I was recently asked, “If people are raised only hearing negative things about themselves will they always only know their weaknesses? Can anything help them? Is there anything I can do to help them believe in themselves and their strengths? Is it too late?”

I’m grateful for this woman’s passion for someone she loves. It’s never too late. We will need to be persistent and extremely patient.

People raised with criticism who only had negatives pointed out to them will usually have a hard time believing compliments. They may verbalize we’re wrong or they may just reject our praise internally. They’ll deny it before our affirmations have a chance to influence them for good.

These four practical steps will help:

1 – To show them our perspective is accurate, we can use the power word “because.” It forces us to include the evidence that validates our compliment. So, instead of saying, “You’re thoughtful.” we include the evidence the person is. Otherwise, each will quickly reject it. We might sound like this:

“You’re thoughtful. I know because you cleared the table without me asking you to do it.”

“You’re thoughtful. I know because you went to see why your brother was crying and you comforted him.”

“You’re thoughtful. I know because you remembered to get the markers you needed when we were at the store and we didn’t have to run a second errand.”

Evidence does not lie.

2 – We must use specific adjectives and not words like “nice” and “good.” In each example above, we could have said the person was “nice” but that’s not as specific as we can be. Think about what qualities you see in someone that you want to affirm and use descriptive language. These words, like the evidence above, are harder to deny than words like “good.”

3 – We need to follow the same patterns when it’s necessary to point out negatives. These people may have real challenges and weaknesses. We can’t ignore them. That’s not love and that won’t help them grow. But, we can’t be critical like others who shut them down.

Specific language and evidence coupled with our desire to help them change can be encouraging and not discouraging.

4 – We must listen and correct any negative self-talk and false opinions of themselves. Often, people raised to only know their negatives become hard on themselves. That’s understandable, isn’t it? So, let’s listen. If they lie to themselves about themselves, let’s step in and help them see themselves more accurately.

For example, listen for words like “I always….” and “I never….” Words like these are almost always parts of lies.

“I can’t do anything right.” could be corrected to “You just made a mistake when putting away the groceries. You do many things right. Just earlier today you remembered to clean the floor better than we had time to last night.”

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I hope this instruction encourages you. I imagine all of us know people who are self-critical and who doubt their strengths. Let’s love them well with our words!