“Affirmations? Really?” That used to be what I thought about them. Of course my introduction to them was from the Saturday Night Live’s character, Stuart Smalley. His daily affirmation of, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggonit, people like me.” This scathing introduction to the world of self-help was just the type of fuel an adolescent me needed, to show me that self-help was for the “weak”. It also give me the fuel to make fun of those willing to look for something that would help them. Making them stronger and more resilient. Of course I was thirteen and knew everything at the time. So I should probably cut my younger self some slack : )
Toxic Masculinity and Other Lesson On How Not to Be a Man
All joking aside, I’ve come to see affirmations in a much different light as when I was a teenager. I’ve been using them as a way to help create a stronger sense of self worth. To build confidence and help give myself the guidance I so desperately needed in my childhood. Of course I had to swallow a little bit of pride first. If you’ve read my post on toxic masculinity, you’ll know I was raised to believe that affirmations were for the ineffectual, the weak.
According to my family, I was a man at eight years old. Right after my parents divorced, I became “the Man of the house”. Or so I was told by almost every male role model I had at the time. It seemed a way of consoling me. As if to say “buck up son, no time to be upset, you have new responsibilities to get after”. Looking back now this all seems so ridiculous. But when I was eight, it felt like the weight of the world was just dropped on my shoulders.
Rigid Values Added to the Confusion
From my younger perspective, men took what they wanted and were the embodiment of confidence and strength. If there was a problem, the man would take care of it using sheer force. There was no need to account for feelings. Or even others points of view. So from this mindset, affirmations weren’t something a man needed. Because he already imbued strength and confidence by virtue of being a man. They were a given.
I even came to live life to my family’s standard of what it means to be a man in the ways that made them comfortable. Something I’ve created an affirmation around to combat the toxic masculinity that was handed down to me. Because that way of living left me feeling hollow. I pushed everyone away with cutting criticisms and needed to numb the feelings I had been ignoring in order to be who I thought needed to be. All based on how I saw those closest to me behave. It was anxiety producing. And most of the time it filled me with fear.
Consequences of Living the Toxically Masculine Life
And all this fear that was growing unchecked, was fueled by pride and bravado. I was perpetually putting down others to make myself seem more confident, more capable than I actually was. The nature of my thoughts were negative and born from insecurity. And I was practicing them constantly. The more I practiced them, the deeper I sunk into the hollowness I had creating. There’s a Modest Mouse album I used to listen to often and its name embodies this sentiment for me. “Building Nothing out of Something”. A chilling reminder of my past self.
And that’s what it felt like for sure. After I had burned all my bridges, I was left completely alone. With only my negative thoughts to keep me company. That was about six years ago. And since then I’ve been rebuilding well, just about every aspect of my life. From relationships to people, to food, and maybe most importantly, to myself. I had to find a way to replace that constant negative self talk. Also the doubt that had become my M.O. for so long. That’s when I began using positive affirmations.
Positive Affirmations and Self Talk
I think the idea took root while I was taking a psychology course at my local community college. My professor Gerry, was an upbeat woman in her early sixties. She spoke a lot about positive psychology which is branch of psychology that focuses on the individuals strengths. To help us live a fuller, happier life with more meaning. Affirmations for me, are a way to focus on these. The positive qualities of my life.
Checking the Baggage
But there was a lot of unchecked emotional baggage I needed to go through (that I’m still going through), in order to know what aspects of my life to focus on. Also, how I was relating to both my emotions and areas of my life. This was a way for me to give my life some direction using affirmations to help me stay focused.
I mostly narrow in on the ways that I’ve experienced trauma and how unsafe I feel around others. Also on the loneliness from the neglect and verbal abuse I experienced. I should also mention that I’ve been doing this work with the help of a therapist. They’ve been an invaluable resource for me on my journey. So if there’s one bit of advice I can give, it is do not go this alone.
There are many times where I needed the guidance of someone who knows about the path I’m on. And if you had caregivers like mine, you may not have many healthy lessons to draw from. This is exactly where outsourcing some healthier, new perspectives on how to handle your experiences in the present that may bring up old ways of reacting to emotions would come in handy. It also may help you to see them from a new, positive and strength based perspective. A therapist’s help may be the difference between establishing a healthy, lasting change, or opening an old wound that you may not be capable of processing alone.
