Don’t Boost People Up – Help Them Boost Themselves Up

When someone is down in the dumps, often the worst thing you can do is try to boost them up with praise.

1. This is often a waste of your breath. If someone is stuck in a negative space, they’re often resistant or even obstructive to efforts to pull them away from their current position. For many, movement out of a negative space requires acceptance of that space first before the mind can relax enough to move on to a new mode of thought. Having someone trying to push you into a new space can often lead to a stubborn need to defend one’s space even if that space is harmful.

2. An ‘act out -> rescue scenario’ can lead to a negative loop where moving into a dramatic space becomes an unhealthy means to create connection with the person in question or the world in general. Connecting with someone in an authentic way when they’re feeling down can be powerful and healthy, the challenge is to avoid enablement or rescue behaviour. This is behaviour where you try to move the person out of their space without giving them the tools or the encouragement to stand on their own feet.

3. Attempting to rescue someone from a negative space can rob them of the opportunity to use their own tools or realize their own ability to shift their own thinking. What we want to give our friends and teammates is help to develop their own skills and healthy habits for working with challenges.

I’m not advocating denying help or withholding compassion, simply being more mindful about what you offer. When seeking to truly be of help to someone who is in a challenging headspace:

1. Make sure they really want help. Back to point 1 above, if someone is not yet ready in their process to seek help your help may not be help, it may be hurt.

2. Listen and acknowledge. Helping someone work through their own process, seeking to understand where they are at, and showing them that you can see them in this space and still care about them creates a powerful starting place for moving forward.

3. Follow the ‘teach a man to fish’ philosophy. Instead of telling them that they’re beautiful or capable, ask them about their own feelings about beauty or capability. Help them explore ways they could challenge or change a negative view or find a strategy to work through a tough place. Offer to connect them with resources that have helped you, books or professionals.

Being there and being constant are powerful components of being a true friend, the other important thing is to keep looking after yourself. Sacrificing yourself to help another trades harm for dubious help and sets a poor example to someone you’re trying to encourage toward self-care.