When Encouraging Words Are Actually Discouraging

black leaf in sand and gravel beach

Have encouraging words ever served to utterly discourage you?

Like when you are saturated in “Just Keep Breathing” Survival Mode, you can’t look beyond the immediate present moment of “what is.”   And that “what is” just doesn’t feel all that great.  No matter how hard you try to put a positive and enlightened  spin on the situation, life feels like it pretty much sucks.

You are down and feeling like bad karma has taken over your life.  You are in the doldrums and stuck in idle.  Your friends and family know it.  And they feel for you.  They go into Encouragement Mode, or worse yet, Coach Mode, and they offer pep talks, platitudes, and well-intended reality checks.  Their support is so lovely.  You know that they are trying and you appreciate their concern.  But it still feels like the encouraging words actually serve more as a reminder of how bad things are in your life.

If you have been in this place, you know that what you are feeling goes way beyond feeling sorry for yourself.  You aren’t just stuck.  You are buried.

When life isn’t so hot

Not so long ago, I was going through some really challenging financial, emotional, professional, personal, and academic times.  I was going to school full-time, trying to sell the dream home that I had just finished restoring, going through a really yucky break-up, working four ill-suited, part-time jobs, and trying to negotiate house showings with an insane work schedule and three dogs.

I had to rush home from work each time a prospective buying agent called, so that I could take my dogs out for what felt to be marathon walks through the neighborhood while possible buyers viewed the house.  One of the three dogs was enjoying his retirement years and couldn’t really walk very far, so we four would oftentimes go sit on a bus bench up the street to wait out the showing.  Buses would pull up to the stop, mistaking my wave for them to keep going as an invitation to stop. They would pull up and shout at me like I was half a bubble out of plumb, “You can’t bring those dogs on the bus!”  “I know, I know,” I would tell them and wave them on.  The door would hiss shut and the bus would puff off in a plume of exhaust.  All I can say is this was a really low time of my life for me and for my dogs.

When friends think they are helping . . . but they’re not.

I remember the time my friend Mary was going on and on about her three-week vacation on the beaches of Mexico.  I was happy for Mary, but midway through viewing an insanely-long slide show of her pictures, I realized that Mary was the farthest thing from being in tune with me as a friend.  Maybe even as a human being.  I didn’t — and don’t — fault her for any of this (we are still friends) but her parting words that night of “Don’t worry, Dear.  You are going to get through all of this” meant so little to me.  In fact, they only served to discourage me.

It’s the little things . . . and the big things

50 bill.jpgI couldn’t help but think back to my old friend Donnalyn who stopped by my house one day to see me when I wasn’t home.  She left an envelope on my front porch, and in the envelope was $50 cash with a note saying, “I’ve been where you are.  After my divorce, I didn’t think I was going to be able to figure it all out.  You are going to make it.”

Donnalyn.  What an amazing and compassionate and empathizing friend.  And I can’t emphasize this enough: It wasn’t the money.  It could have been $1 or $0, and it would have meant just the same.  Donnalyn understood the struggle.  She had been there.  She knew what Panic Mode felt like in the midst of Survival Mode.  I will never forget her gesture of kindness, generosity, and empathy.

Empathy in action

Thinking about Donnalyn makes me realize that there comes a time when I need to put some action into my words of encouragement.  Saying I love you or You’ve got this is great but being of service is maybe even a little bit better.

It is the Little Things in life and there are so many Little Things that I can do.  Every little thing makes a difference, and the little actions carry a LOT of impact.  Offer your washing machine to a friend whose washer broke down.  Like and share a friend’s new blog to encourage her writing.  Drive a family member to his or her doctor appointment.  Scrub the floors for your sister who is returning from surgery.  Vacuum your partner’s car.  Clean the hideous microwave in the break room.  Help someone figure out how to upload photos to his computer.  Leave a little note of encouragement on the table at the coffee shop for the next person who is going to sit there.

When your new paradigm is Survival Mode

I was talking on the phone with my one of my best friends, Birdie, who is experiencing a major paradigm shift, and I asked her if she ever felt like this.  Birdie just graduated and is starting a new business.  She said the she, too, felt as if her life is in Survival Mode while she gets everything up and running.

Birdie told me, “People have been so nice, but I sometimes feel unworthy of the encouragement.  I don’t feel like I have the resources to take them up on their advice — which is all really good — and make things happen, so it sometimes feel like I am wasting other people’s energy when they are being so encouraging.”

This is so honest.  It made me think back to my Epic Life Meltdown and how I felt exactly the same as her.  Birdie’s words really resonate with me.  There is a difference between feeling sorry for yourself and Real.  Birdie’s experience is Real.  She knows that, ultimately, she is going to build her practice and that some of the bumps are eventually going to smooth out . . . but in the meantime?  I try to listen, and we do fun things together.  It’s the little things.  I think of Donnalyn and her $50, and I try to transfer that same $50-intention into Real for someone else.  I knew that my Birdie’s phone was no longer holding a charge, so I ordered her a new battery on Amazon and had it shipped to her house.  Once her phone was all charged up with the new battery, she called me.  She laughed and said that it has made such a difference not having to conduct business while being plugged into the wall.

