My wife comes from a background of a controlling, abusive mother who always told her that she was incapable, and then a controlling, abusive (now former) husband who always told her that she was incapable. She is also on the Autism spectrum, in the region that was, until recently, known as Aspergers Syndrome. This only served to give "justification" to those highly influential people; "You can't do x, you are disabled."

Needless to say, this could not be further from the truth.

Without those toxic influences in her life, she has been able to excel. Not only has she completed a degree under her own steam while in full-time employment, but has also pivoted her career into an entirely new field. Nonetheless, the negativity from her younger years persists in her mind, so she still thinks that she is incapable.

I try my best to encourage her, and to help her see herself how I see her; as a strong, talented, amazing individual who has so very much to offer. Thanks to those early influences, however, most of my attempts are taken as personal attacks; it feels like she thinks I am yet another person who is telling her she is not good enough, when I am trying, and failing, to tell her the polar opposite.

We were recently trying to think of ways that we can earn a little extra for the rainy day fund in our spare time. Unlike me, who has not a single artistic bone in my body, she is creatively gifted. As such, I suggested that she could think about putting together creative products, such as eBooks, online courses or graphic designs. Her immediate response was, "I am not good enough to do that. Why are you having a go at me because I'm not good enough?"

I was not trying to attack her and she absolutely is good enough.

I have been through imposter syndrome myself so, while mine was self-imposed rather than externally inflicted, I believe I may have some small idea of what she is feeling. I do not, however, have any idea about how to help, which makes me so sad that I am powerless to help the person I love most in this world. I just want to make her happy.

How do I encourage her without it coming across as an attack?

  • Hi, welcome to the site. Are there any examples of things that you have tried in helping her? Listing them here would help answerers.
    – justhalf
    Dec 1, 2022 at 4:22
  • Is she seeing a therapist or has she been to therapy in the past?
    – AsheraH
    Dec 1, 2022 at 6:30
  • Your example says you 'suggested' something for her to do, yet you ask about 'encouraging' her. Those can be two different things, so could you make it clearer what you actually want: encourage her to go do stuff even when she reacts like she did, or not have her react like she did when you suggest something? Also, have you two had a talk about this yet, has she expressed any preferences for the type and way of suggestions/encouragement she'd like to receive?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Dec 1, 2022 at 6:42
  • In case it matters, the disorder is still called Asperger's syndrome in most of the world.
    – forest
    Dec 18, 2022 at 1:23

2 Answers 2


Background information

My story is not really a copy-paste of the story in the question, but I think it fits quite well. I work in a company where management has a slight tendency towards being "dictatorial". There is nothing extreme, the atmosphere is quite OK, but people sometimes feel afraid to have initiative about various aspects (work-related).

The "problem"

So, one day, one colleague asked me how she can get a promotion, considering that other people with less "merits" already got that kind of promotion. She was afraid to go after it, and did not even know how to proceed.

The solution

I presented her with the alternatives:

  • if she does nothing, nothing will change.
  • if she tries to get the promotion and fails, then nothing actually changes - nothing to lose.
  • if she tries to get the promotion and succeeds, then big win.

So, suddenly it became obvious that worst case was not so bad, but the best case was very good.

Once I caught her attention with this, we continued to discuss about the various ways to go there, and to find alternatives to pursue the promotion in the cases where obstacles were perceived.

The result

After a few days (weeks?) she came to me again, happy, that she got the promotion. She was lucky and did not even run into the obstacles we discussed.

You can try the same thing with your wife. First, discuss about the best case (successful "art") and the worst case (some effort spent working, with no significant financial benefit).

If she finds that the worst case is not so bad, then move ahead to discuss some ways to achieve the good result.

CAUTION: during the entire discussion, keep in mind that you just discuss. Do NOT try to make a decision too early. Once all the relevant details are discussed, the good decision will emerge by itself.

Note: do not start your thinking from "my wife [does not] see her potential". Most likely she does see it, but she is afraid to use it (the potential) for various reasons.


One of the best ways to boost someone confidence is to genuinely need and ask for their help.

Imagine a situation where you said "I am going to write a book". Nice. Then you ask your wife for a review, ideas, what do you think of this?, ah that is a great idea, can I use that? What should this character do?

It is almost like the bystander effect, where one is scared to help because they lack confidence, but when others step in first, they are more willing to step in also. Repeatedly doing this sets you up for a next step.

With enough successful help provided, you can then use the "help evidence" in a pure logical way to prove worth.

With Asperger's you don't want long-winded discussions drawing on emotions, "I would never tell you this if it were not true... love you... etc etc". Instead you want factoids, short and sweet. "That was a good idea right? You did that". "That pic is great", "No its not", "If someone buys it, it would prove it is good right? Let's test and see". Stick to logic. Just like virolino's great answer above, breaking the promotion down into logic based outcomes, cutting through all the word play.

You may have to take the drivers seat on the extra work, get it going and then draw her into "your" work. Once your wife confidence builds, she may fly with it herself, but will likely still need you to run the business part of it.

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