Practice, Practice, Practice
And it’s after understanding how we react to our emotions and experiences, that we’re able to forge affirmations that help us to facilitate change. Mine are a work in process. They also alter slightly as I come to understand how I react to the maladaptive lessons I’ve learned.
Because I’m now just finding out that my emotions aren’t anything to be ashamed of. No matter how I was shamed for having them as a child. It took decades of repeated reinforcement of harmful lessons on how to be with my emotions that got me to where I am. So I’m not surprised to discover that it takes practice to reinforce the positive perspectives I wish to embody. Lots of practice. And sure, it’s little frustrating, but not surprising.
One way I’ve been frustrated and veered from the path is, when I’m caught in the grip of an irrational fear that I know stems from my abuse. When the fear sets in in the form of negative thinking, my mind wants to believe the thoughts that are running through my head. This usually leads to more fear and anxiety. It’s then that a part of my affirmations will come to mind. like a firm place to hold on to. Some stability. But it’s because of how persistently I practice positive self-talk that I’m able to create this. The space necessary to gain a clear, positive perspective when I’m in the thick of difficult thoughts and emotions.
And I cannot stress enough that it takes practice. The more often you say and focus on the positive, the more often your mind will default to it when thoughts and circumstances pop up. For example if you’re insecure about meeting new people or being judged, then the more often we say to ourselves, “it’s okay to be me just as I am”, the more likely we are to remember this sentiment when we are in a situation where we are being introduced to someone for the first time.
I say mine once a day. Though sometimes, if a part of them comes to mind, I scan my circumstances to see if it’s tied to an old belief. To see if I’m relating to it (the affirmation) and my current situation and am I using old negative beliefs to define my current experience. If so, I’ll remind myself of the positive ways I want to relate to my thoughts and emotions, in the here and now. Then sometimes I’ll repeat the whole of my affirmations for a little extra boost of confidence. This usually helps to subside any of whatever anxiety and fear may be present.
And it’s not always easy. To be completely honest, sometimes it just plain sucks. But it never lasts very long and it subsides much quicker now than it ever has. Also, the more often I practice them, the better and more confident I feel about myself. All while being able to endure the difficult emotions and finding my footing onto more positive and stable ground.
Sometimes Being Kind Means Going Against the Grain
Practicing affirmations probably isn’t in style. I’m not sure how people would react to me if I told them I regularly give myself pep talks to build confidence. As well as to generally feel better about myself. But maybe that’s part of what helps to build the courage we’re seeking. Doing something that isn’t in line with what others see as “tough” or “strong”. But striking out on our own and finding what helps to make us feel stronger and more courageous.
I know it seems cliché but it’s true. Finding the strength in ourselves first is how we come to feel stronger. It’s not out there, in someone or something else. It’s right here. All we’re really doing when we use affirmations is reminding ourselves of the strength that’s already right here.
The phrase namaste comes to mind when I think about finding strength in ourselves first. “The divine in me, recognizes the divine in you”. The “divine” is what we’re “recognizing” when we decide to reinforce the search for the strength in ourselves. We do this by focusing on the positive in us by using affirmations to help us reinforce how we want to feel, confident. It’s already right here, we just have to recognize that it’s here.
And Remember, Be Kind To Yourself
Using affirmations can be a good foundation to find the personal strength you need to build healthy self image. Or as it was in my case, rebuild the basics of healthy relationships with others. Also building a healthy self-image and how I care for myself. It takes work and it can be tough at times. But learning to use the tools of positive self-talk has the ability to strengthen every other aspect of our lives. From who we choose to surround ourselves with, to where we feel we deserve to live or work. And also how we care for ourselves. If you haven’t thought about it, or are on the fence about them, it may be worth your time to explore them some. Because the nature of your thoughts holds the power to shape your world. Thanks for reading, peace :]
Image Credits: “Ben Eine – The Strangest Week : Smiley Faces / Acid House Faces – Hackney Road / Diss Street, London E2” by bobaliciouslondon is licensed under CC BY 2.0