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Handling Feedback in Recovery

Chapter 16: Handling Feedback in Recovery

Section 3: SEA's Tools for Recovery Lifestyle 
Self-Esteem Seekers Anonymous -

The SEA's Program of Recovery
By James J. Messina, Ph.D.

Handling Feedback in Recovery

What types of feedback from others do you need to handle in order to stay on track in recovery?


Compliments include:

  • Positive, healthy remarks regarding behavior, appearance, an accomplishment, or a change in attitude.
  • Reinforcing statements and encouraging comments about the ongoing struggle to attain a recovered lifestyle.
  • Rewards, both verbal and nonverbal.
  • Positive reactions, sometimes silent.
  • Recognition, public or private, for the hard work involved in achieving a recovered lifestyle.
  • A sincere effort by others to note the positive changes and even to imitate them.


Confrontation is:

  • An honest assessment by another of what is needed for your ongoing recovery in lifestyle.
  • A face‑to‑face response to a behavior, action, appearance, attitude, habit, or belief that needs to be changed.
  • Telling you the direct truth about you and the changes they desire to see you make.
  • Not allowing you to think that you have changed when in reality you haven't. This keeps you from faking wellness.
  • Assertive comment as to what recovery issues you still need to work on.
  • Often unaccepted and unappreciated feedback perceived as negative criticism.


Criticism includes:

  • Unsolicited feedback, often of a negative nature.
  • Destructive remarks about your behavior, appearance, accomplishment, or changes in attitude.
  • Negative statements that make you feel defensive.
  • Belittling, lecturing, preaching, pointing out your weaknesses, lack of commitment, and errors of your ways.
  • Negative reactions, sometimes silent, sometimes gossip.
  • Constructive suggestions regarding your efforts to change and improve yourself.

What typical negative reactions are used regarding feedback from others?

You may fail to recognize the value, truth, and worth of feedback and therefore respond negatively to compliments, confrontation, and criticism. Write down each of the following reactions which are true for you:

  1. Rejection: outright refusal of another's input whether it is positive or negative.
  2. Denial: pretending that the reality pointed out by others is not true or is not important.
  3. Ignoring: refusing to listen to others' input, stubbornly thinking that the reality pointed out doesn't exist.
  4. Defensiveness: drawing yourself up and raising a barrier to both the positive and negative feedback from others.
  5. Yes, but: the attitude of initially and briefly agreeing with others, but having an immediate reason why their ideas wouldn't work.
  6. Anger: showing rage, hostility, resentment, and embarrassment, over the helpful comments of another.
  7. Withdrawal: pulling into yourself; an attempt to remain unseen and unheard when others are offering suggestions.
  8. Passivity: passive participation in a conversation when another is offering positive or negative input or feedback.
  9. Aggression: turning others' suggestions back on them by attacking the motivation behind the suggestions.
  10. Fake Agreement: giving others the impression that their input is welcome and accepted when it really is resented and scorned.

What healthy responses are used regarding feedback from others?

You can learn from the compliments, confrontation, and criticism of others by using the following healthy responses. Write down which reactions you currently use:

  1. Acceptance: agreeing with the input from others, positive or negative, and using their comments to help you change.
  2. Realism: not denying a problem exists, the absence of false humility, facing things head on.
  3. Attentiveness: paying attention to others' reactions for change be it verbal or nonverbal, in order to achieve insight.
  4. Openness: pulling down communication barriers in yourself, remaining open, listening completely, and acting on others' suggestions.
  5. Yes, I will try: the attitude of agreeing with others, trying a suggested course of action for
  6. “Thanks, I Needed That”: spoken appreciation, and gratitude, for the input of others, even gaining insight, self‑motivation, and self‑awareness.
  7. Active Listening: making yourself stay present in the current conversation. When feedback is being offered, do you listen to what is being said?
  8. Honesty: being clear with yourself and others as to what you accept and reject from their input.
  9. Assertiveness: letting others know how you feel, letting them know what you desire from them, and what you will do if they comply with your request.
  10. Agreement: letting others know by word and deed that you agree with their comments and appreciate their interest.

What strategies can be taken with your support network concerning feedback?


In order to gain the benefits of social support with your 12 Step Group, or support network, review this list of behavioral responses. Write down each process you'd like to develop:


1. Give permission to the people in your social support network to give you:

  • Compliments on your progress.
  • Confrontation when you are backing off from or are resisting change.
  • Constructive criticism on ways to improve or speed your change in recovery lifestyle.


2. Be honest with yourself as to how committed you are to change your lifestyle. If you honestly want to change your life and if this takes priority, then and only then should you give your social support network permission to help you change.


3. Accept personal responsibility for your life and for your desire to change. You are the only person over whom you have control. No one else can control you or change you. Stop pointing the finger of blame at others for your problems, failings, and lack of success.


4. Practice giving and receiving compliments in your social support network. Learn to accept compliments without false humility, embarrassment, minimizing or denying. Learn to say, “Thank you,'' with a big smile.


5. Practice being assertive; stand up for your rights with others in your network of support. Learn to reduce aggressiveness, defensiveness, and/or passivity when others offend you or deny you your rights.


6. Practice giving and receiving constructive “asked for'' criticism in your social support system. Learn to handle constructive criticism openly and honestly. Use it to reinforce your efforts to change and recover.


7. Realize that honest confrontation may startle and hurt at times, and warn the people in your support system that you might get angry at them initially, even though they have permission to confront you. Remind them that it is human nature to bristle and feel jolted when being confronted. After all, it is an awakening, like a cold after shave on the face. Why else would you say, “Thanks, I needed that,'' afterwards?


8. Continuously seek feedback from your support network while developing a recovery lifestyle and even after attaining it. They need to know that they always have permission to be honest with you. Let them act as warning signals if you begin to relapse and, with permission, do the same for them.


9. Practice giving and receiving personal feedback with those in your support system. Pay attention to the nonverbal cues such as blushing, getting red in the face, tense brow, or folded arms. These cues show your honest reactions. Learn to tune into your feelings honestly regarding this input. Keep talking, keep a dialogue going, keep supporting each other.


10. Use visual imagery to mentally rehearse your successful handling of criticism, confrontation, and compliments.


NOTE:  For more information on handling feedback, read Tools for Communications by James J. Messina, Ph.D.