Are positive affirmations hurting you?

‘I am a good person. I am loveable. I am enough.’

If you’ve just read those sentences and you rolled your eyes – good for you! A little healthy cynicism is no bad thing. Shows a strong sense of self regard.

If you read those words and felt a stabbing sense of inadequacy, a haunting flash of ‘not me, never me’, if you wondered (yet again) what was wrong with you, why positive affirmations weren’t working for you, no matter how many times you said them…. YOU! You are who I’m writing to here…

Dear You,

There is a reason why positive affirmations aren’t working for you and ‘it’s not you, it’s them’, as they (very nearly) say.

Take a moment. Let that in.

Because it’s ‘widely believed’ x = y does not make it true. Positive affirmations are not for everyone. 

Like crop tops, dungarees, or Take That… Just because you see them everywhere does not mean they’re a good fit for you.

It’s widely believed the Earth is a perfect sphere. That’s not true, it’s actually quite lumpy. People used to believe the Earth was flat. Didn’t make it true either.

So positive affirmations make you feel better… Do they? Hmmm… Let’s have a look at the data. 

Positive affirmations work for positive people. Yes.

Positive psychology found its feet in the 1990s and since then some of its widely held beliefs have since been researched and found to be questionable.

For instance, research published in 2009 by psychologist Joanne Wood and her team, ’Positive Self Statements: Power for Some, Peril for Others’, discovered that if you have high self esteem, repeating ‘I am a loveable person’ multiple times resulted in ‘slightly’ improved mood.

So, yes, there’s merit in them. For people who already have strong self-esteem.

But what Wood and her team also discovered was people with low self esteem felt worse when they repeated the positive affirmation. Why? Wood concluded that it was because the phrase just gave their inner critic more ammunition, it served only to remind them of a limiting belief they held about themselves. Like mentally poking yourself in the eye with a sharp stick. Over and over again.

So, dear You, please stop. For you, positive affirmations are likely to be more like a way of self-harming, if anything. Look for another solution – and there will be one for you, please do believe you can be a happy, healthy human being, I do believe that – but repeating positive affirmations when your self esteem is on the floor is unlikely to be the key that will free you from your unhappiness.

Photo by Rae Tian @Unsplash

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