Don’t tell me you’re proud of me.


(illustration by Mary Sullivan )

Once upon a time, my day-job was writing for the Austin American Statesman newspaper.

This was back in the olden-eighties (as the child still says) when blogging was an unpaid passion project we did at night and lovely conversations still flourished on the Twitters.

A long, long time ago.

One of my fave facets of the Statesman job was creating/writing a serial for kids.

I took the serious (from breaking news to William Shakespeare), draped it in fiction and had the opportunity to “teach” young readers without their realizing.

In a way it’s the same as the Child and my “open healthy food” sneaks of today!

And, because no children’s serial is complete without illustrations, I had the opportunity to pull in one of my *fave fave* illustrators as well.

I told her then and I’ll happily tell you now:

I couldn’t believe she agree to work with me.

More than being overly humble (I wont lie. I loved my writing. I didn’t question if my writing was enough.), anyone who’s worked for a newspaper knows the job isn’t high paying.

We definitely couldn’t pay Mary what she was worth for bringing to life the characters in my head.


Flash forward a few years and we’ve both gone on to different things.

Mary’s things?

Bigger and BETTER.

So much bigger and so much better the New York Times took notice.

As soon as I spied the kudos linked above I reached out to my old friend.

I started a message.  I typed the words:

I’m so proud of you!

I erased them.

I re-typed.

I hit delete 20 times.

I sent a message which merely stated something along the lines of I’d seen the article and how cool I’d thought it was.

Mary thanked me and our conversation turned to other stuff.

Still conflicted about phrasing — for reasons Id not yet identified— I sent the snippet below:


I’m so proud of you.

The five words felt oddly condescending when typed & sent—but I couldn’t figure out why.

I was proud of Mary.  I was impressed by Mary.  I was proud of and for her she’d progressed beyond my little serial and created a book so widely adored.

The rest of my day I pondered the words.

I considered who’d said them to me (parents, siblings, dear, dear friends.) and how I felt (happy, noticed, affirmed.).

I thought about the PROUD-sayer’s relationship to me (close relatives, long time companions) and wracked my brain for anyone who’d used the P-word in reference to my actions/accolades where it had meant little.

While I was pondering this Mary messaged me back and referenced a post about the word *proud* and teased me Id chosen it in my writings to her.

 To be proud of someone means you know where they’ve been and how far they’ve come — pride is a word about growth.

The last six words above were my ah ha! of sorts.

Pride is a word about growth.

That *nailed* reason I’d welcomed the word PROUD from family/close friends and bristled at a vague sense of condescension the P-word elicited from mere acquaintances.

Yet it was not until I went to use it toward another I realized how laden with meaning & power the word was for me.

From the proper person?  A welcome and often needed affirmation of my work. A reminder I mattered and what I do matters.

Proffered by someone to whom I feel no real connection? Icky and condescending no matter the intent.

For me proud is about connection, shared history and growth.

Which brings me back to you.

To your PROUD-experiences and use of the word.

Does your response to I’m proud of you shift depending on the person in your life who proffers it?



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  1. says

    that’s really funny (not haha, more interesting) as i always thought it was very strange when people said they were proud of me if they weren’t super close or didn’t know where i started from – and you nailed it – itz about growth.

    • says

      same here. unless they really know me, and that’s usually family. I feel odd saying proud. But i do like using the word “happy.” like i am so happy for you. etc.

  2. says

    YES! I feel exactly this way. But I’ll dismiss it if peers use it, because I know the intention is good. Just a bad word choice.

  3. says

    What an interesting thought Carla. I guess I had never really thought of it in this much depth, but that makes total sense. I would say in this case sometimes I have used it in the wrong context when i have not known the person especially well, but at the same time, I would say I use it when they have made a step towards personal growth. I love how your posts get me thinking!

    • Carla says

      and I would venture to say there IS NO WRONG CONTEXT if it FEELS authentic to you!

  4. says

    It can be a loaded word. At first I was worried about reading your post because we just wrote it in my daughter’s graduation card, but maybe it will be good coming from us. I never mind when my mom puts it in her cards to me. On the other hand, I could never stand it when Denise Austin said “I’m so proud of you!” in her workout videos.

