The power of positive affirmations

Earlier this year I wrote a post on the subject of when affirmations don’t work. I admitted to having somewhat ambivalent feelings towards the positive self talk brigade. While I  can see the benefits of maintaining a positive attitude in life, I also see how for many  it can quickly turn into the “tyranny of positive thinking”,  serving only to make them feel even worse. 

The post was inspired by an article published in Psychological Science ( a journal of the Association for Psychological Science) that noted that repeating positive affirmations can actually  have the opposite effect on some people.  Psychologists found that individuals with low self-esteem actually felt worse about themselves after repeating positive self-statements.  

I wanted to report on this, as I feel sometimes there is an expectation that cancer patients must be upbeat, stoic and positive all the time and many times you don’t feel like that. Indeed this expectation may serve to make some cancer patients feel like they are letting themselves and others down by not acting positive all the time. Now I am not saying that we should all abandon positive self talk, and yes, for some people affirmations are a wonderful aid to good mental health, but what I am saying is this pressure to feel positive all the time can also be damaging if it becomes another stick to beat ourselves with.   

Having said all that, I do know that for many people positive self talk in the form of affirmations has been a wonderful source of comfort and healing. In the words of Susan Jeffers, in her best-selling book Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway:  “an affirmation is a strong, positive statement telling us that “all is well,” despite what the negativity of the mind may be saying to us. With constant repetition of a positive affirmation, the voice of doom and gloom that roams through our mind is replaced with thoughts of power and love. Yes … all is well.”

The trick I believe is to find an affirmation that truly resonates with you. I don’t believe that repeating something such as “I love and accept myself completely,” over and over if you are struggling with low self-esteem or other issues is particularly helpful and indeed as the Psychology article points out can even provoke contradictory thoughts in individuals with low self-esteem. If that is the case, a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy would be of far more benefit.

You may have gathered by now that I am not a person who turns to affirmations on a regular basis, but there is one affirmation that I do try to keep in mind, when facing a crisis and it does truly resonate with me. It has proved to be true in every crisis I have faced in my life, taking me from the lowest part of who I am (living in fear) to the highest…a place of power, purpose and love. It is simply this:

WHATEVER HAPPENS,
I’LL HANDLE IT!

Susan Jeffers explains the deeper meaning to this short affirmation as follows:

Within me, I have the power to handle anything that ever happens to me. I will learn from it all, grow from it all, and use it all as a means to reaching the best of who I am. Every situation in my life offers me the opportunity to become a more powerful and loving human being. I have nothing to fear. I will always find the strength within me to find my way…and to find the good that ultimately comes from all that happens in my life. Yes, whatever happens, I’ll handle it!