No one will know unless you share.

And on the other side of this . . . tell people how they can help you.  You don’t have to go on a marathon downward spiral about how broke you are or how awful your relationship is in order to convey what is going on.  Sometimes we are admonished by the positive intenders in our lives saying that we need to stay away from negative talk . . . but how can people help if we don’t share our Real?

As for that crazy Survival-Mode scenario in the past . . . Well, the house sold, I graduated, I ultimately embraced the release of a bad relationship, I gradually let go of each job in lieu of one single job with the standard benefits, and I started to catch a rhythm of sorts.  I started to play music again and the dogs, as they always do, adapted happily to their new home.  No more marathon walks for lovely old Mac!   I was able to breathe a bit more easily within my Real, which was no longer hitting the door to my soul with a SWAT team’s battering ram.

The funny part: That was then.  This is now. Life took yet another epic turn, by my choosing, and I am reconstructing several pieces that have flown off the proverbial bus.  I am using baling wire, paper clips, and duct tape to keep things running, but I am getting there.  I have come to learn that I am pretty good at making the best with what I have on hand.  And there is nothing wrong with that.

How about you?  Are you in Survival Mode?

  • Share your situation with someone who you can trust to really listen.  Ask for input as to what he or she is hearing you say.
  • Reframe your feelings with new words that steer you in a more positive direction.  Even if you have to stretch the truth of your reality a bit, use words that set your thinking in a new light of positivity.  Not always easy, I know.
  • Keep your heart open to friends, family, and colleagues who might be struggling.  Give them a hug.  Ask them how they are doing.  Listen.
  • Take action — for others and for yourself.  Look for ways to surprise and delight someone who is feeling a burden.  Remember, it’s the little and the big things.
  • Be kind.  Be positive.  Be hopeful.  Know that, like an EKG line, life has its ups and its downs.  No one wants to live on a flat line.
  • Go with the flow and smile.  Looking for the happy in life is a lot more fun than accepting the overwhelm.

Author bio: Kennedy Farr’s passion for writing caught light at the age of four when she first learned how to spell her name at a yellow kitchen table on a sheet of lined tablet paper.  Kennedy is a daily writer and blogger, a lifelong learner, and a true believer that something wonderful is happening right now in this very moment.  Kennedy lives high on the mountainside of an emerald-green island in the Pacific Northwest.

Website: https://theunseenwordsproject.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/theunseenwords

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Unseen-Words-Project-1095815913825818/ 





What experiences do you consider spiritual?

My journaling today led me to thinking and writing about Experiences That I Consider to be Spiritual:

  • laughter
  • happiness
  • charity
  • generosity
  • physical health
  • mental health
  • spiritual health
  • generosity of spirit
  • acts of kindness
  • mindfulness
  • cultivation of mindfulness
  • appreciation
  • love
  • being in love
  • true sharing of the good things in life

I seek peace in my heart’s chambers.  I seek the cultivation of that miraculous moment — the pause — that allows me to seek my Higher Self and to focus on my heart’s horizons.  To believe that “every little thing’s gonna be all right.”

As I wrote, a visualization floated into my mind:

floating leaf 1At first, a little curled-edge leaf boat.  The leaf looked like a small alder leaf with serrated edges.

Then . . . a piece of pale blue beach glass in the shape of a heart: faceted on the edges and surf-scratched to a state of opaqueness . . . I placed the little heart on the curled-edge leaf boat and let it float on a dark puddle that grew and flowed into a current of water with higher energy.blue beach glass

I don’t know where the little leaf will light . . . but where it does, it will be received with kindness and appreciation for my willingness to trust and to allow healing on its journey of hope.

I finished writing in my journal and I thought, Wow! All of this mysterious and unrelated stuff simply from taking 20 minutes to just stop and to listen.  The power of writing and listening to the thoughts in my mind.

Life takes on such a busy and rapidly-moving pace.  It bustles and hustles and sometimes grinds to a halt from a frighteningly-high speed.  When it slams to a stop, we stress and we worry.  We wonder.  We forget to be positive.  And we lose our way.  We are in the forest and the trees no longer feel friendly.  We aren’t having fun anymore.

These moments are part of life.  I remember a conversation I had with two of my good friends.  We were talking about some particular life challenges.  Difficulties.  Stress.  This sort of thing.  One friend felt it best to set everything aside and choose lightness.  Move above and beyond the challenge.  Let it go.  Do not grant it any attention.  It will slip away.  Turn your focus away.   It will disappear ultimately.

My other friend believed that there was healing and growth in seeking a way through.  He saw the obstacle as an opportunity to grow.  And to become strengthened by powering through.  By feeling the discomfort, it would dissipate.  Ultimately.  It would no longer sting because he had invited it into his life.  He was welcoming it.  There was no fear involved.