  5. Runner Girl says

    As always you have me thinking, Carla.
    I will be back with a coherent comment later.
    I just wanted to say thank you.

  6. says

    Hmmm, I have used the “p” word to people I know well, and people I don’t know very well, if I know that they have overcome something that was important to them.

  7. says

    I was just thinking about this last night as I had that same sense of hesitation. I typed the words “I’m so proud of you” but it felt off. Not because the sentiment was off but because I’ve always felt a little icky about those words. Now I know why!

  8. Mattie says

    I agree with you that it can be condescending from the wrong person.

  9. says

    This is going to sound weird, but I don’t hear it that often. As the coach, I say it but don’t receive it often. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But now I wonder what my clients think of this well intended phrase.

  10. Shelley says

    Totally agree!! It feels patronizing, almost parental from people I don’t know well. I try to use it exactly as you and Mary defined it – “Hey, I know what led to this and I’m so amazed by your journey.”

    It doesn’t offend me when I hear it from the ‘wrong’ people, but it is a little like petting a dog the wrong way.

  11. Olive says

    I love this Carla.
    I definitely bristle when my boss says I am proud of you.
    From him it is condescending because he has no idea where I’ve grown from.

  12. says

    Yes, yes, YES! Sometimes the word proud seems a little icky to me, too and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it!
    To acquaintances and “friends” that I’m not really close to, I usually say something like, “that’s wonderful! You must be so proud!” because it just feels weird for me to be proud of them if I don’t know them that well. The word for what I am is impressed. I’m impressed, not really proud….

  13. Jessica @EatSleepBe says

    It sounds like those words brought you back to a time when you felt belittled but couldn’t quite put your finger on who said it or when they said it. Very interesting. It might not be so much about “who” as about the “why” for me.

  14. says

    So interesting.. yes, growth… makes sense! I sometimes write to a person online, I hope you don’t mind me saying I am proud of you – sometimes it feels like I don’t have the right but I am so proud of them. I think even if you are not close – if you know their story – they tell it to you for some reason OR write it in social media, you feel like you want to tell them that & I think that is ok.. :)

  15. says

    I too have paused before saying those words, pondering if it sounds a little like a parent talking to a child. I think the appropriate words to a friend would be not be “I’m proud” but rather, “I’m impressed” On the flip side, many people have said this phrase to me, and I did not feel offended or put down. I love how you pay attention to every detail of life! You are so incredibly thoughtful!

  16. says

    Ahhhhh I love this so much. I’m struggling with the right ways to show my daughter that I’m proud of her without pandering or spoiling her. Same thing with the phrase “good girl!,” especially when it’s for things that she should be doing without praise, or that she does because she’s in trouble or trying to avoid trouble.

    Always thought provoking you are, Mizzzzzzzz Carla.

    • Carla says

      I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING PARENTINGWISE. Now with that disclaimer :-) Ive focused on saying to the child: I notice how hard you worked at XXXX instead of praise with a general GOOD JOB!

  17. says

    Proud is definitely one of those words that can be really awesome or really annoying. I try to only use it in the awesome way. Whenever I say it, I completely mean it–I mean that I am so excited/happy/honored to know you/be happy for your success. But I can totally see how it can go the wrong way quickly. Its all about the delivery AND the interpretation.

  18. says

    I actually never really thought about this. I am always trying to make my parents proud of me and when they say they are, that truly hits home and makes me happy… However, now when others say they are proud of me, I will have to look at it in this context, however, typically it’s just my friends and they certainly know how far I have come! :)

  19. says

    My parents were good about throwing the word “proud” around frequently, such as “We’re so proud of your sister for her good grades” and “We’re proud your sister is such an accomplished musician” and “You should be proud to have a sister like that!”

    For some reason, I never let those kind of compliments go to my head…

  20. says

    I’m with you. I think “proud” definitely is for family and friends that you have history with. I think “excited or happy” is better for those who don’t share as much history. however, i’m still know to use “i’m proud of you” anyways… because sometimes it is an emotional and very proud feeling.

