Words of “Affirmation?”

A while back, I had the opportunity to discuss the topic of “positive affirmation” with a fellow believer. Her argument was that she was not receiving an adequate amount of positive affirmation from people in her life. She stated that her “love language” was “Words of Affirmation.” There are “officially” 5 ways to express or receive love (it is explained): the 5 “love languages.” The term was first coined by Gary Chapman in his 1995 book. The “languages” are Receiving Gifts, Spending Quality Time, Physical Touch, Acts of Service, and Words of Affirmation.

While I will not take time to argue for or against this, I do have a problem with how some people may interpret the concepts. The young woman I mentioned above was sincere in her concern. She felt isolated because others in her life did not make the effort to make her feel included and wanted. She believed that people should reach out to others and support them emotionally, while also using language which helps them feel “safe” and “loved.” She was in my counseling office because she had, also recently, been involved in a relationship with a man who was not her husband. Though she had not actually (according to her) had an illicit sexual affair with the man, she had compromised herself by hiding the relationship from her husband and actively participating with the man in questionable behavior.  Her only “defense” for her actions and decision was that she had been feeling unwanted and ignored for quite some time, and the man made her feel better about herself with how he used his words.

Noemi (not her real name) complained that she had had a strong relationship with the Lord up until not long ago. She said that a Bible study she had been attending had been ended and she missed the constant positive affirmation of the members for each other. I asked her to explain to me how the group affirmed each other positively. She explained that they would always use positive words regarding others, and “never” used language which could be interpreted as judgmental. With tears in her eyes, she told me how good the group’s use of this “love language” made her feel about herself. After the group was closed, she said she began to feel empty inside.

I had not read the book before, so I took the time to read it and found it does not include this kind of hogwash. First of all, the writer would have been astonished that this young lady interpreted his intention behind the “love language” in the manner she did. His point seemed to be clear to me that this was primarily a set of techniques used in relationships which were understood to be long term (my words not his). He mentioned children, wives and husbands, and persons dating, in the greater context when explaining how these “love languages” could best be used. Other relationships played a lessor role, to say the least.

One point for sure, at least in my estimation, is that Gary Chapman did not intend for someone to identify their “love language,” and then begin to expect every other person on the planet to respond to this one single person in that way. Noémi’s understanding of the Mr. Chapman’s explanations was exactly that. Even though she was not in long-term, personal, relationships with the greater number of people in her life, she was holding them responsible for her emotional health. And, to make matters worse, she put her dependence on them, as compared to putting it on her husband. As it turned out, the husband was mostly clueless about what was going on. From her descriptions, he seemed to be an okay guy. Goes to work, comes home afterward, turns in his wages to the family bank account, and mostly likes spending time at home with his family. What was her problem with him? (You might ask.) Well, he was not a Christian. She knew he wasn’t a believer when she married him, and then later began to get upset because he was not motivated to go to church with her.

It was around that time she began attending the Bible study. At first she was surprised. Everyone was friendly, but more than that, they always spoke “affirming” words to each other. I asked her about this, “Did they ever speak of sin? Did they ever point out wrongdoing and how there are consequences for those actions? Did they ever exhort (push and motivate) you to a greater service of our Lord?” She stared at me for a moment and lowered her eyes.

“No,” she said softly, “The told me I was just fine the way I was. We affirmed each other,” she argued, “We affirmed each other in our love languages.”

I challenged her response, “Let’s see, these ‘languages’ are ‘Receiving Gifts, Spending Quality Time, Physical Touch, Acts of Service, and Words of Affirmation, right?’”

She answered, “Yes.”

“So you gave gifts to each other?” I queried.

She answered, “Yes.”

“And,” I then asked, “How did you handle the ‘Physical Touch’ language?”

Her face turned red, “That is where I met the other man. He was a friend of the couple who held the Bible study. I was told he recently became a believer, but had not yet accepted Christ in his life. He seemed to know a lot about the Bible, and he was very affirming in his use of his words. We sat in a circle around the room during the teachings, and he would always sit to one side of me or the other. One day he slipped his hand over mine, and I felt a sort of electricity go through me. When he did that, I felt like he was using his love language with me.”

“Physical Touch?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Yes,” she brightened up, “You see, his love language and mine fit together.”

What I wanted to do, at the time, was reach across the room and knock some sense into her. What I did, though, was explain something to her.

