Why Positive Affirmations May Not Work for Everyone

I’m Positive About One Thing; Positive Affirmations Didn’t work…for Me.

Why Positive Affirmations May Not Work for Everyone.

I have had counseling before, several times, throughout my life from my early twenties into my forties. Just scratching the surface on trying to figure “stuff” out.  I would be told, “Sounds like you have low self-esteem, let’s talk about how positive affirmations can help.”  

Positive affirmations are those statements we repeat to challenge our not so positive thinking or unhelpful thoughts.  They are supposed to build you up, reconnect you with your positive qualities and offer encouragement and motivation.  

It was the #1 tool I was always given to try.  

Handouts upon handouts, links to articles, videos with lists of affirmations to use.  Titles like, 40 Positive Affirmations to Add to Your Daily Rotation, 99 Positive Morning Affirmations You Can Use Daily, 20 Best Daily affirmations for Self – Love, 50 Self-Affirmations to Help You Stay Motivated Every Day and the robust 270 Daily Positive Affirmations for Personal Growth.  And those are the ones I can remember! 

                                                                                               

It sounds awesome, and easy, and totally doable…right?  Then why was it not working for me?   I just wasn’t “relating”.  

It wasn’t until my second bout of burnout during the end of 2020 into early 2022 that I started really digging into some self-work with a psychologist who made me realize a few things.

  1. Complex PTSD is often related to adverse childhood experiences and contributes to issues in adulthood.
  2. I have a nervous system that is always on that eventually, burnt out, from overwhelm and overworking (which was a coping mechanism for me) and…ding, ding, ding…
  3. Positive affirmations might not help when experiencing mental health concerns and unhealed trauma.

         

I learned that the reason positive affirmations are probably not working for me is that they target the conscious level of your mind, but not the unconscious.  If what I was trying to affirm is different than a deeply held negative belief, then all that results is an inner struggle.  Positive affirmations were making me feel…worse.

The Struggle is Real.

This is an example of what it looked like for me.  

The Positive Affirmation - Conscious Level My Negative Belief - Unconscious Level
I deserve love and respect.
I am worthy of love and belonging.
Who would love me, I’m fat, unattractive, lazy. I am not smart enough to gain respect. I am not good enough, pretty enough etc. to be worthy of love.
I am valuable and contribute to the world around me. What do I contribute to…nothing! I don’t bring any value to the world, I’m nothing special. [Insert list of all the things I didn’t or couldn’t do or finish]
I am proud of myself for all my big and little victories. I don’t accomplish anything, I’m a failure. Again: [Insert list of all the things I didn’t or couldn’t do or finish]
I am enough. You can do better. You need to do better, be better. No one will want you the way you are now. You are not enough.

The inner struggle or imbalance between the positive affirmation and my deep-rooted negative belief was making me feel worse. I felt like a fraud, an imposter, a liar even. It wasn’t working because I was in survival mode.  It was creating an emotional dissonance (a discrepancy between felt and expressed emotion).

When I was in a dysregulated hyperactive/hypersensitive nervous system state, I was lying to myself and it was a trauma response to try to control or change how I was feeling instead of sitting with the feeling, facing the feeling, and working through it. I was invalidating my true emotions.  

I didn’t know about c-PTSD, adverse childhood experiences, but now I do.  I understand that I can’t just think my way through healing trauma.  I needed/still need to work through it with a psychologist who understands trauma-focused Cognitive Behaviour therapy (CBT).          

                 

The truth is healing feels abnormal, unfamiliar, and super uncomfortable and the mind can resist it. Working with a therapist who understands trauma focused CBT can help us find the way.  The way through, the way to reconnect with our body and mind.  The way to overall wellbeing.

References:

Do Affirmations Work? Research, Psychology, and Tips (psychcentral.com)

Do Positive Affirmations Work? Maybe Not | by Ray Williams | Medium

CPTSD (Complex PTSD): What It Is, Symptoms & Treatment (clevelandclinic.org)

Darlene Pozniak is a 2023 graduate of Nickerson Institute's Integrative Mental Health Coach Training Program. She is employed as a Health and Safety Professional in Alberta, Canada. With 20+ years of understanding the physical side of health and safety at work.  Through personal experiences, she has become passionate about learning and informing others about how childhood trauma affects us as adults at work.  The relation to burnout, and how trauma informed workplaces facilitate psychological safety at work. Because we spend so much time at work, her goal now is to use that time and space to normalize discussions about mental heath in the workplace with hopes more people will be empowered to seek the help they need, to find healing and begin to improve the quality of their overall wellbeing.

Blog Post written by:

The Nickerson Institute of Integrative Health Training deeply appreciates the contribution of this article from our guest health professional. If you would like to submit an article for consideration, please visit https://www.nickersoninstitute.com/blog-contributor-form

More Articles

Preventing Orthorexia
Are Your Long-Term Friendships Ending?
Discover the Healing Secrets of Your Nervous System
The Gift of Soul Level Depression

...

Reducing Medical Errors in the Healthcare Burnout Epidemic
Using AI Brain Scan for Early Detection and Diagnosis of 9 Common Mental Health Issues
The Invisible Emotional Avoidance Epidemic - Part 2
The Invisible Emotional Avoidance Epidemic - Part 1