  21. says

    It definitely matters who the “I’m proud of you,” comes from! I wouldn’t say it to someone I consider an “equal,” like a friend or co-worker, but would happily say it to one of my kids. Trying to think if it’s something I would say to my hubs. Hmmmm….not sure if I would appreciate it coming from him either. It’s just a tad condescending if said to the wrong people…for sure!
    p.s. Just said “I’m proud of you!” to my son, who just got back from running a 10K! I don’t think he should consider that to be condescending, even though I have never run that far (or basically at all), since I am his mom! It’s okay to be proud of our kids!

  22. Valerie says

    It does! For me, sometimes the word “proud” carries a connotation of personal involvement – what you have done in some way reflects upon me. If you’re someone who has helped me to achieve the whatever-it-is (even if it’s just by being my friend or loved one, encouraging me and sticking with me), then that makes me feel happy and warm. It makes me feel that I’ve validated your faith in me. But from someone who only casually knows me, or who has had no real involvement in my life or my accomplishments? It feels a little like taking undue credit, or assuming a relationship that does not exist. It can also feel condescending. I know it isn’t meant that way, but it’s how it strikes me sometimes. I don’t get actively offended, because I try to concentrate on the real intent of kindness behind the words, but sure, the reaction is there.

    I don’t say it much. To my kids, absolutely. To my best friends, occasionally, generally when it’s something in which I’ve been involved on a fairly intimate level. I say it now and then to my boss’s son, who’s been through some incredibly tough times and for whom I’ve been a confidante since we met. And I just realized I said it to my niece and her wife yesterday, about their enrollment in college – but that feels appropriate within the context of the relationship.

    To everyone else, I’ll use words like “impressed,” even though I’m not crazy about that either as it implies surprise. “I am once again reminded by this achievement of just how awesome you are, and it makes me so happy for you,” is a bit clunky, but probably a better description of how I feel, usually. :-)

  23. says

    Yes! You so nailed this for me! It’s all about the history/connection you have with the person who utters the P-word – though I will say it’s always had a very “parental” feel for me so even with close friends I will usually opted for another phrase.

  24. says

    I’ve always took it as a wonderful compliment. I try to ensure if I say that the person doesn’t feel talked down to…but I just never considered it that way. To me it has always been a way of saying, I am invested in you as a person, I care about you and think what you are doing is wonderful.

  25. says

    I love this post and I relate…sometimes I’m not sure how to take it when someone is proud of me and hesitate to say it to someone else. That said, it really is about what I choose to make it mean.

    I think Jack makes a good distinction though…being proud of someone for being who they are, for their very being, is much different than being proud of someone for doing something you (the general “you”) think they should do.

  26. says

    You can’t express true pride in someone’s accomplishments unless you have a shared background. If I know where you WERE, and where you’ve managed to COME TO, then I can truly have pride in you. Your post expresses this beautifully.

  27. says

    I think I share your sentiments! this especially –

    “For me proud is about connection, shared history and growth”

    …I teach women’s only fitness classes and they make me proud all the time! especially when I can see how far they have come on their journey! :)

  28. says

    I am often annoyed when I hear this phrase. I thought it was only me!

    I can be proud of me. Why on Earth would anyone else be PROUD of me? or me of them?

    I can be HAPPY for someone else, but PROUD? Nope… even parents dont’ get that one.

    If I have done something to be PROUDworthy, then it is mine. Even if I got help. It is MINE. And I am not going to get into humble, modesty, and all that stuff! :)

  29. says

    I must be the exception. I happily use it all the time! And often mean, I’ve seen your growth, and this is the rightful culmination of that growth.

    I’ll admit, I don’t hear it. And rarely have. So maybe because it’s not been used, it often feels important to say to others.

  30. says

    Once I posted a picture of a lunchtime treadmill workout on Instagram and a friend replied… I’m so proud of you. It did give me a strange feeling. I thought, what is she trying to say? I don’t work out enough? I didn’t understand why, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. It can sound so condescending even if not intended that way. great post!

    • Carla says

      YES!! thats me as well Lea! Id hear it the same way. And am so glad you chimed in Deb. LOVE THE EXCEPTION and would love a guest post on yer exception!

