Why Aren't Affirmations Working for Me?
Updated: Mar 9
Since you’ve clicked on this article, it is probably safe to assume that you have some reservations about positive self-affirmations, and likely with good reason. In short, you may have tried them and don’t think that they are working for you. If you are in the 21st century, it seems impossible that you haven’t been bombarded with cutesy positive affirmation memes or that person in your life who swears by them and seems to talk in a barrage of them. That is because while they have been around for decades, 2020 and the start of 2021 has seen a significant rise in anxiety and depression among humans, globally. Just about everyone has been looking for ways to feel better about themselves and more hopeful about the future. People have been craving ways to keep their brains from engaging in negative self-talk and thoughts of impending doom. That’s where positive affirmations enter the scene.
Can Daily Affirmations Support Mental Health?
When presented in the morning and/or throughout the day, daily affirmations can set the tone for how someone moves about their day. They can give us a quick and much needed sense of love, safety, belonging, and motivation. Research suggests that, when done correctly, positive self-affirmations enhance your self-concept leading you to a healthier point of self-acceptance. Affirmations have been found to help reduce stress and related hormones, which are toxic to the body, improve things like eating habits, GPA, increase the belief that you can do what you set out to do, and so much more.
Who Can Use Affirmations?
Daily affirmations are suited for just about everyone, including toddlers and young children. They are especially helpful for people who are trying to break the habit of negative self-talk, which has adverse health and mental health implications. The more helpful question might be, “Can I get affirmations to work for me?”
The simple answer to that question is, “Yes.” But, just like anything else, affirmations are not a magic cure and do not help you feel better or look at the world differently overnight. Again, there is over half a century of research to show the value and power of affirmations and I don’t think that any of them have found permanent overnight changes in the brain. Instead, you may need to learn how to craft affirmations that work for you.
One key piece of information that is often missing when discussing affirmations is the fact that if you completely do not believe the affirmation that you are using, it most certainly will not work for you, probably not even over time. When you don’t believe an affirmation to be true, your brain starts an internal argument that can actually increase your stress hormones. In effect, trying to force yourself to believe something that you are really against is not only ineffective for you, it can actually be counterproductive and make you feel a bit worse. Obviously, that is not what you want. So the trick is to continue restructuring your affirmations until you tweak it to one that you can accept.
Let’s try one together that mimics a common self-esteem affirmation:
I am worthy. - Hmm, I think that I am just lying to myself on this one. This one isn’t going to work. I’ll make up another one.
There are ways that I have a positive impact on people in my life. - Okay, this feels a little more accurate.
I can be thoughtful about the feelings of others. - No lies told here.
My thoughtfulness of others, helps me feel more worthiness. - Maybe this will work until “I am worthy” works for me.
What Are Some Affirmations That I Can Tweak to Make My Own?
We have broken down a few categories under which affirmations may fit well. Please keep in mind that affirmations are meant to resonate with you and be applicable to your life. Practice modifying them to make them work for you or your child!
I am loved. - For all us to us, and especially for people who struggle with frequent self-disparaging remarks.
I know that I am loveable because my _______ loves me. - For all us to use, and especially for people who struggle with frequent self-disparaging remarks.
I have the capacity for change. - To combat feelings of guilt or regret.
Through my actions, I make a positive impact on others. - Increase self-efficacy.
Marginalized People & Trauma Survivors
I am allowed to take up space. - This is particularly helpful for marginalized people and people who have been taught that they have to make themselves smaller to fit into spaces to be safe.
My voice is strong and worthy of being shared. - Designed for historically marginalized people.
The thoughts that I have are set in the future, in this space I am safe. - For people who experience anxiety or have a history of trauma the brain may be perceiving a threat that is inaccurate. This affirmation may help override and calm that perceived threat.
I come from greatness, therefore, I have the capacity for greatness. - Designed for historically marginalized people.
My child’s love shows me that I am enough. - This one is for people who struggle with feelings of inferiority and parenting guilt.
I am allowed to enjoy time to myself. - For those of us who struggle with guilt or fear of not deserving joy, such as parenting guilt.
Taking care of myself helps me take care of my child. - Struggling with guilt related to healthy self-care.
I am capable of showing love even when my child makes a mistake. - For caregivers struggling with the idea of not being a “good enough” parent.
You can use just about any positive affirmation with children, but it can be helpful to use words that are within their understanding and then build their vocabulary. Starting young, around age 2 and ½ or 3 years old, can help children build the practice of healthy self-talk and allow them to avoid the emergence of the overly critical negative self-talk that the rest of us are trying to exterminate. Here is a cute YouTube video that may help parents think of affirmations to modify for their children.
I can do hard things.
I am smart and can learn new things.
I have good ideas.
I am strong enough to try again.
How Can I Practice Affirmations?
To build a habit of healthy self-talk through affirmations, it is great to schedule text messages or emails to yourself with a few self-affirmations each day. In the beginning, use them during times when you are already calm and negative self-talk is low. Over time, you may be able to apply affirmations when you are feeling stressed, too.