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I Am Good Enough and People Like Me - Why I Hate Affirmations

June 13, 2011 Natasha Tracy

At some point in the past 40 years some (undoubtedly) new-age guru decided saying nice things to yourself in the mirror was the key to happiness.

"Yay me. I'm so great. Look at me go."

Really? Seriously? You need to look in the mirror and say that to yourself? And you're buying it? Are you four?

BBE024"I am beautiful. I will appreciate myself the way I am. I don't need society to dictate how I should look or how I should feel; I love me."

OK, honestly, if you did think this before you said it into the mirror, are you really going to suddenly have a change of heart?

Internal and integral to the human mind is conflict. I've written massively conflicting feelings many times. Some of it has to do with a mood episode, or bipolar in general, and some of it simply has to do with the fact that I'm a philosopher and regularly rattle between specific viewpoints.

I know what I believe and I know what is true. And those things often don't match.

The Chalice of Truthiness

truthiness (ˈtruːθɪˌnəs)- n informal (of a belief, etc) the quality of being considered to be true because of what the believer wishes or feels, regardless of the facts

For example, terrorists are evil. That's a truthiness seen in the press all the time. But in fact, terrorists are not malevolent beings sent here to "be evil." In fact they are children and parents and brothers and sisters and people who hate broccoli. It just so happens the views of these people are very strongly held and they choose to express their views in a manner that hurts others.

Of course, axis of evil fits on a bumper sticker.

The same is true of everything. I don't think I am a particularly pretty person. Actually, alone, at night, in the dark, I could list a raft of physical characteristics I don't like.

But those things aren't real. They just feel real, at that moment in time.

And fighting one false notion with a saccharin-worded, new-age, Oprah-approved message is nonsense. I suggest you give your head a shake, realize that your view isn't exactly reality and learn to live with the conflict endemic to the human condition.

You Had It All Along

When you feel ugly, you know what your next thought should be? I am not ugly; I am just feeling ugly right now. My perception is just a thought and has no true basis in reality.

That's the knowledge you have within you. Right now. I know this isn't news to you. It isn't news to anyone. Everyone knows societal ideals of how we should look, act and feel are false. No smarmy saying is going to give you any insight there.

The insight is in you. Reading a sentence gives you nothing. Knowing from within gives you everything.

Words Can Be Cues

OK, I get it; sometimes we need a poke in the ribs to remember what we already know. Happens all the time. Personally, I would rather sit down and ponder the situation, go to therapy or read a book rather than reciting lines. But that's me.
gnostic_boh

Affirmations Are Superficial

Affirmations are a way of thinking you're doing something without actually doing anything. You know what's easy? Parroting lines. You know what's hard? Knowing yourself.

And no affirmation is ever going to tell you what you really need to know - who you are.

"Knowing ourselves and being willing to stand for who we are makes life authentic." June Singer, "A Gnostic Book of Hours"

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2011, June 13). I Am Good Enough and People Like Me - Why I Hate Affirmations, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, October 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2011/06/i-am-good-enough-and-people-like-me-why-i-hate-affirmations



Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleTwitter, InstagramFacebook and YouTube.

Fanny Rocket
July, 16 2014 at 3:33 am

Good on you for finding something that works for you. That sort of thinking worked for me & the whole time I thought it was just my personal CBT training ;)
Troth is, there's a reason why there are different modalities available for any kind of help. So just because it's not suitable for you (or even if you simply don't understand it), doesn't make it wrong :)

lee
April, 8 2013 at 3:23 pm

full of shit. Affirmations DO work, but not if you are stay at home and don't make any lifestyle changes. Plus, being consistent is key. This author sounds like a bitter, negative, woman lol, u really want to take advice from somebody that doesn't have their mental stuff together, or someone that does??
i can imagine what the Author is doing, eating a donut in front of the mirror repeating, I AM SKINNY, I AM LOSING WEIGHT, tries it for a week, doesn't see results and writes this blog. I do affirmation and swear by them, don't let some bitter woman, change your views because of a limited life experience.

Jim in Texas
January, 17 2013 at 4:03 am

I so agree. I thought at first, when going through my own recovery from alcoholism and depression, that these would be helpful, and when they failed to make me feel better, I blamed myself for simply not trying hard enough to believe them (an action that simply made me feel worse about myself.) They are treacly, saccharine, and cloying, and if you are on FaceBook or Twitter, EVERYWHERE. The social media phenomenon has seemingly spawned a generation of "life coaches" who spout these things like Pez dispensers. I don't think I've ever seen/read/heard one that I genuinely considered original, or that provided any insight that had not occurred to me in the first place. I've never been slapped in the forehead by the supposed wisdom, and in fact, most them tend to be just variations on the same theme. Newsweek had an excellent article a couple of weeks about the failure of New Year's resolutions in which it was stated that recent psychological research points to the fact that people with low self esteem tend to feel worse about themselves after repeating positive affirmations. I think they are largely based in denial, and the people I know who spread them the most I consider to have a lot of self denial.

