Can Affirmations Make a Difference?May 18, 2020
Ah, good ol’ affirmations. Some swear by them: They have the power to change your brain and change your life. Some (I was historically in this next category) cringe, thinking they are silly, optimistic lies we tell ourselves to relieve our present moment discomfort.
Opening Up The Possibilities
Affirmations snuck up on me. Some time in my 20’s, out of emotional desperation, fatigued by the constant inner noise of judgment, comparison and sarcasm from my own critic, I secretly began to make affirmations. I suspected they may be silly, but I was desperate to feel a bit better…or at least a bit not as terrible.
I started to open to a possible new way of maybe thinking. That’s how the affirmations started for me. I was open to the possibility that maybe. That was all I could do. I couldn’t yet state anything for sure. I couldn’t claim my power. I could only say, “maybe” and “possibly.” So that’s where I started, with this little choice. I was not aware of how powerful this “little” choice would turn out to be.
Just a few days ago a client (and wise woman beyond her ability yet to see) shared a story about a squirrel trapped in a wall. She saw a video with people doing their best to rescue him. They cut a hole in the wall and held up a bucket. The squirrel kept running, slamming into the wall and then slamming into the sides of the bucket. No way out.
In every direction Squirrel ran, no matter how much commitment or force he applied…he crashed into an immovable, impenetrable wall. The truth, from the perspective of Squirrel, was that he was certainly and completely trapped. He could run hard and hit his head, or he could collapse in fatigue and hopelessness, but either way, he was not getting out.
The truth about Squirrel was that Squirrel was stuck. A truth that was not accessible to Squirrel was that the walls of the bucket, though nearly identical to the walls of the house, were not identical. The bucket was held by helpful humans. The bucket walls would not change, that was true, but there were forces capable of moving the entire bucket. Inside the bucket, though it seemed just as hopeless as the walls of the house, Squirrel and bucket together could be moved outside and placed in an open field. Freedom.
Consider a Seed
Let’s try one more. Consider a seed. If you don’t know the possibilities inside the seed, and all you see are the external, obvious characteristics of the seed as the seed is at this moment, there is no hope of apple. Excitement for apple comes from an understanding that there is more to seed that you can see.
If you desire an apple tree and you look at a single apple seed without understanding the potential it carries when placed in a fertile and nurturing environment, you feel poor. No tree. No apple. One single, pointless seed.
Similarly, if you are driven solely by a need to feed your hunger today, seed loses its magic. But, if you can combine the effort required to plant, water, and tend to seed and growing plant with the patience to allow it to grow at its own pace…then…then you have an apple tree. Freedom.
An affirmation is a not lofty lie of a perfect version of the self. An affirmation is a statement affirming the possibility that there is more than what we exactly see right now.
It affirms that what is here now may be a seed, and that there may be a matured version of that seed that bears fruit different than the seed, unattended, alone can bear.
Sometimes we try on, “I am beautiful as I am,” and we just don’t believe it.
We say in earnest, “I deserve love,” and then we’re flooded with images of people who rejected us, feelings of inferiority, memories of failures, etc. We dismiss the thought as quickly as it came. So, how can we help affirmations resonate with our present, imperfect (and probably critical) self?
If you respond to your familiar, critical thoughts and feelings of shame or inferiority by dismantling the new seed of “I deserve love” before it can sprout, it will never grow to a fruiting feeling of love. We must understand that the seed of “I deserve love” feels, sounds and looks very different than the fully matured and ripe, “I deserve love.”
When we expect a new seed to be ripe, we get discouraged and never plant the garden. And when don’t plant the garden, there is no fruit to harvest. The fruitless reality is not because fruit doesn’t exist or is impossible. It is because no seeds were planted, tended to, and cared for with attention, discipline, and patience.
Affirmations Are Not Effective In a Memorized Way of Being
Affirmations are not effective when we try to brainwash ourselves into a memorized way of being. That’s how we already are. That is how I already am. Do we get that? Do we REALLY get that? What we think about ourselves today may not actually be what we really, all conditioning aside, think about ourselves.
When we arrive in adulthood, much of what we think about ourselves is no longer a genuine reflection of how we feel about a self that we are deeply, sincerely and intimately in relationship with.
Our beliefs about ourselves are, in large part, a huge bowl of steaming soup, containing some percentage of what “you” really think, but also containing large and flavorful additions of opinions and conditioning from your family of origin, your wounds, the (as Joseph Campbell calls it) accident of geography you were born into, and so on. Not only are our judgements, criticisms and preferences often reflections of this co-created soup, but the very “self” that we are judging is also a reflection of this soup.
Most of us, at some point in childhood, had an undomesticated, not-yet-confined and sterilized, wild self that had the capacity to see trees in all the seeds. Then, we started to agree with the nonsense that we were too much, too little, too fat, too boring, too hyper, too needy, and so on.
We looked around, we saw walls everywhere, so we got quiet about who we thought we might be. Some of us have been quiet for so long, we have started to forget. We no longer accurately decipher between the walls of the static house and the walls of the movable bucket.
The You That is Free
Affirmations are you, sitting with your wild child before she/he/they were scared into being smaller and quieter, telling the truth to yourself about what you imagine may be possible for you. Dreaming big about who and how you would like to be in and express yourself to the world. And, the fun catch is…The you that is free and wild does not actually care that much if what it imagines is exactly possible or not.
That version of you is so inspired by the image that it feels infused with life by imagining. That version of you feeds on the energy of the inspiration, not the acquisition of the outcome.
Driven by inspired energy, we achieve, experience and embody far more than when driven by discouragement.
I don’t know how the universe works. Sometimes I have glimpses and I think, “I get it!” But, I don’t really know. I think most of us, at some point, lose our sense of direction. We think we know what reality and life are, and then suddenly everything changes in ways we didn’t even imagine and it makes us question it all. So, I don’t know what is “true” or not. Not really.
But what I think I know is that I am a better human when I am honest with while also showing grace toward myself, when my inner voice is kind, and when I am connected to my wild child’s excitement and inspiration. I am my best self when I go beyond what I see, and I hold with care and attention what I seed.
ABOUT THE AUTHORAngela Taylor LCSW, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has a dedicated private practice. As a mental health professional, she provides expertise and understanding for the changes that come along after bariatric surgery. Angela is consulted regularly as a weight management and eating disorder expert.
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