Why Affirmations Don’t Work

Have you ever come up with affirmations to say to yourself but they feel highly uncomfortable and fake?  They might be statements such as…

  • I am abundantly wealthy. 
  • I am enough. 
  • I am a strong, capable person. 
  • I am safe and protected. 
  • I deserve to be loved and to love. 

One reason they don’t feel genuine is that they’re likely the opposite of what you really believe.  What you truly believe likely got its start a long time ago because either someone said that same hurtful thing to you OR you had no one to help you process a difficult situation so you concluded that you were defective or unsafe or powerless or you didn’t belong.  These painful core beliefs are also called Negative Cognitions and they are operating in the background.  So, if you begin to recite an Affirmation, it’s likely contradicting a Negative Cognition you have about yourself deep down. 

(Note:  All examples in this article are SELF-REFERENCING, meaning about you not other people.  They start with “I am” or “I do” or “I can”.  Something such as “My partner loves and accepts me” is about someone else and is not an Affirmation.) 

Another reason they feel odd is that stating an Affirmation is a thought-only process.  It’s a statement in your mind.  What needs to also occur is: connecting the Affirmation to your body.  Our feelings live in our body and painful past experiences are stored in the body.  You can’t talk your way out of an emotional or physical issue.  Therefore, a cognitive (thought-only) statement isn’t going to be enough to fundamentally shift how you feel about yourself. 

If there’s something you’d prefer to believe about yourself (an Affirmation), here’s how to make that transition from Negative Cognition to Positive Cognition:

  • Work to identify your Negative Cognitions (the things you tell yourself in your worst moments).
  • Search your memory to determine where this painful belief got its start (maybe a traumatic incident such as being an assault survivor or maybe a chronic living situation you coped with).
  • Consider therapy to heal these painful memories (of course, the events of the past cannot be changed, but good therapy can reduce or remove emotions connected to these memories and how you feel about yourself). 
  • Name the Trait you’d like to have instead (Examples are security, trust, love, competency, self-worth, belonging, abundance). 
  • Recall a time you exhibited that Trait (bring to mind the details such as where you were, what you were doing/saying and how you felt in your body at that time or now while you’re recalling this positive experience). 
  • Focus on that body sensation/posture.  It might be shoulders back, love pouring from your heart, an image of being wrapped in comfort or safety, a confident and projecting voice, making eye contact, et cetera. 

NOW it’s time to pair the Affirmation (or Trait) with the Body Sensation/Posture.  Say the positive statement aloud or silently while focusing on where this ‘lives’ in your body (the body sensation, posture or image).  Make this exercise a regular part of each day to build this resource so that when you especially need it, it’s already ‘installed’. 

If you or your partner need help with negative cognitions, contact Couples Therapy Center at 908-246-3074, EXT 1 or email us at getsupport@couplestherapycenterofnj.com. You don’t have to keep living with these negative cognitions. Help is just one phone call/email away.

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