Jim
January, 19 2012 at 10:15 am

Thanks Natasha,
You have helped, along with the other contributors.
I think one problem is that things like that help many but not everyone. Perhaps it's a majority/ minority thing in terms of temperment and personality. They're superficial, but that's all the NHS (in the UK) will offer because approaches like that are time limited and therefore cheap.
Also, as someone else pointed out, I think that sort of thing will help with the psychological equivalent of minor cuts and bruises but little more.
I think we need to be creative in finding our own ways of helping ourselves. I think there are plenty about if you look for them. This forum as one example! We also need the courage of our convictions to stick to them and to disregard advice from people who think differently to us. I think we need to disregard any disapproval that may come our way regarding our own idea of what helps us as well.
It's really helped me to know there are others who think like me anyway.
Hey, writing is quite therapeutic! Maybe I'll start a blog!
Jim.

Natasha Tracy
January, 19 2012 at 6:13 am

Hi Jim,
No problem. You don't have to add brilliant insights to comment :)
" I turned myself inside out trying to make it work for me. "
Yeah, that's the trouble. We _do_ turn ourselves inside out trying to make things work that are just never going to. And then we believe there is something wrong with us because of it. But there's nothing wrong with us. We're just not responding in a positive way. Which is OK.
I'm glad I could help and show you you're not alone on this one.
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
January, 19 2012 at 6:08 am

Hi Amanda,
Thanks for the comment. You're right that self-lies can cause problems for everyone.
I agree about the logical brain. Telling yourselves truths, even if you don't believe them, is important in some cases and it can fight the bipolar brain.
- Natasha

Jim
January, 19 2012 at 5:07 am

Wow. I wish this post was more recent but then Amanda commented yesterday so thought I'd give my thoughts.
I've been thinking exactly the same things recently. I'm not diagnosed as BP yet but a mood stabiliser is helping me (touch wood) so I might 'have' it. Not that this discussion is exclusively relevant to BP sufferers but anyway...
A friend of mine suggested doing that a while ago (the mirror affirmation thing) when I was going through a crisis. Very well meant and it worked for her but of course I turned myself inside out trying to make it work for me. It didn't, and I'm starting to see what does work for me now.
"I know what I believe and I know what is true. And those things often don’t match."
This is a massively relevant issue for me at the moment and is what I've been struggling with recently. It seemed to be the theme of my most recent crisis. I've been getting perspective on it though and reading this discussion has bolstered it.
Anyway, sorry if I've added no new insights, but I was so excited to come across thoughts so close to my own that I had to write something!
I wholeheartedly agree with both the original post and the other replies and it's really refreshing to have read them :)

Amanda
January, 18 2012 at 3:22 pm

I agree, empty self-praise is meaningless. Telling myself I'm as good looking as a starlet is just telling lies. (Self-lies have caused me so many problems, why would I willingly do so again?)
On the other hand, grabbing control of the negative things, the things my logical brain says aren't true, the things I tell myself out of self-loathing, is something I think I need to do. In the same vein, telling myself the truths about myself, the good things, is just as valid. Those are the things I say to myself to build up, and I think this is worthwhile. Logically, if many people have told you you have beautiful hair, you can safely assume you do have beautiful hair and say that to yourself when you're feeling bad about yourself physically. I try to let my logical brain win over my bipolar as much as I can.

Natasha Tracy
July, 7 2011 at 9:43 am

Jenn,
"“You’re a cool dudette!”"
Now _that's_ a new_, and funny one.
- Natasha

Jenn
July, 6 2011 at 6:12 pm

A therapist once told me to look in the mirror and say: "You're a cool dudette!" And he was not trying to be silly. (That aside, he's actually an awesome therapist. But I busted out laughing when he in all seriousness suggested that.)

Te
June, 18 2011 at 8:55 pm

I love it. You nailed it. The superficial doesn't work for me. You explained the ISSUE that the affirmation is supposed to address. Our perceptions are a little off sometimes. Or a LOT off. Affirmations are like band aids - good for paper cuts, but when you have a deep wound that needs stitches, addressing the differences between perception and reality seems to be a better choice. This is true in my experience, at least.

