Many addicts and alcoholics suffer from chronic low self-esteem. We doubt ourselves, see ourselves as something less than human. Some of us feel we don’t deserve to be loved, or that we don’t deserve to be forgiven for the harm we caused while under the influence. We hold incredibly negative views of ourselves, and we struggle with these views every day. In therapy, some therapists might recommend that we try daily affirmations in order to better our views of ourselves. But some remain skeptical of such an approach. They wonder: Do daily affirmations really work at all?
This is a difficult question, but one which we intend to cover in this article. In order to do this, we must look at the issue from both sides. We must look at those who say they work wonders, and those who say they do not work at all. After all, while affirmations may sound great in theory, it seems hard to believe that saying a few nice things while looking in the mirror could really change our outlook on life. This is especially true if we find that we do not believe the things that we are saying to ourselves.
We intend to look at a couple of articles arguing both sides of the debate. We will also use some anonymous quotes from people who said that affirmations either did or did not work for them. Then, we will look at these results and put in our own two cents. We cannot persuade you one way or the other, but perhaps we can help you to decide for yourselves. If you decide after reading this that affirmations are for you, we support your decision. If not, we will also support your decision. In the end, the choice is yours and yours alone.
Affirmations Do Work
There is one article on Psychology Today that notes affirmations can work for you if you follow five simple rules. The first is to make a list of everything that you don’t like about yourself. Second, decide on the opposites of these qualities and determine appropriate affirmations for them. For instance, you might say “I deserve to be loved” or “I am a good person.” We’ve heard some people recommend stronger affirmations such as “everyone loves me” or “I am a hero,” but these can be dangerous if you do not believe them.
Their third step is to spend five minutes saying your affirmations or writing them down. They also say to do this three times each day. They note that your style of writing may change once your affirmations begin to work. Their fourth step is a bit complicated. They want you to see if your body feels uncomfortable in certain places when you speak certain negative thoughts. If it does, you are meant to hold your hand over the affected area when reading your affirmations. This is supposed to make you feel a positive physical connection to what you are saying. The fifth step is to have a friend or other trusted individual read your affirmations to you. This should help drive them home.
We asked a recovering alcoholic his own thoughts on the matter. Here is what he said:
“I never did the physical part, and I never had anyone read them to me. But even without that [stuff], my affirmations worked wonders. The most important part, I think, was my actions. When I first spoke my affirmations, I didn’t believe them. Instead of giving up, I decided to change my behavior in ways that would make them more believable. I became more worthy of love and self-esteem. I became the person I wanted to be.”
In other words, this man’s affirmations drove him to become a better person. He identified his negative beliefs and how they had influenced his actions. Then, he told himself that he could be better. Finally, he took the steps to become more like the person his affirmations described. Because he was able to identify the source of his doubt and his low self-esteem, he was able to counteract these things more effectively.
Affirmations Do Not Work
There is an article on Huffington Post that counters the above theory in an interesting way. First, it starts by noting some research which is critical of affirmations. In this research, it was discovered that those with low self-esteem often felt worse after reciting their daily mantras. In fact, giving in to their negative thoughts actually made them feel better. The conclusion was that affirmations work for those who are already capable of maintaining their self-esteem. But for those who are not, their recitations simply thrust them into a state of cognitive dissonance. Their words do not match their feelings, and this becomes quite troubling for them. Fortunately, the author of this article has developed a solution for those who find themselves in such a position.
Her answer is not to forgo affirmations altogether, but rather to keep them neutral. Instead of telling yourself that you feel great when you do not, she advocates telling yourself that you have had worse days. She advocates accepting yourself for who you are instead of who you’d like to become. In this way, a person can accept their reality before eventually improving it. In many ways, this lines up with the quote we published above. It may take a while, but the author of the Huffington Post article believes that neutrality can lead to true positivity over time.
We spoke to a recovering drug addict who tried something similar, and this is what she said:
“They told me to spend each morning writing down positive thoughts. That I was beautiful and not afraid of anything. But I still hated my body and I still felt terrified every day. Eventually, I simply told myself that I was good enough to make it through the day. This helped me a lot. Eventually, I was able to move on to more positive thoughts. Once I did that, it wasn’t long before I didn’t need the affirmations at all. I still use them from time to time, but not every day.”
Note that this article never technically says that affirmations don’t work at all. The point is that they cannot be unrealistic. This author, and the addict quoted, believe that we will not benefit from saying things that we do not feel we can believe. Instead, they believe we must find ways of working our way up. We start by eliminating the negative before embracing the positive. In this way, they feel daily affirmations might work. They simply believe that strictly positive affirmations will not.
Our Own Two Cents
The second article appears to contain some decent points. Thinking of ourselves in a more positive manner is great, and those of us who are able to wrangle our thoughts in such a fashion should try it. But if normal affirmations do not work for us, then we may wish to give neutrality a shot. Even if it takes a bit longer for our self-esteem to go up, this is better than nothing. As long as we can accept that we are not horrible people, we can eventually learn to see ourselves as good ones.
We might also point out something from the second quote. This individual states that she does not use affirmations every day, but still uses them when she needs them. If our self-esteem is chronically low, then using neutral or positive affirmations every day might help us. But once it begins to raise a bit, we might only need them in specific instances. We might use them before a date, or a job interview. Perhaps we find that we are simply having a bad day and need a bit of a lift. Even if we have not used affirmations daily for some time, we might consider using them in such instances.
The point of affirmations is not to change who we are, but rather simply how we feel about ourselves. As such, we must figure out what works for us. Positivity will work for some of us, while neutrality may turn out to be the best course of action for others. You might consider trying each approach for a few days or a couple of weeks. This should give you an idea as to which approach works better for you. With this in mind, you can move forward with the approach upon which you have decided.
Affirmations are never a bad thing. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with telling ourselves that we do not give ourselves enough credit. That said, we cannot make claims that are impossible to believe. And whether we opt for positivity or neutrality, we must give ourselves time to start believing the things we say. Otherwise, we may actually do more harm than good by setting impossible expectations for ourselves. But if we keep our expectations realistic and try to perform actions that support our affirmations, we will be in a good spot. This has worked for others, and it can most assuredly work for us. We simply need to give it a chance.