Wow.  This was good stuff.  I found myself transfixed by the conversation and by their guided philosophies.  Essentially both felt that there was a measure of enlightenment, growth, and transcendence in each of their approaches.  We all could see how both were good strategies for addressing a challenge.

Then they looked at me.  What do you do?  What do you do when life feels challenging?  What is your approach?  Sitting in the midst of such great thinking and spiritualizing, I didn’t know how to answer.  I wanted to say, Well, first I panic a little bit.  Then I might panic a lot. I might start pacing, and I might drink some water to rehydrate my cells.  I might take the dog out for a walk.  Or call my best friend.  Or feel sick in my stomach.  Or go to the gym.  Or tune my fiddle and read challenging sheet music.  Or eat foods that aren’t in my nutritionally-best interest.  I don’t know.

And I didn’t know how to answer them with words or metaphors or images.  The two of them, being my good friends, know me.  They know how I analyze and bob and innovate my way through a problem.  By all accounts, it ultimately feels as if my methodology could best be entitled Distraction Theory to Ascendancy  . . . distracting myself to a place where I can govern the problem into manageable bits by administering tiny tweaks along the way.  Thinking and feeling and loving and hoping and laughing my way through.

Back to my list of Experiences I Consider to Be Spiritual.  It may be a Grab Bag of pick-and-choose, but I default to my sense of spiritual.

Sound complicated?  A little bit like nailing my shoe to the floor and going around in circles?  It is.  My friends’ descriptions of their paths to transcendence were quite inspiring.  And a lot convicting.  I don’t know if I have a fallback philosophy of any consistency, but I do attempt to pursue a state of positivity through my distractions.  While I am walking the dog or sweating on the elliptical trainer, I repeat to myself: Always believe that something wonderful is about to happen.  I jump into the pool of many options and grab hold of what makes the most sense at the time.

always believeAnd the good news about always believing that something wonderful is about to happen?  It does.  Something wonderful always happens.  Eventually.  Maybe not in the very nano-second, but there have been times when it has happened that quickly.  In the midst of my Sea of Distracted State, I am launched into an orbit of transcendence that rids my heart and mind of worry or fear or gloom or overwhelm-ment.

Always believe.  Believe.  Keep hope alive by choosing the positive option.  I want to be that little piece of blue beach glass floating serenely on that curly-edge alder leaf.  Flowing into a current of water of Higher Energy.

My two very lovely friends have both moved to different parts of the world.  And I miss them so much.  I wish that I could tell them about my Lovely Leaf Boat Theory in person over a glass of wine at our favorite place to meet. I would now have a better-defined answer to their question of Your turn. What do you do?  

But they know me.  They know that I will Think Light and stay afloat in the current before I allow my vessel to sink.  I might not be floating above and away from things or powering my way through with amazing discipline and will . . . but I will stay afloat.

I am lucky to have met such friends.  It is funny how friends have no idea how important — how essential –they are in the life of another.  Isn’t this amazing when you think about it?  That they are the hands that are beneath the leaf.  Trimming it in the rough waves and spinning it out of the eddies that tangle me into a swirl of confusion.

Friends.  I forgot to add “Friends” to my list of Experiences That I Consider to Be Spiritual.  And I find it remarkable that everything Spiritual on this list is embodied within my Friends.  For this, I feel abundantly blessed.  To all of my friends, I thank you thank you thank you.  You are amazing beyond wonder. toaster oven


My Second Self

anais nin each friend represent a world in us” . . . a new world is born.”  Such a beautiful quote about true friendship.  A new world.  A world replete with the promise of good things to be discovered and experienced.  A world of laughter and understanding and compassion and acceptance.  And good plain fun that inspires uncontrollable laughter.  And joy.  And lingering feelings of happiness that span the length of absence.

A reflection of my better self.  My fidus Achates.  Best friend.  The Other I.  My Second Self.  The other part of me that is attached by an invisible thread that stretches and springs and spans the vastness of time and space.  Its tensile strength being immeasurable. toaster oven

Life offers its many gifts but meeting The Other I is at the top of the list of serendipitous and cosmic sparks.  Connection and relationship and creating new worlds . . . it doesn’t get much better than this.  Life has a way of surprising us and, as Tony Robbins would say, we like the surprises that we want and call the surprises that we don’t want “problems.”  Albert Einstein said, “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”

I love this quote.   Do I believe that I live in a friendly universe?  Yes.  And yes.  Meeting my Second Self confirms that new worlds can be born.  That miracles present.  That there are opportunities for change and growth.  That counting and counting have two very different meanings in the ways of life and love and friendship.  That very few things that truly matter can be quantified.  That laugh lines hold more value than zeros in my bank account.  That the sound of my laughter is a far better legacy than any fortune I can leave behind.  That “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”  — Albert Einstein