The Care and Keeping of your Words of Affirmation Person
A few years ago, I was trying to make conversation with an older woman who knew I had written lyrics for a Grammy-winning musician in Nashville. She and I had been discussing many other things when she suddenly redirected and asked me to describe the songwriting process.
Because this musician was a good friend of mine, and because he was so humble about his accomplishments, our creative process had always felt more like childhood fun than elite success. So, I didn’t think much about my answer. I offered a few simple sentences, then I paused to see if she had any more questions.
Instead, she hit me with a biting remark. “People who talk about writing lyrics are proud. If you’re going to write songs, just write them. Don’t talk about it.”
I sat there stunned. She had asked me a direct question. I had answered it factually, without feeling any sense of superiority. Two and two simply didn’t add up. I couldn’t figure out what I had done wrong.
As time passed and I got to know this woman better, I saw other instances in which she used words to gain power. She intentionally held back affirmation, information, and assurance when it suited her personal, strategic goals. Words were tools used to keep others in check and diminish anyone who felt like a threat.
Of course, insecurity was at the core of this behavior. While trying to survive her own deep sense of lack, possibly decades ago, the woman had discovered it was possible to maintain leverage over others by offering words that cut—or by withholding those that gave life. And you know what’s crazy? Her plan worked.
Immediately after her searing blast, I felt the urge to prove myself to her. I laughed awkwardly and agreed with her. Yes. I was proud. I must be proud. (No, I wasn’t. Why did I do that?) Then, I began looking for a way to validate my motives and earn her respect. I worked to impress the very same woman who had so unfairly attacked me.
It wasn’t until later, when I had a chance to think it all over and realize how profoundly unhealthy this woman actually was, that I was able to draw hard boundaries on our relationship. I don’t let her hurt me any more. But I do still think about her when I encounter others who weaponize words.
If you are a words of affirmation person, you probably already know most of what I’m going to write in this post. Heck, you’re a wordy. You could write your own post and probably a better one. But sometimes it’s helpful for a new article to hit the internet so people in relationship can have an excuse to engage in growth dialogue. So here it goes.
First, I’m going to to throw out three types of non-words people. Then, I’m going to describe what it’s like to be a words person. Tell me if I’ve forgotten something.
Three Types of Non-Words People.
1. THE MANIPULATOR
Certain people in your circle withhold powerful, true words about you that would give you so much life. They also deliver powerful, false words intending to control or hurt you. Some of these people recognize your strength and know their lives would be darker and bleaker if you weren’t in them. But they love control and power too much to risk vulnerability. They’re afraid if they fill you up, you will hurt them somehow.
No matter their story, however, manipulation is wrong. It’s okay to be scared. It’s not okay to be mean. Intentional withholding makes living in a difficult world even more difficult. In certain relationships, it can starve you until you want to run away to those who use words lavishly and generously.
Frankly, I don’t know what’s best to do about people like that. Usually, I shut the door to my trust and move on. Pray for me if you think that’s not okay. Ha!
2. THE COWARD
These are people who know what they feel but are too afraid to say it. Maybe they do this out of fear. Perhaps they loved someone intensely as a child and were hurt when trying to express their feelings. Now they are afraid of revealing what happens inside them. So many possibilities exist here because so many experiences make people scared.
I think the scared folks are worth some extra effort, even if you have to draw a few boundaries here and there. It’s not okay to let them use you as a crutch. It’s not okay to have a relationship in which they continually mooch off of your affection, letting your own vulnerability provide the only sense of closeness in the relationship.
But if you are relatively secure and healthy, I think it’s okay to create a safe place for people who are frightened to learn to talk about their feelings, and also to expect them (sometimes stubbornly) to walk toward you once in a while on their own two verbal legs. Why? Because getting unlocked is a good thing, and they probably need to learn to do this as much as you need it from them.
3. THE “I-DON’T-WORDS”
Okay, certain people in your inner circle don’t use words like “words people” do. Sentences are functional for them—a means of getting stuff done in life. Aside from yelling “Hot!” when they stick their hand on a burner, their inner emotional impulses don’t land in verbal expression.
I know this concept is nuts, if you are a words person. Language bounces around in my head until I think it’s going to fly out my ears some days. Sometimes I have two or three strains of language banging around in there simultaneously. Even in my sleep, I’m effusive about pickles, and clouds, and the scent of new laundry sheets. I assign emotions to crayons. Feelings are words are feelings are words. There’s zero gap.
But there are human beings sharing the world with people like me who feel without knowing the language of what they feel. They experience an internal emotion. Sometimes a strong one. But they don’t immediately know all 10,000 words to describe that precise feeling.
I don’t know how that works. I can’t even imagine it. I do know that these people appreciate other people without entire phrases coming to mind. They feel affection, gratitude, and closeness to others—but those emotions don’t produce instant paragraphs inside them.
And I know that these sorts of people do love us. Sometimes a lot. They just don’t know how to talk about it. They feel a bubble of golden love-surge rise up in their bellies, so they bring you a snack. They sit beside you. They hold your hand. They make sure your car has gas in it. They balance your checking account.
When this third sort of person pops up in my life—and when I’m getting tons of clues that affection actually exists—I tend to make more effort to simply receive what’s being offered in the relationship. Some novels are worth translating. Love is one of them.
I also explain that I will never, ever, ever instinctively clean out their entire vehicle because I love them. In fact, I might forget to bring them toilet paper after they’ve asked me desperately from the bathroom three times. And I might forget to make dinner after I’ve forgotten that dinner is a thing at all.
Culture gap. But not a love gap. This one is hard, but it’s not impossible.
ONE LAST THING: THE CARE AND KEEPING OF WORDS OF AFFIRMATION PEOPLE
One last thing, though. If you are one of those people who doesn’t use words out of fear or out of naturally different wiring, I want to at least try to explain why words people need them.
Words people need words because we live in a war zone of lethal language. Every day, your “wordy” soaks up frenetic newscasts, hostile social media posts, unstable public addresses, and cold, hard, reckless sentences contracted in a thousand ways.
By the time we get to you, we have absorbed these poisons. We are torn to bits because we feel *everything* we hear and read so deeply. We aren’t trying to feel too much. Words just do this to us.
What you are able to see and process at arm’s length, we instantly internalize. Language is parasitic for us, even if it wasn’t directed at us.
Words “out there” mix up with our bad memories, our deepest insecurities, and our fears—and they morph into a sort of silent audio tape that plays over and over inside us.
So we desperately need someone to speak louder than the drone of that terrible tape. We need you counteract the toxic, silent language we battle to help orient us in the world.
Your words have the power to remind us who we are. They have the power to temind us that we matter to someone. They have the power to help us believe that we aren’t all bad.
It’s kind of like a video game. The more specific you can be with your words, the more of that big, ugly boss will fall off and be destroyed. That’s the work you are doing when you speak to us.
“I believe in you because I see this quality in you.” (KERPOW)
“I missed you today when I heard ______.” (KERPOW)
“You smell good.” (Believe it or not, KERPOW.)
“You handled that so well. I am so proud of you!” (KERPOW)
“You are so much fun!” (KERPOW)
This sort of simple stuff reaches down in words people and resets their hearts and minds. It’s a magic wand. It’s a healing potion. It’s sometimes the grace of God.
The Bible tells old women to help the young women along the road. This older woman doesn’t know everything yet, so maybe you’ll find some stuff in here to correct and adapt for your particular situation. I can only speak from one spot on a super big planet. But here’s a start, at least.
Good luck. Let me know how it goes.