Why Positive Affirmations Can Be Harmful Rather Than Beneficial

Why Positive Affirmations Can Be Harmful Rather Than Beneficial

Positive affirmations are powerful statements that can help boost your self-esteem, confidence, and overall well-being. The concept behind positive affirmations is rooted in the idea that the thoughts we repeatedly tell ourselves can shape our beliefs and attitudes.

I am confident. I am successful. I am strong. These sentences serve as instances of positive affirmations, which are statements that people repeat to themselves in an effort to elevate their mood and increase their sense of self-worth. But be careful while positive affirmations can be an effective tool when used properly, if they are employed incorrectly, they could cause more harm than good.

Overall, studies on positive affirmations have shown mixed results. Positive affirmations may raise mood and self-esteem, according to some research, but others have found that they have little impact or even lower mood and self-esteem, especially in those who already have poor self-esteem.

These kinds of detrimental effects have also been observed in those who are self-conscious about their appearance. For example, repeating affirmations like “I love my body” has been found to lead to lower body satisfaction.

These findings may be explained by the fact that individuals with low self-esteem may find it difficult to believe the encouraging things they are telling themselves. Making statements of this nature can even highlight the gap between their ideal and actual perceptions of oneself, which is a hypothesis known as self-discrepancy theory.

Another concern with using affirmations is that it can lead people to adopt an “it’s all in your head” attitude and fault people for feeling down or for having diagnosable depression. Studies have found that especially when people are just told about the benefits of affirmations without the caveats they are more likely to blame people for having worse mental health.

How to Get the Most Out of Affirmations

So how and when can affirmations be used safely and effectively?

While positive affirmations have a mixed bag of results, values affirmations generally have found beneficial effects. These typically involve two steps:

  • Identify 1-3 values that have personal significance. Examples could include “being a good friend,” “standing for social justice,” or “taking care of my physical health.” These are different for every person.
  • Write about why one of your values is meaningful to you. Take the time to journal and affirm your value and explore how you can express it.

Affirmations of values may be especially beneficial in stressful situations, such as when enhancing the academic performance of students who are experiencing the stress of a challenge to their social identity. Value-based affirmation exercises have been demonstrated to lower cortisol levels, one of the main stress hormones, which has been shown to benefit both the psychological and physiological impacts of stress.

It’s also critical to remember that affirmations are influenced by culture and change depending on contextual elements as well as variations in cultural standards. As a result, affirmations that may have less of an influence on one person, within a specific culture or circumstance, may have a greater impact on others, and vice versa.

Other Self-Statements That Work

Similar to affirmations, research shows that embracing phrases that encourage a growth mentality can aid with mental health. Coined by psychologist Carol Dweck, the idea is that there is almost always room for growth and change.

Studies have found that when people make trait generalizations like “I am smart” (which sounds a lot like positive affirmations), they struggle more in the face of setbacks. Alternatively, when people adopt more of a growth mindset like “I can learn new things” and “I can change,” they tend to bounce back from challenges more easily and have fewer mental health concerns in the face of stressful life events.

In sum, affirmations, like the rest of mental health tools and approaches, are not one-size-fits-all. While they may be helpful for some people, for others, they may be unhelpful or even harmful.

Be aware of the types of affirmations you use and how they influence you if you use affirmations in your mental health toolkit. There are many ways to raise one’s self-esteem, but when in doubt, getting expert assistance might be the best course of action.