Are Positive Affirmations Bullshit?
There are a couple of different types of affirmations. There are positive statements that are commitments to ourselves (“I have a healthy relationship with cookies, I definitely don’t eat too many.), and others that we can say to battle our automatic negative thoughts (I’m not a bad person for eating a lot of cookies). For the purposes of this post, I’m focusing on the latter.
Every time someone talks to me about affirmations I mentally roll my eyes. To me, personal, positive affirmations have generally lived in one of two categories:
1) Saccharine words and phrases that people say to themselves - often these are things that they either don’t believe, or are just kind of useless.
2) Narcissistic garbage that reinforces people and/or ideas that could use knocking down a peg or two.
Not a terribly generous attitude, I know. But am I all that wrong? A quick Google search gifts us with these pearls of wisdom:
“Put your positive pants on.” What?
“I am an amazing person.” Eye roll.
“I am perfect just the way I am.” Fuck off, no one is perfect.
And my personal favorite:
“I wink at a challenge.” Stop. Stop it right now. I want to fight whatever idiot came up with this trash.
All of these things are one of the two things I described above, some are both. Sweet sounding nonsense words that reinforce things that aren’t real or actionable are doing you no good. Additionally, that same Google search comes up with huge lists of things for us to say to ourselves every day. What good is reading 100 different phrases to yourself every day actually doing? You aren’t likely to remember them throughout the day when you actually need them.
Affirmations need to be something you can say to yourself honestly.
Otherwise we are just fighting a losing battle - if we can’t believe our intentional thoughts, our automatic negative thoughts may come back with a vengeance. So, I had to come up with some affirmations that mean something to me, and that I can say and at least believe the premise without rolling my mind’s eye. The one that has stuck with me is, “Just as you are”.
This has a specific meaning to me, which is what makes it work. It replaces the idea of “I’m perfect just the way I am.” The current cultural idea that we are all perfect as we are is…in a word, stupid. I’m not seeking perfection because such a thing doesn’t exist. And even if it did, I wouldn’t want it. I once dated a man who would call me perfect occasionally, and I honestly hated it (side note: those kinds of statements are mostly manipulations anyway…beware). Perfect is a pedestal that I am bound to fall off of VERY quickly.
There’s nowhere to go but down from perfect, if there ever were such a thing.
It’s helpful to think of building affirmations as an incremental process.
I was not able to jump myself from my automatic thought of “I’m disgusting”, to “I’m beautiful”. That’s a big leap, and no matter how many people told me this, it couldn’t beat my automatic thoughts, and I couldn’t make myself believe my own words. And if I don’t believe my own words, the automatic ones are going to be reinforced even more. So instead, I started with “I’m no better or worse than anyone else”. It may not pack quite the same instantly gratifying punch, but it stuck around longer, and it got me somewhere.
For me, “Just as you are” means a lot of things; I am worthy, I am good enough, I am everything I need to be, exactly as I am right now. I say specifically everything I need to be - because it’s ok to want to be better, indeed we should strive to be better, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have value and worth right now. The more we can believe in our inherent worth, the easier it becomes to do the things that are good for us, good for those we love, and become a better version of ourselves.
It has to be real and work for you, or it’s useless.
Here’s what I like about this, and some guiding principles in coming up with your own real, made for you, positive affirmation:
-There is subtext required. I can’t only say this to myself, it’s too vague. The vagueness requires me to qualify it based on whatever I’m facing at that moment. This gives me the opportunity to talk myself down from whatever ridiculous ledge I’ve found myself on.
-It means whatever I need it to mean that day. I’m able to use this whenever I’m coming down hard on myself for just about anything. If I’m frustrated with my training performance, I can repeat “just as you are”, and it reminds me that this is where I am today, and I’ll do my best tomorrow.
-It’s short and easy to remember, so it was easy to make a habit of saying it to myself. I can say it to myself all day long if I need to, instead of just spending 5 positive minutes with my thoughts in the morning, and then being a cranky bitch the rest of the day. At least I can be a cranky bitch who mostly likes herself!
Most importantly, it doesn’t sound ridiculous to me. I don’t roll my eyes when I hear myself say it, and I don’t mentally over-react with something awful. Some days, it doesn’t sound quite so smooth and easy. Some days, when I’m feeling especially old and bitter, my affirmation sounds a lot more like “yeah OK, just as I fucking am, I got it, shut up”. And that’s OK too.
Authenticity is important, after all.
Do affirmations help you? What works? What doesn’t? Hit us up in the comments!