Saturday, January 11, 2014

Positive Affirmations: Costs and Benefits

A page entitled Affirmation for Stress suggests that we affirm ourselves in this manner:
  •  I love myself deeply and unconditionally… I am confident about solving life’s problems successfully… I transcend stress of any kind. I live in peace… I am social and I like meeting people… All is well in my world and I am safe.
Psychotherapy depends upon the same materials. The Calm Clinic adds:
  • While it may sound like bologna at times, positive thinking really does play a significant role in dealing with anxiety, and challenging your negative thoughts has the potential to provide your mind with some relief over its anxiety symptoms. That's why many people use affirmations. Affirmations are type of "new age" positivity technique that is designed to counter negative thinking by repeating positive phrases to yourself, and many people use these affirmations to help them control their anxiety.
While in the short run, affirmations can provide a lift, but what are the implications of living on a diet of artificial, distorted thoughts? Randy Paterson, PhD writes about their down-side:
  • Positive thinking can get us into as much trouble as negative thinking. Both depart from reality, and reacting based on an incorrect fantasy about reality can lead to all kinds of problems. Indebtedness, lack of preparation, bankruptcy, academic failure, war (“We’ll invade their country and they’ll welcome us with open arms…”), you name it. 
I know a lot about this down-side but also the up-side. I had suffered from truck-loads of social anxiety and self-contempt. Positive affirmations therefore were tailor-made for me, and I quickly discovered their benefits. As a 14 year-old, I would adore my muscled frame in the mirror while telling myself, “You are a hunk; the girls secretly adore you.”

It worked! I went to school with a confidence that broke through the discomfort. However, once I got there, I quickly found that reality didn’t agree with the narrative I had created. I found that the girls preferred the class-clown, the athlete, and even the bad-boy.

The taller you are, the harder you fall. But no matter! I’d build myself up again. However, in order to reach the original “high,” I’d have to now saturate myself with even more grandiose affirmations: “I am the greatest catch a woman can have. I am superior to all the others!” This got me out of bed, but the fall that followed was even more painful.

Gradually, I was living in two different realities – one that I manufactured and the real world. I call my affirmations “reality” because, we have to believe that they are the truth in order for them to work. This is no game that we can just turn on and off. This is a battle of self-definition. Although I might win a momentary victory, I was gradually removing myself from reality and relationship. Relationship requires real sharing. However, I was no longer in a place to share the common reality from which I had removed myself.

I needed my positive-affirmation-drug to remain marginally functional. However, I also needed others to affirm the distorted reality that I had created for myself, and there were no takers. It’s hard to find people who will affirm that you are Albert Einstein or one of the super-heroes.

What then is the answer? Self-acceptance! But how can we accept ourselves when we cannot even face ourselves and are addicted to a diet of lies? Only a powerful replacement drug can suffice. All of my psychotherapists merely attempted to validate my dysfunctional self-validations, reinforcing my woes.

I needed a new and real self-definition – one that would allow me to get out of bed in the morning and face myself in view of all of my warts. This only came through my Savior Jesus. I am now convinced that He loves and accepts me despite my failures and unworthiness. Therefore, I can begin to accept myself and even accept others!

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