Healing the Unaffirmed: Book Reflection

Article_Healing_the_Unaffirmed_ArticlePsychiatry will sooner or later follow the military in shifting the focus from the individual’s needs to the needs of the society. The individual’s effectiveness in fulfilling his responsibility to the needs of the society will become the goal of treatment – not his happiness or even his safety (1).”

Self-serving attitudes continue to invade our daily life – crowding out virtues of simplicity, purity, and humility. In their book, “Healing the Unaffirmed,” Dr. Conrad Baars and Dr. Anna Terruwe confront self-serving goals and beliefs head on. A strong case for authentic affirmation is quickly developed, supported by more than 50 years of clinical evidence. In case after case they illustrate the harmful effects of not receiving loving affirmation in the home, providing examples of how it stunts the growth of emotional life. With the unaffirmed condition in varying degrees becoming epidemic among the youth and young adults in the United States today, we want to give you an overview of the affirmation crisis as presented in this book and give some practical tips for how to be a part of the solution.

The easiest way to describe the unaffirmed person is by comparing their emotional and intellectual development. Like our bodies, when a child’s heart (meaning humane emotions and intuitive mind) does not receive proper nourishment, it remains underdeveloped. Examples of this are a mother not cuddling and comforting their child, or the father not showing dedicated and loving concern. To then compensate for their infantile emotional life, the child will turn to the capacities of their mind (meaning the thinking mind and assertive emotions). They will use their intellect to pretend they are older than they feel, to act age appropriate, and to fearfully protect themselves from being hurt by other people. They will guard themselves from hurt by taking great care not displease anyone, or by using their talents (and even other people) to make themselves appear more important than they actually feel (3).

While these unaffirmed men and women may look and act like adults, inside they are suffering. Their lives are full of self-centeredness, feelings of inferiority, oversensitivity, uncertainty, anxiety and insecurity. In their relationships there is a lack of mature emotional rapport which makes marriages, professional roles, and friendships strained and difficult. With their relationships being stressed, these men and women wind up depressed, afraid of the world, unwanted and unloved. This all creates for them an emotional prison – a prison that is only able to be opened from the outside by another person giving unselfish, unconditional, authentic and affirming love.

At this point you might be saying, “Authentic affirmation… Unaffirmed persons… Are they trying to create a new language?! And for the record, I do not go for any mushy-gushy stuff!” Perhaps it would make more sense to say these people must come to learn that nothing can damage their loved ones favorable opinion of them or affection for them. This really is genuine, unconditional love. Baars and Terruwe are very specific when they describe what true, healing affirmation is. Affirmation is an attitude a person exudes, not something that is done for and unto others. Furthermore, it is a state of being, of being aware and moved by the goodness of another being. Authentic affirmation is never a technique aimed at changing the will or conditioning the mind, it is a way of being present to another individual with the full attention of one’s whole being, allowing natural growth and development to take place (4). It is only with this type of love and affirmation that these people can complete the journey into adulthood.

The authors also highlight how men and women have different affirmation needs as they mature. In their experience, while men deprived of motherly tenderness do require maternal love and affection in their journey of healing, it is to a much lesser degree than women require it. Men instead have a greater desire for expressions of cordiality, dedication, and a warm interest in their welfare – which is the nature fatherly love typically takes. Through firm support and steadfastness shown through his words, understanding, and masculine cordiality, the affirmation of the father figure brings the man to emotional maturity (5). Women do need this fatherly care and concern as well, but are more hindered in their journey towards healing if they don’t receive the most fundamental forms of motherly tenderness first – empathy, care, concern, and warmth.

For our generation of youth and young adults, it is ever more challenging to provide them with the affirmation they desperately desire and urgently need. It is not easy to compete with the abundance of distractions which they sought for the very purpose of not having to be aware of themselves and conscious of their frustrated needs. Because they have been led to believe that one is bad, unlovable, inferior, unwanted, etc., it is only natural for them to try to turn off these thoughts and feelings. Being busy and on the go, constant exposure to TV and loud “music” or rock, drugs that cloud the mind, and many other devices that destroy peace and quiet, are the usual ways to close oneself off from what one fears to be, but actually is not (6).

So, how do those of us desirous of affirming others do so? Though the book goes into much more detail, here are a few practical tips. The first step is simple: Do not cut others down! Examples these of unaffirming approaches are criticizing, nagging, fault-finding, belittling, pointing out and reminding one of past mistakes and present shortcomings. These acts are direct and explicit denials of the other’s goodness, and push them away. The second step is to become more open and sensitive to what is already good in others. By putting on the attitude of affirmation and expressing one’s approval and admiration for this goodness, you produce positive feelings of goodness and worth. Thirdly, we must encourage others to do what is right rather than try to please everyone. It is not easy to make this transition, but it is necessary for the health of our communities. The ways to show our unshakable love for others are limitless – ranging from cheering in sporting events to following Bible’s advice for how to love (7). Indeed the Lord was not silent on this topic when in 1 Corinthians 13:4 He challenges: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.”

Concerning those in formation for the priesthood and religious life, more and more their formations are applying the methods and wisdom found in Dr. Baars and Terruwe’s research. In our own program for priestly formation, we ensure each seminarian receives the authentic affirmation he needs to fully discern his vocation and grow through the formation process. As each young man is brought to the point of total emotional maturity, they develop a strong desire to pass this gift to those they minister to. The most effective form of affirmation always comes with the help of the Holy Spirit, when we use His gifts (faith, knowledge, wisdom, prophecy, tongues, interpretation, miracles, healing, and discernment of spirits) to produce His fruits (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) in others.

The authors make it very clear that they are not satisfied with merely restoring their patients to their former level of useful functioning in society. They want to aid others in attaining a level of happiness proportionate with their innate capacities and potentialities. Those who have tasted the affirming life have an intense discontent with prevailing conditions of daily living and relating, and a universal hunger for authentic happiness and love. Within society when this hunger is not satisfied, the results are most heartbreaking: including abortion, alcoholism, divorce, and violence. Dr. Baars commented that one sometimes wonders whether there are enough mature, affirmed persons left to make up for the parents who failed to give their children life-affirming love. Let us prove him wrong!


  1. Baars, C., & Terruwe, A. (2003). Healing the unaffirmed: Recognizing emotional deprivation disorder. (Rev Upd ed., p. xv). Strathfield, Australia: St Pauls Publications.
  2. Baars, C. (2003). Feeling and healing your emotions. (Rev Upd ed., p. 166). Alachua, Florida: Bridge Logos Foundation.
  3. Baars, C. (2003). Feeling and healing your emotions. (Rev Upd ed., p. 166). Alachua, Florida: Bridge Logos Foundation.
  4. Baars, C., & Terruwe, A. (2003). Healing the unaffirmed: Recognizing emotional deprivation disorder. (Rev Upd ed., p. 74). Strathfield, Australia: St Pauls Publications.
  5. Baars, C., & Terruwe, A. (2003). Healing the unaffirmed: Recognizing emotional deprivation disorder. (Rev Upd ed., p. 93-99). Strathfield, Australia: St Pauls Publications.
  6. Baars, C. (2003). Feeling and healing your emotions. (Rev Upd ed., p. 168). Alachua, Florida: Bridge Logos Foundation.
  7. Baars, C., & Terruwe, A. (2003). Healing the unaffirmed: Recognizing emotional deprivation disorder. (Rev Upd ed., p. 200). Strathfield, Australia: St Pauls Publications.

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January 15, 2013 · 1:23 PM

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