top of page

I'm SO Proud of You!

David Cowles

Jun 8, 2023

“To my ear, ‘I’m so proud of you’ is culture-speak for ‘I’m not proud of you at all.’”

It’s what every child longs to hear. It trumps I love you by a mile – six simple words that satisfy our need for Identity, that reinforce our sense of Belonging, and that affirm our Potency. It’s a heady cocktail…especially for underage drinkers.

What does it mean when someone says, “I’m proud of you?” It expresses the speaker’s satisfaction or pleasure at some thing you’re being or some thing you’ve done. 

Most parents won’t say directly, “Ok, now I can love you!” But those same parents are perfectly willing to say the exact same thing, provided it is encrypted. I’m proud of you is code for Now I can truly love you. For confirmation, listen in on the Litany of Life (composer unknown):

“Now I’ve said my ABCs, tell me what you think of me. Refrain: I’m so proud of you!”

“You just got your first Little League base hit. Refrain: I’m so proud of you!”

“I know it hurt, but you didn’t cry. Refrain: I’m so proud of you!”

“You got all A’s and B’s on your report card. Refrain: I’m so proud of you!”

“You’re the first person in our family to graduate high school/college/medical school. Refrain: I’m so proud of you!”

“You have a great new job. Refrain: I’m so proud of you!”

“You’ve made the ultimate sacrifice. Rest in peace! Refrain: I’m so proud of you!”

OMG, a lifetime wasted trying to make a parent proud so they can love me! To my ear, I’m so proud of you is culture-speak for I’m not proud of you at all. When someone says they’re proud of me, they mean that they are proud of some task I’ve performed, some goal I’ve achieved, or some role I’ve assumed. But my accomplishments and my personae are not me! They are costumes I’ve put on, usually at the insistence of some overbearing director.

You may have enjoyed my performance as the title character in Hamlet. You can even say you’re ‘proud’ of the job I did: I wish you wouldn’t, but you can if you must. What you cannot say is that you are proud of Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, because, news flash: he’s not real!

Yet every time you say, “I’m so proud of you,” that’s exactly what you’re saying. What could be more foolish than to be proud of a fictional character! And yet, whenever I don a role or accept a challenge, I’m just ‘getting into character.’  

You could have just said, “I love you” and meant it. In which case, you would have loved me, regardless of my achievements, or lack thereof, and no matter what roles I happen to be playing at any one time. 

Am I unhoused in Liverpool or well-housed at #10? Either way, are you proud? Either way, it’s still me! And who knows? Over the course of a lifetime, I might end up being both…and yet, it’s still me throughout! (‘Black and white and red all over.’)

So, I’m proud of you has nothing whatsoever to do with me. It’s the semantic equivalent of Look at that gorgeous sunset. Except worse! People who say, “Look at that gorgeous sunset” usually don’t mean to take credit for it. (Exception: God, boasting in the Book of Job.) But when someone says, “I’m proud of you,” most often that person believes they had something to do with ‘making you the person you are today.’

So, I’m proud of you means that you are proud of something I’ve done, not me per se. Deeper still, it means “I’m proud of myself for the role I played in enabling you to play your role or perform your task so successfully.” When parents say, “I’m proud of you,” they’re taking a victory lap!

This does not mean that you can’t say “proud.” You can be proud of yourself for something you’ve accomplished (as long as you don’t mistake the achievement for the achiever). You set out to get an A in Chemistry and you did; you can feel proud.

You can be proud of yourself as a member of a group (e.g., the LGTBQ+ community). Plus, we all know that “pride goeth before a fall” – still true! It’s only the misuse of ‘proud’ that’s at issue here.

So what’s the alternative? You could have said, “I salute you” or “I congratulate you.” But that wouldn’t convey the same intensity as “I’m proud of you.” Would it? Pride attests to a powerful, not to say incestuous, relationship between two actors: a puppeteer and her puppet. So, I’m proud of you is not only code for Now I can love you; it’s also code for Now I can love myself

Stranger Things: we live in the Upside Down! ‘I’m proud of you’ means many things, beginning with: ‘I’m not proud of you at all…I might be proud of you if you actually were the person that you’re pretending to be, but aren’t…I am proud of myself for helping to make you the person (persona) you are today.” Your persona (child) is part of my persona (parent)? How messed up is that?

So can you never say “I’m proud of you” again? I wouldn’t go that far! Chances are, your kids are used to hearing it from you and it might confuse them if you suddenly stopped. But make sure you understand what it is you’re saying when you say it. Try to convey to your children that you love them regardless of their behavior or achievements, and try to believe it yourself! 

We are born dazed and confused. (Led Zeppelin) We have one and only one mission: to wake up and to decipher the “signatures of all things I am here to read” (Joyce). But thanks to culture speak, we are on some very heavy meds! Narcan™ anyone?


Keep the conversation going!

1. Click here to comment on this TWS.
2. To subscribe (at no cost) to TWS and ATM, follow this link.
3. We encourage new articles and reprints from freelance writers; click here to view out Writers’ Specs.
4. Aletheia Today Magazine (ATM) will be devoting its entire fall issue (released 9/1/23) to artificial intelligence (AI). What are the philosophical, theological, cultural and even spiritual implications of AI powered world? If you’d like to contribute to the AI Issue, click here.

Do you like what you just read and want to read more Thoughts? Subscribe today for free!

- the official blog of Aletheia Today Magazine. 

Have a thought to share about today's 'Thought'.png
bottom of page