Talking Things Through – Part 2 – Talking Positively

So last week I talked to you about the importance of listening to people suffering with depression or anxiety and the role you can play in their lives.  In this instalment, I’d like to talk to you about some of the important things to remember when you talk to them.  Let’s dive in!


If ever there was a word that sets me on edge, it’s this one.  A common misconception for people to have with depression is that positivity will cure it.  No matter how down you feel, be positive and you’ll pull through.  Something like that, at any rate.

I’m here to tell you it does not work.

That said, I shall leave positivity there for this post.  If you want to read more about the power of positivity (or lack thereof, as the case may be) then check out my separate post on it here.

Meanwhile, let’s see why I’ve mentioned it if I disagree with it.

In a nutshell it boils down to two big things: Encouragement and Phrasing.  Let’s unpack those two concepts.


Basically, what it says on the tin.  Encouragement is a staple part of the road to recovery.  Without encouragement, how can we hope?  Why should necessity be the only reason to take another step?  Exactly: it shouldn’t.

Countless times during my journey I’ve come up against obstacles and people have encouraged me through them. Without that encouragement, I don’t think I would have taken those next steps.  It’s an easy way for people to come alongside you or get behind you and offer that motivation that you might so sorely need.  With it comes a sense of togetherness that says “We’ll be OK.  We’ve got this!”  Through that togetherness, encouragement has the power to push you over whatever hurdles your life has thrown at you.

But be careful!

Use in moderation!

Time it right!

One of the things that people supporting me don’t always get is that encouragement has time and a place.  At the wrong time, it can fall on deaf ears or, sometimes, have completely the opposite effect.  Again, I shall use myself as an example in this.  In a dark and depressive spiral, the encouragement only serves to push me lower.  For every “look at what you’ve achieved” there is a loud voice in my head saying “and now look at what you’ve not achieved!!”  In this instance, encouragement only serves to push me lower.

So time it carefully by figuring out which times and places work for the person you are trying to support.  (See? That’s where the listening comes in…)

Positive Phrasing

This one is the big nugget for this post.  For me, it’s one of the most important concepts ever (second to listening and talking).  I promise it’s not just because it’s a linguistic point and I love linguistics…honest!

Every concept you wish to communicate has multiple ways of being said.  In this instance, I’m looking at the positive and the negative.  Check out this example drawn directly from my own experiences:

“I’m so relieved at hearing from you!”

To you, that might be a nice, heartfelt sentence from someone who cares a lot about the person they are talking to.  Flip the perspective for a moment and step into my shoes.  Right there the word relieved brings about a sense of guilt.  It immediately implies that you worried about me.  Through my actions (or inactions as the case may be), I caused you worry.  From that word worry comes guilt, from that guilt comes anger at myself, from that guilt comes sadness that I’ve let you down and from that guilt comes fear that I might lose you as a friend.  Four negative emotions from one negatively phrased word.

LET’S FLIP IT ROUND!  Try this phrasing:

“I’m pleased to hear from you.”

You’re pleased.  With me.  Something I have done has brought about a good feeling in you.  Isn’t that so much better?  It also immediately tells me that you care about me because you’re pleased that I’ve got in touch.  No guilt this time, no anger or fear or sadness.  Just positive vibes which, in turn, trick my mind into a slight up.

But look at those phrases.  Both are saying exactly the same thing, aren’t they?  Exactly the same message but one phrased negatively and the other positively.  Two different phrasings, two very different reactions.  And that’s all by changing a handful of words.

Isn’t it easy?  By phrasing things positively, you avoid the guilt trip, you bring about some form of positive connections in the mind and you can communicate exactly what you were trying to say in a way that will be well-received and will perhaps sink in.

And it’s only a couple of words.

What’s Next?

Well that concludes positive talking.  If you haven’t already, check out last week’s post for more information about how you can listen effectively.  Also check out my journey or perhaps look at some of the ways you can support us in bringing this content to you.  Take care, guys!

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

Author: Alex Davies

Alex Davies is the creator and writer for Pushing Back the Shadows. Find out more about his journey here and connect with him on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

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5 thoughts on “Talking Things Through – Part 2 – Talking Positively”

  1. What is the difference then from being possitive ? And encouraging? Because you poo pooed being possitive but encouraged people to be encouraging? To my mind they are very simelar? Can you explain..?

    1. Hi, thank you for your comment. I’d say they are quite similar but, for me, the difference is in what you’re saying to the person you’re talking to. Being positive is more phrases like “look on the bright side” or “it could be worse”, which don’t tend to work as they make people feel like their problems aren’t too big or important. Encouragement, however, is more looking at someone’s problem and saying things like “you’ve done this well” or “look at what you’ve achieved”. They are similar, yes, but to someone struggling with depression, they can be two very different things. Hope that helps 🙂

      1. Ok thanks for clarifying. From reading the examples you gave it seems to be more about praising you or the individual for what they may have accomplished rather then making sweeping statements. Which I can appreciate. However, is there not an inherent danger in continuing to look to others for pepping up your self worth? In that not everyone will appreciate the individual? Surely this would create a vicious emotional cycle for the individuals who depend on others to see there value rather then seeing the value they have in themselves..?

        1. It’s not so much about praise, more about helping them to look at what they have done and get them to see what they’ve accomplished. As for self-worth, I see your point and it does have the potential for a vicious emotional cycle. However, the problem that the majority of depressed people have is that they have very little self-worth anyway – they’re usually already stuck in a negative cycle. Until they can begin to see their own self-worth, relying on what friends and family say is the only way they have of getting an idea of their self-worth. True, not everyone will appreciate them or like them but I don’t know anyone who is liked by everyone. Part of the encouragement, though, is not about praising them but about getting them to look at what they’ve done, getting them to say it. That way all you’re doing is encouraging them to look at what they’ve achieved.

  2. Once again, you took the words right out of my mouth Alex. I must say, this blog just might be the best thing that ever happened to me. Not only to try and u derstand myself better,but also to help me understand how to cope while also helping my husband cope… once again, thank you for such an amazing post! I am loving how straight forward and descriptive the blog is so far. It is perfect.

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