helped me remain level-headed and reach a compromise that worked for both myself and my ex-husband.
Although I’ve by no means mastered dialectical behavior therapy or even the DEARMAN skill, I can say that the more I practice the skill, the easier it becomes. I never used to believe that I could ever effectively communicate my needs without losing control or cowering out of fear, but the DEARMAN skill (and the entire Interpersonal Effectiveness Module of DBT) have helped me gain confidence and find my voice for the first time in my entire life. You know what the best part is? You can learn this skill and find your voice, too!