Thursday, February 16, 2012

Words of Affirmation Heal

In my last post I shared with you a list to my son expressing my love. What I didn’t share was his intense reaction. When I gave it to him, he read a few lines then immediately jumped up from his chair and ran to me and gave me the biggest hug saying, “Thank you!”.

A moment later he fell to the floor in tears.

Once he recovered, he told me that sometimes when he feels so happy, sadness takes over. So at first I thought it was just related to his brain being off, but when I shared this with his therapist, she gave me a different perspective.

She explained that because his illness makes him do a lot of things he regrets, he doesn’t feel worthy of such loving words. Even though he can come across as a bully on the outside, inside he’s hurting deeply.

As I thought about this, I remembered a comment he made under his breath after being mean to his brother a few days prior, he said with self loathing, “I’m a monster!”

Then I realized why my son’s reaction to the love note was so intense. Even though we give him positive words, it will never be enough to compete with his negative self talk. His “love tank” is empty most of the time and needs to be filled up with words of affirmation to make him feel worthy of being loved.

Thankfully, telling my son how much he’s loved is an easy thing to do. The challenge is being able to express affirmations on days when he displays a lot of negative behavior due to his moods being unstable. It’s not that I don’t love him in these moments, it’s just harder to express it. But seeing that list, now hanging on his bedroom wall where he carefully pinned it, is a constant reminder that in order to heal, he needs to hear that he is worth it.


  1. When my daughter was in her deepest depression, no matter how much we said we loved her and how worthy of this love she was, she just couldn't process it. Her therapist asked me to write her a note expressing my love in writing. I did that and also put pictures of her, friends and family all over her bed rails (she has a loft bed) with a big "we love you" plastered so she could see it every night (its still there). The idea that she could feel so awful about herself when she was so loved was such a mystery to me- but that is exactly what depression (bipolar2) tricks your brain. Thankfully 2 years later, she is in a good place and really believes she is loved. We just have to keep telling them and helping them believe it!

    1. Oh I love your story E, what a beautiful gift to your daughter!

  2. Do you know the tactic of "noticing" your child all day long? This helps a lot in our house. It seems like our kids get so much attention on their bad behavior--because it rules their lives--that in turn they do not believe us or feel worthy when we praise them. Try to notice your kids throughout the day without any value attached to their behavior. When your son I building something, instead of saying "Good job" you can say "I see you have a new project going. It looks very complicated but you are giving it all your attention." Without the praise attached to your statement it becomes a true fact he can just accept and it does fill his love tank. He feels noticed and that you're paying attention to him outside of his behavior. Doing this several times a day has made a big difference for our daughter. Of course I still praise her and tell her I love her, but she seems more receptive to it when I've also noticed little things about her throughout the day. I think this technique is from "Transforming the Difficult Child". I have not found many books to be helpful for our situation but this one was. Our poor kids feel so unworthy of our love and sometimes their mood disorders take over the attention we give them. Just the simple act of paying attention to them when things are normal in snippets throughout the day helps remind their brains that we love them no matter what.

    1. That’s really good advice Cathy! I will definitely keep that in mind for all my children.

  3. Cathy's comment reminds me of a technique I learned in a parenting class (early on in my journey--preschool.) While the class was oriented towards parenting younger children--a lot of it still applies. One of the concepts was a "bank account" where positive actions: noticing, praise, activities, were deposits and negative actions: demands, commands, consequences were debits. And to think about keeping a positive balance in the account. But there was also a section on play that used a similar noticing technique, narrating what your child is doing while playing with them.

    But I also think that noticing what we love about our children help us as parents. It helps us remember why we are spending this immense amount of energy trying to help this child navigate the world--we love them!