I don’t remember if I ever actually took that Love Language quiz but I am 99% sure that my love language is words of affirmation. (love receiving it but still not the best at giving it) I think the need is in my nature mostly but probably also has to do with growing up in an encouraging and affirming environment. (not always unconditional mind you) For good or for bad it kind of created a dependency I suppose. When someone withholds verbal affirmation I feel it deeply. It still makes me feel like a child. My husband is a bit more resilient and I envy him for it. But every now and then I see that inner child looking for approval come out. It’s a part of us all.
All of us were created with some degree of innate need for encouragement and that you-can-do-it voice backing us up. If our childhood is devoid of that kind of moral support it can lead to grave emotional and relational consequences. (The results of which we see a lot here in our work in Honduras.)
I’m an INFP and I’ve mentioned before that I’m a self-diagnosed highly sensitive person so this combination makes me very attuned to which individuals are affirmation-hoarders and which are generous with their praise. Yeah, I see you.
Emotional withholding is in fact a psychological manipulation tactic. It is one thing to be careless and just not thoughtful in general but it is another thing to intentionally withhold positive speech (an emotional need) in order to a.) punish the receiver or b.) maintain a sense of imagined superiority over them. I would even say, speaking from personal experience, that some of us feel this weird need to determine who actually deserves positive words and who’s “had their fill.” Have you ever felt that sense of, “Well, they sure get enough likes on instagram. I’m not adding to it.”? Kind of silly but I think we’ve all been there.
Sadly, what I’ve noticed is that almost every affirmation-withholder I’ve met did not receive adequate positive affirmation somewhere in their past: from a parent, authority figure, former employer, etc. It’s a cycle. I know that when I feel particularly insecure and in need of verbal affirmation is when I am least likely to give it out to someone else. Those really are my most selfish times, not when I’m at the peak of my confidence. Someone has the break the cycle. And it requires some strength.
I have a couple friends who are literally the best compliment givers. They can cheer a person up in under a minute. Sometimes I’m feeling down and they catch me off guard with their positive outlook. All of a sudden I feel invincible, with my head held high, ready to lavish praise (merited or unmerited) on literally any random person who crosses my path.
Encouragement begets encouragement, and positive affirmation begets positive affirmation. What power we have in our words to create such a ripple effect. It changes the environment around us and truly has a broad outcome even beyond our sphere of influence. As children of God why would we not want to give affirmation freely?
Paul’s letter in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “…encourage one another and build one another up.” It’s a Christian responsibility! It’s important that we periodically check our hearts and pray like David, “Search me, God, and know my heart. Test my thoughts.” Even when it’s difficult or awkward or “not my style” we can step out of our comfort zone and give positive words of affirmation that someone else might be needing so badly. On the other side of the coin I also think it’s important that we examine ourselves and take responsibility for our own emotions that deep down our identity and security is founded in Christ and not in any human’s words. Working on it. 🙂
What about you? Are you on the needy end of the spectrum? Do you consider yourself generous with encouragement?