Natasha Tracy
June, 16 2011 at 2:27 pm

Hi Alistair,
"fuzzy-headed magical thinking"
Yes, that's a rather large irritant for me as well. That phrase is excellent. Fuzzy-headed and magical thinking indeed.
Thanks.
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
June, 16 2011 at 2:25 pm

Hi Chrisa,
Yup, people chanting in a circle isn't my thing either. I don't want to diss support groups, because certainly many people find them extremely useful, but it kind of reminds me of Brownies (that's like Girl Guides) from when I was a kid.
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
June, 16 2011 at 2:23 pm

To all those who mentioned reframing -
Yes, the "ugly" statements would be called reframing in different types of therapy. I hadn't thought about it when I wrote the post. To me it's just plain old logic and reason. But professionals have to give that a fancy name
:)
- Natasha

Alistair McHarg
June, 16 2011 at 10:03 am

Bravo! I also loathe the fuzzy-headed magical thinking behind the little click here campaigns I see on FB - "Click Here To End World Hunger" - "Click Here To Bring Peace To Switzerland" - "Click Here To Buy Some Humility For Oprah" --- As if hard problems could ever be solved to easily, from the comfort of your chair. -- Keep up the good work, A

Chrisa
June, 16 2011 at 9:01 am

Amen, sister. This is why I avoid many support groups - lots of affirmations. I don't care if it's Weight Watchers or group therapy, it seems to be an integral part and it irritates me.

Angela McClanahan
June, 15 2011 at 7:04 am

there is "reframing"--which you described (I'm not ugly, I just feel ugly now), which can be helpful, and then there is "reaffirming," which is bs. it didn't work for stuart smalley, and it rarely works for anyone else. reframing is more "acknowledging reality and putting a more positive spin on it," which i think is much more beneficial in the long term.

Randye Kaye
June, 15 2011 at 4:10 am

Hi Natasha - I love this post! What you say is so true. I used to travel around the country teaching "Managing Emotions Under Stress" for a seminar company, and while I found lots of the concepts helpful in general, I stayed away from teaching affirmations. Too many hours spent in the car, listening to tapes, feeling guilty because the "magic affirmations" just weren't taking hold or getting any more believable.
I now teach "seven phrases" when I speak about happiness, that are more based in reality.. One is "whatever happens, I will handle it somehow" - because we all know that stuff happens. Thanks for a great post!
Randye

Kate White
June, 14 2011 at 10:13 am

hi Natasha and jake,
i like the notion of 're-affirmations'. i don't think we need necessarily post-it note it to the mirror but i can see how a reminder now and then could definitely be a good thing; sometimes mental illness can be a terribly dehumanizing and isolating experience.
"Affirmations are a way of thinking you’re doing something without actually doing anything."
I love that line. In a lot of cases I think that's exactly how it goes. Oprah's book club has its place but it isn't where I'd go if I really needed help.
If someone is using an affirmation to establish a commitment to themselves, I think that can probably be a bit different but it's rare you see it used that way.

jake
June, 14 2011 at 9:05 am

I read Kates, article and I completely agree. I think that there a lot of therapists that don't fully understand CBT nor apply it correctly.
I don't think you can "train" someone out of BP, if that were possible I would be fully functional all the time.
Where I think CBT is effective is in dealing with self-destructive habits that can contribute to mental health breakdowns ie: learning how to take different forks in the road then familiar dangerous ones.
My point about affirmations would be better made if I said I like "re-affirmations". I need to remind myself and be reminded that I am a valid human being even when I feel (falsely) that I am not.

Natasha Tracy
June, 14 2011 at 8:19 am

Hi Jake,
It's OK to disagree. I rather thought some people would.
I know CBT involves a lot of affirmations and I'm not crazy about that either.
You are right, our view is distorted. But me telling you (the generic you) that isn't nearly as helpful as you realizing it yourself. You won't believe me. You'll believe you.
- Natasha

jake
June, 14 2011 at 8:13 am

Affirmations can be a postive way to reprogram your brain. They do not have to be unrealistic. Sometimes our view of ourselves is negatively distorted, reaffirming self-worth is probaby not a bad thing.
CBT involves a lot of self-affirmation.
I think I disagree with you or I am not clear on your point.
cheers Jake

Natasha Tracy
June, 14 2011 at 7:50 am

Hi Ash,
Excellent. I do love me a good Colbert, but that's a real word, not something he made up (which I thought he had). (No one seems to know that.)
And yes, affirmations are serious nonsense for people with severe mental illnesses. I tried affirmations for ages believing there was something wrong with me for them not working. Nope. Just fell victim to the nonsense.
- Natasha

Ash
June, 14 2011 at 7:37 am

Love this. I tried affirmations, and it's hard to suddenly believe it when at the time you are feeling like complete and utter shit. Also loved the Colbert reference.

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