Friday, May 18, 2012

Positive Affirmations Cause Depression

How many of you have ever read a self help book that told you to look in the mirror and tell yourself something positive?

Kind of like the SNL skit with Al Franken saying: "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me."

It sounds like Peter Pan advice - just think a happy thought.

Has it ever worked for anyone?  I'm not talking about pumping yourself up at the beginning of a game or right before a public speech, I'm talking about just trying to change your self-esteem by telling yourself some positive affirmation.

There was Norman Peale’s book in 1952 called The Power of Positive Thinking.  Since then we've been told to chant: "I’m powerful, I’m strong, and nothing in this world can stop me’’ or "I am a lovable person."

In 2009 the University of Waterloo decided to test the theory.  They had 86 students take a self esteem test.  Then half of them were told to repeat the phrase "I am a lovable person" and then focus on ways in which this statement was true.  They then checked their self-esteem again.

Here were the results:

When people with low self-esteem repeated the statement,‘‘I’m a lovable person’’ or focused on ways in which this statement was true of them, neither their feelings about themselves nor their moods improved—they got worse. Positive self-statements seemed to provide a boost only to people with high self-esteem—those who ordinarily feel good about themselves already—and that boost was small.

WHY did this happen?  We don't really know, but here is my guess.  Those with high self-esteem believed it.  Those with low self-esteem never did.  In fact, when they were saying it their own minds were telling them it was a lie; that they weren't lovable.  This made them feel worse and worse until the exercise was over.

SO -  If Positive Affirmations work for you - Great!  Feel free to keep using them.

If they don't work no matter how much you try - you're normal.  Stop using them.  They're only making you feel worse.

If you want to know what actually works - here's a clue - you have to believe what you say.

My friend Yvonne wrote me in response to this post.  Here are her two cents:

Actually, when I WAS suffering from low self-esteem in junior high and feeling especially bad about myself, I happened to look in the mirror one day and noticed that I had FANTASTIC eyebrows. I FELT the gratitude for the great eyebrow shape I was blessed with and so I said it to myself out loud while looking in the mirror. Then EVERYTIME I looked at myself in the mirror I either thought or said to myself, "I have great eyebrows." Pretty soon I started to appreciate other parts of myself and my level of self-esteem rose and rose and rose.
Another time, when I was feeling discouraged in college and walking home under the starlight (only in Rexburg can you see the stars as clearly as I did that night), I happened to look up and see how crystal clear the stars looked and the cool halo around the moon. In that moment I felt GRATITUDE to my Heavenly Father for creating such a beautiful night sky for me to walk home under that night and then I thought of more and more things to be grateful for. And I continued to say them out loud as I walked home after midnight that night and my discouragement dissipated.
The problem with the SNL skit is that it leaves out the part about "affirmations" that is the MOST important - say things that you TRULY are GRATEFUL for. It is impossible to NOT feel positive emotions and energy when you are stating out loud what your blessings are and that IS what affirmations SHOULD be - sincere blessings you are grateful for!

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