Affirmations get a bad rap. The phrase “putting lipstick on a pig” sums up the most frequent criticisms.
I see affirmations as a tool—they can be used effectively, or not. I have used them and they’ve helped me to rewire certain thought patterns, so I want to share how I approach them.
The key to a successful affirmation is that it must ring true internally.
This is the original meaning of the word “affirmation”. It has been misused as a way to try to convince oneself of things that are blatantly untrue or or wishes rather than truths, such as “I’m wealthy” or “All my relationships are harmonious”, when they are clearly not.
These kinds of affirmations simply do not work for me–I’m not saying they can’t work for somebody, but if they don’t work for you then rest assured I am not advocating them.
Instead, I use affirmations to help remind myself of what I truly believe, underneath the layers of self-criticism and mental noise.
Affirmations help you mentally align to a deeper truth than your critical self-talk.
The first affirmation I worked with was, “I love myself”. I still find it to be effective to help remind myself of this when I am being self-critical.
When I started, I had a lot of self-hatred, so I had to work hard to find a part of myself that agreed with the statement, “I love myself”. What I ended up doing was using the phrase, “I am a child of God, therefore I am lovable”. This was logic I couldn’t argue with–I used my faith to shoehorn some love for myself into my brain. After repeating this a few times, I could say, “I love myself” and feel some basis in truth. And after repeating this routine for only a few nights in a row, I was able to just say, “I love myself” and feel good about it.
Wherever you are at, find the part of yourself, even if it is very small, that loves and supports you to be happy. Then affirm the hell out of it. Support and nurture and hold it as precious.
It’s natural for grief to arise.
When you are working with core material, a lot of emotion will come up. It’s vital to let yourself feel everything that’s underneath the critical beliefs and self-judgements. Part of healing is to re-experience some of the original pain but in a space where you can be compassionate toward yourself around it. Care for yourself as you go through this process.
Use affirmations to expand your mental picture of yourself.
Affirmations like, “I can have a healthy relationship” and “I am a leader” can help you see yourself in a new light. As you say these to yourself, feel the response. Does a part of you get excited? Or do you feel fear?
There is no right answer. By being with the response, you can feel into what is true for you.
A similar exercise that I have done is when I see someone on TV or in real life, I imagine what it would be like to be that person. For example, once I was sitting in an airplane on the runway listening to the flight attendant tell everyone to get themselves together and sit down so she could give the spiel about seatbelts. She embodied a kind of friendly-but-firm no-nonsense leadership style that I admired, so I sat their considering what it might feel like to be her right now. This is a way to expand your range as a human being.
Use affirmations as a prompt for self study.
Affirmations are often used as a way to try to make a transformation occur. They can be even more powerful as an open-ended prompt to help you discover what your relationship is to something.
By using mindfulness to explore what your system has mapped in around love, relationships, money, or other topics, you can bring your unconscious patterns to light. Simply feeling your impulses and understanding your patterns can go a long way to transforming them.
It’s tempting to want to force yourself to be a certain way that you think of as “better”. But that impulse is likely coming from a wounded part of you, not your wholeness. Find the place in yourself that already knows you are good and affirm that.