  31. says

    Okay..very interesting.

    I don’t think I say it often. But I see what you’re saying. There have been a few times that people have said they were proud that it very nearly felt insulting…but I try to absorb that with ‘they mean well’.

  32. says

    This is so interesting. I always tell my kids I am proud of them, but often hesitate to use it with adults. I have used it a few times when someone has done something that was a big step and I know was out of their comfort zone. Only with those I am very close with.

  33. Bronwyn says

    Yes it certainly does! This is amazing, I’ve never been able to put into words why I felt uncomfortable hearing the phrase “I’m so proud of you” from certain friends.

  34. says

    HMMMMM. Interrrresting!! I never really gave this much thought although sometimes I do recognize myself… PAUSING before saying the P word. And sometimes I decided for and sometimes against. Probably for the exact same reasons. (and thanks, other people, for proffering the substitutes IMPRESSED and HAPPY FOR)

    Having said that, I really hope you’re proud of me for jumping on the elliptical now before my day begins!!!! 😉 (yes, I have shown growth since… last week!)

  35. says

    You nailed the idea of the word exactly for me. Having someone I don’t know say they are proud of me never made sense to me because to me to be proud of me meant they knew me well enough (either in a work or family setting) and also to have some sort of emotional attachment to whatever I had done that made them proud. To have a vested interest and to care enough to notice. It was a phrase seldom used in my family but always very well meant (and well received).

  36. says

    I completely disagree. I can be proud of people I barely know without being condescending. I feel like telling someone I’m proud of them validates the accomplishment and my understanding of what they have accomplished. That I understand the sacrifice and dedication, they have “grown” through to get where they are. I’m proud of people I barely know all the time, they didn’t get there by sitting on their hands they obviously had a tremendous growth and that would be why I’m proud of them. It might be semantics but I’ve never paused before telling ANYONE I’m proud of them.

  37. says

    I have to admit I never thought this deeply about the p word. But now that you’ve brought this up, I do think I receive that phrase differently depending on who is saying it. Close friends and family….it makes more sense! But for someone who doesn’t really know me, I guess they don’t really know the growth and changes I’ve been through to really be sincerely ‘proud’ of me.

  38. says

    My son used to ask me if I was proud of him for doing things like putting his laundry away or emptying the dishwasher. I’d tell him “Actually, that kind of stuff is not a heart-swelling moment. It’s kinda expected of you as a human.” Perhaps he felt “pride-starved” because I don’t throw it around like fairy dust.

    But I also agree with one of the comments that “proud” is best shared when there is a personal connection between the people, and I was totally proud of him when he got an award at school — one of those unexpected, above and beyond moments.

  39. says

    Interesting topic today especially since I’ve spent the past few days feeling like I let my boys down when all I really want is to make them proud of me.
    I think that it does matter who the “sayer” is because the only people who I think I let down (my boys and Chris) are also the ones that I want to hear say, “I’m proud of you.” I guess in my mind, no one else really cares enough about me personally to truly care either way.

  40. says

    I once heard that “In the South, you ain’t a man, till your daddy says you are!”

    But when my dad said he was proud of me, that came close enough :-)

  41. says

    Hmm….I’m on team “it’s ok to be proud of someone you don’t know VERY well”. I also like using the phrase “I’m proud to know you or I’m proud to be your friend”. To me, it just shows a certain admiration. But I do see your point…and had never thought it through before.

  42. says

    Absolutely makes sense! If someone is not close to you in a certain way, then it just feels wrong when they express certain shared feelings. It’s awkward and feels strange. Really kind of inappropriate. Interesting that you were able to put a finger on what has clearly been a ‘weirdness’ for so many of us.

  43. says

    I don’t have problem with people saying it to me although I won’t use that word a lot. I am bad for waiting for the “BUT” that often comes after one of those sentences. For me it isn’t what you actually say but what I think you mean that matters and I usually give people the benefit of the doubt.

  44. says

    I’ve never really given much thought to how I feel when someone says it to me, honestly.

    Sometimes I feel icky saying it because just by using the words “I am”, I’ve shifted the focus from their accomplishments to my feelings about them. Now I try to find ways to convey my happiness for them by using “You” statements.