“Noémi,” I began, “That is not the use, Gary Chapman, intended for those ‘love languages.’ His intention, at least in regard to your situation, was that you would learn your husband’s ‘love language’ and then for you to act toward him in that manner. Then opposite would also be true, your husband could learn your ‘love language’ and then start treating you in that manner as well. Mr. Chapman never intended for you to come to the conclusion that someone else was supposed to use their own ’love language’ on you for their own benefit.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“What,” I asked pointedly, “benefit did this other man get from a relationship with you?”

She blushed, and said, “Me spending time with him.”

“And,” I emphasized, “If this wrong relationship had continued what else was he going to benefit?”

She blushed again, “You mean sex, right?”

“And,” I emphasized again, “What was your benefit from all this ‘love language’ stuff in the end?”

She lowered her head and said, “My husband found out. He no longer trusts me. I think he hates me, and he is thinking of divorce.”

I wish I could say that Noémi was an anomaly (something out of the ordinary), but instead she is in the norm. Like too many other persons, she goes to church, Bible study, and other such, and is taught good material in a bad way. In her case, the couple holding the Bible study should have paid attention to the fact that this other man always seemed to end up sitting next to Noémi. Secondly, if they are going to use someone else’s material, they must be faithful to the intend and teaching of the writer and author. Thirdly, they should have gotten to know Noémi better. They may have found out she was having marital problems and maybe referred her to a counselor.

In church settings it is a bit more difficult, but then that means the church is even more responsible with making sure they are teaching well, and clarifying their teachings well enough for people to hopefully get the correct idea and understanding. There are many people, believers, Christians who love the Lord, like Noémi out there. They listen to a teaching or sermon, decide that understand what they heard, and then begin living in accordance with the erroneous understanding. Consequently, these well-intentioned people will too many times make terribly bad decisions.

Finally, as I explained it to Noémi, the truth is that we do not “need” the affirmation of any human being. What we “need” is to drink water, eat food, and breathe air. Without one or more of these three things, we will die. Short of death, and certainly to accomplish some goals, we will “need” (but not in the same manner by any stretch) some things to accomplish those objectives. For example, if I want safety in my life, I may “need” to find shelter and some friends for support. The “need” for safety, and the “need” for food, should not be confused or even compared. The problem becomes even trickier when we use the word “need” for emotional objectives. “I need someone to love me,” or “I need someone to think I am important,” or “I need someone to want me,” are all lies. We do not “need” those things, we need to breathe, eat, and drink, and also we need God.

As Christians, we are always using and throwing around all kinds of phrases. “Jesus is the Way,” “Keep your eyes on Jesus,” “Trust in God,” “Have faith,” and multiples other such quotations. Too many times, the users of these phrases do not really understand them, because if they did, it would change their lives. My counseling office has seen too many “believers” who frequently use these and other such phrases, yet they still end up in my office with serious problems and/or questions. Why? You might ask. Because, either they did not listen well when being taught, or did not the necessary questions to get the correct answers, or they were not taught correctly. The teachers will blame the students, and the students will blame the teachers.

The ONLY person you and I “need” affirmation from is the Lord. His affirmation is the only one without a negatively selfish ulterior motive. When He affirms you, it will be because you obeyed Him and did what was right in His eyes. It will not be to just make you feel better or good. People who want affirmation with the objective that they can feel better about themselves are like those in the following verses, 2 Timothy 3:6-7 (NASB) “For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

The dictionary defines the word “Affirmation” in this manner: “a solemn declaration made under the penalties of perjury by a person who conscientiously declines taking an oath.” That means the person who is affirming is saying something they believe to be truthful. Nowhere in the definition does it imply that you affirm someone to make the feel better about themselves. Even Gary Chapman, in his “The 5 Love Languages” does not distort the idea behind the word’s intention and definition. He clearly emphasized, if not said so directly, that if a person’s “love language” is “Words of Affirmation,” that this means their spouse is stating true things about them, not just trying to make them feel better. If the wife, for example” cooks well, cares for the household well, and so on, and her “love language” is “Words of Affirmation,” then her husband’s remarks and statements about her service in their marriage is warranted, desired, and beneficial.

Satan loves a person who plays the victim. Those people are so easy to fool and manipulate, like the women in the verses above. In too many cases, these people are not actually looking for ‘affirmation,” they are really wanting other to feel sorry for them and to take responsibility for making these victims feel better. That is called co-dependency, and it is a sick idea.

No! Dear Saints. You do not “need” to be affirmed by anyone but the Lord. If your ‘love language’ truly is “Words of Affirmation,” then let that be because you truly are doing all those things for which you want affirmation.

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