When Affirmations Make You Feel Worse

In The Power of Negative Thinking, Oliver Burkman notes:

“Psychologists at the University of Waterloo concluded that [affirmations] make people with low self-esteem feel worse”.

So are affirmations best avoided? Let’s parse this out.

Affirmations are akin to goal setting. Set an unreasonable goal for yourself and you may feel crummy when you find it out of your reach. This is not unreasonable, it’s not limited to “people with low self-esteem”, and is easily solved: set attainable goals.

But there’s another kind of affirmation. Take, for instance, “my friends love to help me”. For some, saying that may ‘make them feel bad’, yet it’s hard to pair that down to a ‘more attainable’ goal.

Are affirmations then a bad idea? Let’s not indict an innocent bystander.  If you rub a small rust spot on your car only to watch it grow, do you blame the rubbing for the rust?

If saying out loud “my friends love to help me” makes you feel worse, do you blame the sentence for your feeling? Or, rather, has the statement just uncovered an important area of personal inquiry? Why is it that that sentence makes you feel bad? Perhaps it is time to shine a light on the underlying issue so that you can grieve/resolve it.

There are [at least] two kinds of affirmations that can “make you feel bad”, but that is not an indictment of affirmations as a whole, but rather each is solved with a deeper understanding of the mechanisms at work and a tweaking of your methods.

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