How often have you seen those cringe-worthy memes and posts based on positive affirmations? They seem to pop up on social media every day!
Positive Affirmations are heavily promoted by the self-help industry. If you have good self-esteem and feel confident and sure of yourself, positive affirmations can give you a helpful boost. However, if you are the opposite of this – anxious or perhaps struggling with low mood, then affirmations busting with positivity can be damaging.
Research suggests that positive affirmations are ineffective for people with low self-esteem – they are not helping the very people who tend to use them.
According to a Canadian study in 2009 (Wood, Perunovic and Lee), when people with low self-esteem recite positive affirmations, they feel worse. The study concludes that “repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, such as individuals with high self-esteem, but backfire for the very people who need them the most”.
Researchers asked people who identified as having low self-esteem to recite this affirmation: “I AM A LOVABLE PERSON”. They measured the subject’s mood and how they felt about themselves afterwards. Those with low self-esteem felt worse after being made to recite the positive affirmation. Only those with high self-esteem reported feeling better.
The results of the study suggest that positive affirmations are incongruent with the mindset of those people who have low self-esteem. This creates feelings of conflict and feeling bad, which in turn is a driver for more negative thoughts about themselves.
Perhaps it is the nature of the affirmations that is at fault here. More realistic statements that do not create conflict or trigger negative feelings, but are neutral, are more likely to be accepted. A useful start is an affirmation such as “I AM ENOUGH”.
Understanding the psychology behind the words and their effect on the mood of an individual is important. So if you’ve tried reciting positive affirmations and it’s left you feeling worse, you now know why!
If you struggle with low self-esteem, lack of confidence, anxiety or low mood and feel like you would benefit from professional help, then please get in touch as there are many sound psychological interventions that can help.
For further information check out my website at http://www.mindmakeoveruk.com
Wood, J.V., Perunovic, E., & Lee, J.W. (2009). Positive Self-Statements: Power for Some, Peril for Others. Psychological Science, 20, 860 – 866.