Have you ever heard of or tried the practice of affirmations? Affirmations, or to affirm oneself through positive statements, is becoming an increasingly popular action in people’s self-care routines. In addition, affirmations can help counter negative emotional experiences, such as self-doubt and anxiety.
But why are affirmations so popular? For some, on a surface level it may not seem like saying “I am enough” actually makes you feel enough. These hesitations are valid, after all, simply saying something does not make it exist. However, affirmations go well beyond simply saying a positive statement.
In today’s article, we are going to dive into the psychology behind affirmations, discuss why this is important, and talk about what you can do. As you may find, this practice may be more than what it seems on the surface.
The Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Behind Affirmations
Affirmations have a powerful place in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, also known as CBT. In summary, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy discusses the connections between thoughts, feelings, and actions. (For more information on CBT feel free to check out our articles on the modality at online-therapy.com/blog)
The critical part of these three components when it comes to affirmations is thoughts. Oftentimes what we think will in turn influence how we feel. Take the following hypothetical scenario for example:
Jenny and Jessica have a meeting with their boss and some of their colleagues where they need to make a presentation. Jenny has the thought “I am going to forget part of this presentation and I am going to embarrass myself.” Meanwhile, Jessica thinks, “I got this. Even if I forget a part, I am confident I can improvise.”
How do you think Jenny and Jessica will feel or act as a result? Most likely Jenny will feel more nervous than Jessica and Jenny may be more withdrawn during the presentation, while Jessica may seem more confident.
How we think is powerful, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy emphasis that. In fact, there are entire portions of treatment while utilizing CBT that are exclusively surrounding evaluating thoughts. If we think negatively about ourselves, but it makes us feel bad and gets in the way with our routine, we want to start adopting more positive thoughts. This is where affirmations come in. Our affirmations can become the positive thoughts we not only want, but perhaps need in order to feel more at ease.
Why This is Important
Affirmations as a source of positive thinking is powerful. Now that we know thoughts can affect mood and how we respond, if we have more confident, positive thoughts, we will feel less distressing and more positive emotion. This in turn will help us act calmer and more confidently.
However, you may be thinking to yourself now, “but if I really think I am not enough, just saying I am a few times won’t make me automatically believe it.” The truth is that is correct. You will not jump from one extreme to the other. However, what will happen in these cases is you will find examples to counter the thought “I am not enough” and those examples will become your affirmations.
Let’s look at the following hypothetical scenario:
Ben has difficulties with his levels of self-esteem. He has trouble getting and holding down a steady job, and he and his husband have been arguing more in the past few months. Ben has thought to himself on more than one occasion recently “I am not enough.”
With the help of his therapist, Ben has been able to identify some areas where he is thriving and having success with. One of these areas is with his daughter, who he spends a lot of time with. Another area is with his best friend, Jim, who he sees every Friday to watch the latest episode of their favorite series. When Ben gets a rejection letter from a job or an argument with his spouse, Ben thinks, “I may not feel enough right now, but I am enough. I make my daughter and Jim happy, and they think that I am enough as I am.”
With the example of Ben, his affirmation may look like any of the following:
“I am a good father and friend, so I must be enough.”
“Just because I do not get this job doesn’t mean I am not enough.”
“An argument doesn’t mean I am not enough.”
“I am enough: and my daughter and Jim remind me of that.”
As you can see, an affirmation can be very specific. Sometimes, when we make our affirmations not only relevant, but also specific, it becomes easier to incorporate and integrate.
What You Can Do
Now that you know the psychology behind affirmations, it is time discuss what you can do with that information.
First, you are going to want to identify what area(s) of your life you want to incorporate the practice of affirmations in. Then, you are going to want to decide what types of affirmations you want to use.
Some people, for example, use simple, broad statements like “I am enough.” They are empowering, to the point, and easy to remember. Others like to use quotes from books, music, or media, as it resonates well with them. Finally, some like to use specific examples, like with the Ben scenario. These affirmations are good for people who like to look at proof or have doubts.
Lastly, you will create an affirmation based on the type of affirmation and area of life you want to apply it. To help get you started, we have provided a list of examples of broad, quote, and specific affirmations to jumpstart your journey. Of course, this list is not exhaustive, and feel free to expand upon it.
List of Affirmations
- I am enough
- This too shall pass
- I can do this
- “Be the change you want to see” – Mahatma Gandhi
- “She believed she could, so she did” – R.S. Grey
- “Mental health is not a destination, but a process”- Noam Shpancer
- I did ________, so that must mean I am ________
- There are people who care about me like ____________
- I have done _________ before, which means I can do it again