  45. says

    Food for thought definitely.

    I have a post on ‘standing proud’ back when I competed last year. But that’s on being proud of one self…in growth and in accomplishment..among other things too :)

  46. says

    It’s not something i’d ever thought about before. Sometimes i proffer it more as a “you must be so proud, you’ve obviously put in so much effort” type of statement.

  47. says

    I never really thought about the p-word until I lost so much weight and people I barely knew were telling me they were proud of me. I hadn’t realized that ‘proud’, for me, implies a close relationship. I made a stumbling shift in how I use it with others, which is to feel proud (pleased or happy) FOR them. It works in my convoluted mind. :)

  48. says

    Sometimes I like a little “right on” or “there ya go” but you’re right having pride is sometimes relative to the person saying it

  49. says

    I love this. I use the “P” word a lot, and I completely agree I use as a way to recognize growth. I am obviously not responsible for that growth, but I understand the work and progress that is required.

  50. says

    I’ll be honest; I’m not entirely fond of the word “proud” and often cringe when it’s said to me. Growing up “proud” was not often said to us kinds and many times the person saying ‘I’m proud of you’ wasn’t exactly sober (so it didn’t hold much sincerity/??). As an adult I often find that the word “proud” is misused (‘aren’t you proud of me for …’) or too freely said (making me wonder how sincere the person is being) which adds to my irritation with the word…I know; I’m getting too deep!

    So, when I want to let a loved one know I’m proud of them with out worrying about it’s sincerity (and attempting not to misuse the phrase) I say something like “what you’ve done is wonderful and YOU should be proud of yourself; it’s a great accomplishment.”

    just my two cents…LOVE your blog by the way. Very thought provoking.

  51. Janis says

    If Person A says they are proud of Person B, there’s sort of an implication that Person A reached down to Person B and helped them raise themselves up. And that implies that Person A started out above Person B. My mom is the only person I can think of right off the bat that gets to say that to me.

    Every now and then, I will see a parent sort of use their “parent voice” in situations where it’s not appropriate. It’s not (necessarily) because they are actively condescending, but sometimes the sing-song mommy-or-daddy-voice sort of sneaks out on them since they spend the other 23 hours a day using it. :-) I think, “I’m so proud of you!” when said to a peer might be one of those moments.

  52. says

    Cool story! « I’m proud of you » sounds condescending to me too. I guess it’s a thing grown-ups tell younger kids. I usually go for « I’m happy for you » or « I admire you ».

    Thanks for sharing this!

  53. says

    It’s neat to see someone else pick up on this because it’s something that has bugged me, too. I definitely feel like it’s condescending in many cases. The worst is when someone says it and they were never there with support along the way.

    I think if “proud” must be used, a better way to say it is “You should be so proud of yourself!” I have tried to get in the habit of saying that to my 5-year-old son. I want him to learn to do things for the personal satisfaction, not to please others.

  54. says

    I completely agree with you. Don’t need to say proud to a family member. Saying happy is far more better.

  55. TK says

    I recently had a “bristling” when someone in my family used the phrase. I agree with the description of having to have been privy to the growth experience, but would add that they have not previously belittled or invalidated the effort. I can more easily accept comments of pride from those friends who were THERE FOR ME through the process, than relatives who always told me how difficult their life was and how I should “fix” the challenges I faced. In short, I would not say the default is for family to say this. …i would say, the person(s) who went through the crisis points and witnessed the change in attitude, the decision to fight not flee, and the person who was cheering along the way….not the person at the finish line.

  56. says

    I accept this word from people who know what I went through, which means he understand the challenges I had to overcome and how difficult it was for me.

    When someone who I barely tells me he is proud of me I don’t feel anything. I just feel I need to be polite and say “thank you”.

  57. Sandy says

    Agreed! I think growth is a huge part of it, and how close your relationships are. When someone tells me they are proud of me, to me it means they have an authority in my life, a history that they can reference to make that call. When someone who does not know me, says the same it doesn’t really feel condescending but I find it slightly confusing and am amused at the choice of words. But thats just me!