Questioning encouragement

I wrote recently about my epiphany that offering encouragement to others is an important part of my purpose in life. I did another card reading tonight on a related question that offered a very strong confirmation that this is indeed the case. It was deeply validating to think that this part of me that I cannot seem to avoid acting on is actually something to be seen as a strength.

Immediately after this, I spoke on the phone with a friend who is feeling very discouraged. I know that this particular friend does not appreciate it when I try to encourage her, and I really did try to do so less than I normally would, but I still couldn’t keep my mouth shut. And I still would up just annoying her instead of bringing any hope into the situation. This left me kicking myself and doubting everything I thought I’d just learned about my value as someone who offers encouragement to other people.

It’s taken me all evening to try to process this, and I’m still struggling with it. I don’t doubt that encouragement is something very important to me. When I was looking for a couple of old posts I had written earlier on the topic of encouragement, a search revealed that out of my 344 previous posts, 202 of them contain the word encouragement! That’s almost 60%!

I’m also pretty clear on the fact that it seems to be one thing that I can’t not do, even in cases like today when I know it’s not welcome. And this is not the first time I’ve encountered someone who does not appreciate my attempts at encouragement. This particular friend is gracious enough to thank me for my thoughts and resolutely change the subject without any further discussion. I know her well enough to recognize that I’ve offended her, but she does not berate me for it. I have, however, known others who resent it enough that they will let me know that I am either stupid or naive if I believe the encouraging words I offer. Still others have found it so offensive that they have attacked my character rather more intensely. (In fact, I dated someone for a long time who used to react this way. He married someone else who seems to think that he can do nothing right and tells him so in great detail quite often. This seems to suit his needs much better, as best as I can tell.)

But I am really struggling tonight with whether my impulse to have thought that my offering of encouragement is part of my purpose in life—or even one of my strengths—has any merit to it. What if it is instead one of my greatest weaknesses and a way that I introduce unhealthiness into the world? I’m not sure how to tell the difference.

I currently see three possibilities, and I do not know how to distinguish between them.

  1. Encouragement really is my purpose and is a strength, but there are some people who do not appreciate it anyway. In this case, I need to learn to recognize more quickly those who do not appreciate it and learn to muzzle that part of myself when I am around them. (I’m thinking duct tape over the mouth might work well.)
  2. Encouragement is a weakness that I would be better off learning to muzzle all of the time. It could be that my own deep desire for encouragement is prompting me to try to give to others what I really should be giving only to myself. Maybe my attempts to offer encouragement to others short-circuits their ability to find confidence in themselves rather than acting as a mirror to help them find it in themselves more easily (which is my intent).
  3. Encouragement is both a strength and a weakness, in that it may be good in its purest form but I have not learned to express it in ways that are helpful. I have explored before the possibility that I might offer encouragement too quickly and cause the other person to feel that I am invalidating their experience, and this is what leads to the resentment. One commenter to that post suggested that the problem is that I offer encouragement as a means to make myself feel better rather than it being genuine encouragement, and the recipient can tell this and therefore resents it being about me instead of about them. Either one or both could be the problem with my expression of encouragement, I suppose. even if I don’t experience myself doing either of those things.

The problem is that I don’t know how to tell the difference between these three possibilities to know which is closest to reality. I know that I thrive and grow when I am in situations that offer encouragement, but I’m also well aware that this does not mean that this is healthy. It may just mean that I am too dependent on what other people think of me.

So I’d love to hear from you what your experience is around encouragement to help widen my perspective on this topic. Do you appreciate receiving encouragement from people? Do you find it offensive or annoying? Or does it depend on the way it is offered or on the person offering it? If so, what marks the difference between encouragement that you enjoy and that which you resent? Do you wish you had more or less encouragement from the people in your life?

A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a fragile and vulnerable place to be, so I am committed to keeping this a safe place for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight are not welcome here and will be deleted.

6 thoughts on “Questioning encouragement

  1. Pingback: Motives like bacon | Journey Through the Chrysalis

  2. I think there is a difference in offering support and offering encouragement. Sometimes I feel “encouragement” is meant to cheer us up when, in fact, I usually just want to be HEARD. The best offer of support I try (and sometimes I REALLY have to try!) to give and that is usually gratefully and readily received, is a sincere, “Is there any thing I can do to help you?” I hope the other person senses I am truly present with and have heard them but that I am not cheerleading in a predicament I can, in no way, understand – simply because I am not in their world. In the same instant, the offer allows the other person to stay in control of not only what they are sharing but also provides an opportunity to ask for something they may be needing from you. Stepping back and allowing the other person to state what they need from us is empowering – for both of us!

    I have custody of my 5 year old special needs granddaughter and have only recently watched my interactions with her go from over-doting, over-worry, over-“everything”, to using this exact phrase with her. I am working to give her whatever power she can in her world but asking her (sometimes a hundred times a day it seems), “Is there anything I can do to help you?” If it can empower a five year old, it can empower anyone. And isn’t growing in life about empowering self and others to make our own choices, opinions, responses and reactions?

    • I really appreciate your feedback on this! It is a confirmation of my suspicion that encouragement really isn’t as helpful as I tend to think of it as being, and at the same time it gives me a great alternative to focus on doing instead. I like this distinction of offering support instead and making sure I find out what the other person needs and offering that and nothing more. I love that you are already using this technique to empower your granddaughter. What a wonderful gift that is to her! Thank you again for your comments on this. You’ve given me much to think about, and a new approach to try!

  3. I have a friend who has told me repeatedly that my “cheerleader” needed to go away because she was getting on her nerves. After working hard to ban her from my persona, just last week this same friend asked me where the cheerleader was and that she missed her. Sigh…. What’s a girl to do? I think she will stay out of view for a while until she is specifically asked for advice! 🙂

    • LOL! I’ve had that happen to me too! I wonder if this is another one of those balance questions. Or maybe it just takes time for people to get used to the new patterns. It is ironic, though, isn’t it?

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