Are Your Affirmations Depressing You?
Affirmations are supposed to be good for you!
A brief history of affirmations
An affirmation is a positive phrase about yourself or your circumstances that you write down and repeat to yourself throughout the day in the present tense as if it were true today. Affirmations are also called “positive thinking” or “self-empowerment”. Affirmations are also referred to in Neurolinguistic Programming and Neuro Associative Conditioning, popularized by Anthony Robbins.
The Affirmation movement was inspired by Wallace D. Wattles, who wrote a book in 1910, entitled “The Science of Getting Rich”. This book inspired others including Napoleon Hill, who wrote “Think and Grow Rich”; Louise Hay, who wrote “You Can Heal Your Life”, in 1984; Rhonda Byrne, who wrote “The Secret” in 2006; and “Ask And It Is Given” and “The Law of Attraction” series by Esther and Jerry Hicks, first published in 2004.
What could possibly be wrong with thinking happy thoughts?
It turns out that just saying positive things about yourself, without actually doing anything to move toward your goals, can have a negative effect. Psychologists Joanne V. Wood and John W. Lee from the University of Waterloo, and W.Q. Elaine Perunovic from the University of New Brunswick, in a study titled “Positive Self Statements – Power for Some, Peril for Others”, found that individuals with low self-esteem actually felt worse about themselves after writing down and repeating their positive self-statements. The authors’ conclusion? “Repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people (such as individuals with high self-esteem) but backfire for the very people who need them the most.”
Participants in the study, who were classified into low self-esteem and high self-esteem groups using Fleming and Courtney’s 1984 Self Esteem Scale, were asked to repeat the self-help phrase, “I am a lovable person.” Individuals with high self-esteem reported that they felt better after repeating the positive self-statement – but not markedly so. However, individuals identified as having low self-esteem reported that they felt worse after repeating the positive self-statement. Even more interesting findings came from a follow-up study of low self-esteem participants, where they reported more positive results when they were allowed to have negative and positive thoughts, instead of focusing only on positive thoughts. The observation was that unreasonably positive self-statements, such as, “I accept myself completely,” can actually cause negative thoughts in individuals with low self-esteem, overriding the positive thoughts they started out with!
Powerful Thoughts vs. Positive Thoughts
In an article on Positive Powerful Thinking, Mary J. Lore, founder and CEO of Managing Thought, says that positive thoughts often do not work or if they do work, they work only temporarily. “There is a distinct difference between a positive thought and a powerful thought.” According to Lore, powerful thoughts are things that may inspire us, spark creativity, or open us up to ideas that move us in a more purposeful direction. Saying something to yourself that you know is not yet true can actually cause physical symptoms, including shortness of breath and tense muscles. Yet powerful thoughts make us feel better, as they are true right now.
Examples of powerful thoughts include, “I choose happiness”, “I am committed to happiness”, or, “It is important to me to be happy”. Using powerful thoughts, we can guide ourselves to our definition of happiness, instead of trying to convince ourselves that we are already there. Another approach is to take a setback and find lessons learned from the experience, and using those lessons to inspire future changes.
Don’t fight the negative thoughts, accept them and commit to change
Modern psychology has come a long way in the last generation. There is now less focus on how to control the content of our thoughts, and more on how to change their context, so they can’t control our behavior. Dr. Steven C. Hayes, a psychotherapist, and author of “Getting Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life”, encourages mindfulness, the meditation-inspired practice of observing thoughts without getting caught up in them. Dr. Hayes’ approach is that trying to “correct” negative thoughts can actually make them worse. This new psychological approach is called ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), where you are encouraged to acknowledge that negative thoughts do occur, so we should experience them; in doing so, Dr. Hayes believes we’ll find it easier to commit ourselves to what we want in life.
I’ve been wondering for a while whether Affirmations are for everyone; they’re clearly not. In fact, as I discovered, positive affirmations can be harmful to people with low self-esteem; even worse, they don’t even provide much benefit for those with high self-esteem. Instead, you need to accept your negative thoughts, not resist them, and engage in positive behaviors and powerful thinking. This approach will keep you from creating a conflict with who you are now and who you want to be soon.
- Let negative thoughts happen, and find lessons in them
- Think powerful thoughts that are attached to your goals
- Every day
- Higher self-esteem
- More energy spent on your goals
Clicking the button below will take you to a page where you can add a reminder to your calendar for Think Powerful Thoughts. You must have a Simple Daily Change account to set up calendar reminders.