Rebuilding Relationship with Self: Creating Affirmations that Work
If you're anything like some of the clients I see in my office, you're reading this blog post because your relationship with yourself isn't quite what it needs to be. Maybe you spend too much time beating yourself up and your internal dialogue is unkind at best. Maybe you've tried positive affirmations, only to have the attempt fall flat. This blog post discusses why your attempts at utilizing positive affirmations might not be working, with suggestions on how to create affirmations that really work.
To better understand your relationship with self, I find it helpful to incorporate what we know about intimate relationships. John and Julie Gottman are well-known marital researchers with decades of experience studying what makes relationships happy and successful. They talk about the importance of The Magic Ratio, which they describe as a healthy ratio between positive to negative interactions with your partner. The Gottmans specify that the optimal ratio is 5:1, meaning for every one negative feeling/interaction, there needs to be at least five positive feelings/interactions. When negative interactions outweigh positive ones, couples end up in "negative sentiment override," and your view of your partner becomes distorted. Positive or neutral experiences or actions are seen as negative, and you stop giving your partner the benefit of the doubt.
Can we apply this knowledge to our relationship with our self? What happens when our self-talk and feelings/experiences with ourselves become overwhelmingly negative? Is it possible that our view of ourselves can become distorted and we stop giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt? After working with so many individuals whose relationship with self is suffering, I'm a firm believer that "negative sentiment override" can exist in our relationship with self.
Enter positive affirmations. Over the years as a therapist, I have worked with many clients to develop positive affirmations in an effort to increase the ratio of positive to negative self-talk. Oftentimes, I would feel like I hit a wall and affirmations were falling flat for my clients. It took time and reflection to understand some common reasons why affirmations weren't doing the job.
These common mistakes prevent those affirmations from taking root.
1) The affirmation feels like a lie. If your affirmation conflicts with a deeply held belief about yourself, it may feel inauthentic and be unable to take root. We teach our clients to create more authentic affirmations. For example, if your negative core belief is “I’m not good enough” you might have a difficult time with an affirmation like, “I’m good enough just the way that I am.”
Instead, consider creating positive affirmations that can neutralize inauthenticity while still expressing intent:
▫️“I’m learning to believe I’m good enough.”
▫️“I’m developing a belief in my worth.”
▫️“I’m learning to accept that imperfection is part of the human experience.”
2) The ratio of positive to negative self-talk is off. If you spend 5 minutes a day saying kind things about yourself, but the remaining 23+ hours are spent beating yourself up and tearing yourself apart, you are effectively starving the seeds that you plant with your affirmations. Simultaneously reducing negative self-talk while increasing positive, self-compassionate internal dialogue is the key the improving the ratio.
3) You’re not taking action. Sometimes we allow our deepest fears and insecurities to dictate our choices. If we believe we're not good enough, we're likely to make choices that reflect (and worse, reinforce) that belief. For positive affirmations to take root, words alone are insufficient. Our actions need to start aligning with the affirmations.
▫️What would you do if you believed you were good enough?
▫️How would you treat yourself if you understood that imperfections are an acceptable, normal part of being human?
▫️What would your relationships with others look like if you had belief in your worth and value?
I'm a firm believer that our relationship with self sets the foundation for our relationships with others, and then relationships with others confirm our beliefs about ourselves. If that is the case, it is absolutely critical that we heal our relationship with self if it is lacking compassion and kindness. What else have you found helpful in healing your relationship with self? We'd love to hear from you! And if you are struggling in this arena, we have amazing therapists who are eager to help you on the journey towards greater self-compassion.
Carrie Nicholes is a Maryland Board approved Licensed Certified Social Worker - Clinical (LCSW-C) and the founder of Cedar Counseling & Wellness. Recognized as one of the top therapists in Annapolis, she has a lifelong passion for teaching people tools to improve their lives.