Wednesday 11 November 2020

I'm Proud of You: Four Words That Mean So Much

This article was inspired by a conversation with fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson. We discussed how valuable it is to feel proud of our achievements and each other’s, and how sometimes we hesitate to say we are proud of someone in case it comes across as insincere or patronising.

For me, telling someone you’re proud of them implies a degree of closeness and connection. An expression of pride means far more to me if the person has been there through my struggles, doubts and uncertainties. Their expression of pride acknowledges their role in what led to this moment without in any way claiming it for themselves. Aimee expressed this perfectly in a social media post which I quoted when discussing how to celebrate success.

After almost every blog post, Martin is there telling me how much they meant to him. After every achievement, he is there telling me how proud he is. Well, now it’s my turn! I’m a very proud bestie after all of his recent achievements at work!

Fran and I share several similar moments in our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder.

Bear in mind that the other person may not know how to respond. They might feel shy or embarrassed, or doubt they deserve the spotlight you’ve put on them. On the other hand, it’s not uncommon for the other person to respond by telling you they’re proud of themselves.

“I’m so proud of you.”

“I’m proud of me too!”

My ego used to get a little bruised when this happened, as though my “gift” was being dismissed as unnecessary or inappropriate. I see things differently now. The gift is not me saying I’m proud of my friend, it is our mutual recognition that something pride-worthy has occurred. These moments can be profound. They reinforce the importance of taking responsibility for ourselves and our successes, and the part we can play in supporting others.

It’s no less special when someone spontaneously shares that they’re proud of themselves. A friend talked to me recently about her experiences at work. I was happy to hear she’s doing well but what moved me most was when she said “I’m really proud of myself!” because she recognised her achievement and the contribution she’s making in the workplace. Another friend and I were discussing the inner work she’s doing in certain areas of her life.

“I’m just so proud of me!”

“I’m so glad to hear that.”

“It’s nice to feel proud and in control and working on a major issue.”

As we describe in our book, the summer of 2013 was one of the most stressful and perilous periods in Fran’s life. There were times when we both feared for her health and wellbeing, but there were rare moments of relief when things came together:

Yesterday was so soul filling for me, Marty.. The best day yet.. Makes it all worth it.. This is what I came for.. I am proud of myself and the work I’ve done on myself..

It’s easy to say “I’m proud of you” but the words can come across as patronising or insincere if you don’t have a meaningful connection with the person you say them to. Worse, they might give the impression you’re claiming a part of the other person’s success, or a role in their life you do not possess. It helps to be specific. “I’m proud of you for how you handled that tricky situation,” or “I’m proud of you for making time for self-care in the middle of everything you’re going through” are more meaningful than a vague “I’m proud of you” which suggests you want to say the right thing without engaging too closely. I sent a generic “I’m so proud of you” when a friend told me they’d signed up for a training course. She thanked me but considered it premature. She was concerned whether or not she’d be able to complete the training.

“Don’t be proud yet. I appreciate what you are saying but I haven’t done it yet.”

It was a useful reminder to pay attention to what’s important in someone’s life before leaping in to praise them.

When we get it right, expressing pride in ourselves and others can be a beautiful and powerful thing. Aimee and I both blog in the mental health arena, albeit from very different perspectives. This gives us a good understanding of each other’s challenges and goals. We were chatting the other day when Aimee mentioned a new blogging collaboration she’d landed.

I’m so proud of you, Aimee! Which is appropriate, because right now I’m blogging about how to tell people you’re proud of them!

Oooooo, that’s such a good topic! It means so much to me how often you say it to me.

It can take time — sometimes a long time — to reap the benefits, but it can be worth the wait, as Fran shared with me when we were writing our book:

Over the years one lady repeatedly told me she was proud of me. I didn’t understand at first. I never asked her why she did this. Then it began dawning on me. Each tiny painful baby step I took she saw. She saw the work I was doing. The struggles and successes. Who I was becoming. And the answers of why she was proud of me became clearer as I looked deeply and began seeing myself. I began to become proud of myself. I no longer needed her to tell me. In all my life I never had anyone say those words to me and now I realize how very important they are.

Do you have a story about a time someone was proud of you, or when you’ve been proud of someone else? Do you find it easy to say the words or hear them said to you? We’d love to hear from you.


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