I was first introduced to Affirmation Therapy by Gabrielle Harding, on one of her ‘Love Yourself’ Workshops, based largely on the work of Louise L Hay.
Affirmations were then something I would ‘do to’ clients in the form of suggestions given under hypnosis, or of assurances given in the waking state, e.g. that they were worthwhile/capable/doing well etc….The latter were enhanced by the client-therapist relationship.
I did teach self hypnosis and self suggestion, but that was often rapidly dropped as tedious, or time consuming, especially in the less strongly motivated cheats.
Affirmations are simple to do, take up no time at all and are far more powerful in my experience than hypnotic suggestions.
Affirmations probably originate from our religious traditions. A good example from the Jewish 13 articles of faith is: ‘I believe with a perfect faith that…’ The main difference with therapeutic affirmations, is that they aim to change the person’s beliefs about himself.
One factor that put me off using them at first, was the mistaken belief that they were a superficial form of therapy. I know better now. Affirmations are only one of the many useful approaches that I use in therapy, though I use them very frequently.
One important advantage of affirmations is that they empower the client, and encourage independence from the therapist very rapidly, as opposed to the dependency promoting hypnotic suggestions etc…..Guidance IS required in the early stages, in the choice of appropriate affirmations, but rapidly, clients learn to create their own.
Affirmations must respect the construct system of the client and also take broader systemic implications into consideration, such as family dynamics.
The more an affirmation conflicts with a core construct of the client, the more likely it is to either be rejected, or to trigger an intense emotional reaction. This is where a therapist’s responsibility comes into play.
A good example of a useful affirmation is: “I love and accept myself exactly as I am, warts and all”. This could be threatening to a person whose core constructs tell him that he is worthless or disgusting etc….His whole map of the world/construct system may hinge on this unfortunate belief, and it is necessary to explore the implications of change in that belief with the client, before introducing even such a seemingly inoccuous affirmation.
The following is extracted from my client leaflet on affirmations, and you are wel come to copy it and use it, so long as you quote its source and author. It shows how I recommend affirmations to be practised:
An affirmation is a statement that you affirm, i.e. literally ‘make firm’ in your mind, when belief in that statement previously was shaky, or non-existent. Simply put, it is the fine art of positive thinking. A common example of a useful affirmation is: “I am good enough exactly as I am.”
An affirmation is an efficient way of changing your inner ‘map’ of the world, your as sumptions about yourself and the world. It can be used to create changes in your life, in your relationships, in your experience, and even in your external reality. (An example of the latter is: I now earn £_(or even £_! a week in a totally fulfilling job.’)
Choosing an affirmation is a step to be considered very wisely and carefully. Some new beliefs can be very useful, whereas others can have deleterious effects, even if they seem desirable on the surface. For example, ‘I am never hurt’ is an affirmation more likely to cover over the cracks, and is likely to lead to the kinds of problems you’d expect of an ostrich burying its head in the sand. Pain is a useful experience which warns us of potential harm. It is a good idea to check an affirmation if you are unsure, with a friend, therapist, or therapy group. Alternatively, you can consult various books on the matter, such as:
Louise L. Hays: You can heal your life” or
Shakti Gawain’s “Creative Visualisation” or “Reflections in the Light” or
Norman Vincent Peale’s “The Power of Positive Thinking”.
Are Affirmations Dangerous?
Well, if chosen wisely, this is unlikely. However, even the right affirmation for you won’t necessarily feel comfortable at first, and may even at first go ‘against the grain’ or appear to make things worse. It may bring about some confusion as you come to terms with the changes to your world map, or ‘construct system’ (the way your thoughts and beliefs are organised) and as you adapt, at an unconscious level to their multiple impli cations for your life in the future. Change, even good change, can feel threatening, because it’s new, and unfamiliar. I recommend that you have support from a friend or counsellor, if you are attempting extensive changes in your life, unless you’re willing to take full responsibility for the consequences.
Do Affirmations Work?
YES! They have amazing power and work with amazing speed no matter what your starting point is. You are your beliefs about yourself, and beliefs can change – surpris ingly easily. Affirmations are in my opinion more effective than Hypnosis if used appropriately. They have never failed me, nor any client of mine that persevered with suitable affirmations. However, some people who are not yet ready to change, may only do the affirmations half-heartedly and hence not see any results. Simply put, they don’t work unless you do them. Commitment is vital, and just a bit of patience. Also, if an af firmation is too advanced for you, it may set up unpleasant reactions, which cause you to give up. It is then necessary to proceed more gradually with statements which you can cope with.
How Do They Work?
I will use the following metaphor:
Imagine your mind as a juke box, (or disc computer) which has an enormous collection of records. There may be one record which is playing thoughts that no longer help you, or negative thoughts, such as self put-downs inherited in childhood from parental criticisms, or bullying in school or abuse etc…..Not only that but it is the favoured record, because it is being played much more often than any of the other records. These nega tive thoughts may not be serving you very well, to put it mildly.
Now, imagine wanting to silence the record by putting it up on the shelf. What will happen? The juke box is never still and always has to be playing something. So, unless you replace that record with a better one, it is going to very soon come right back onto the turntable and play those old familiar thoughts! So, how do you create a new and better record?
Through Affirmations – How Do You That?
Just choose the relevant beliefs you wish to acquire, such as ‘I love and accept myself……..’ or ‘It’s OK to make mistakes’ or ‘I love and accept my body exactly as I am’ etc……
Put them in the present tense, as if they are already true even if it’s obvious to you they are not. Leave out any ‘SHOULDS’ (e.g. I should work harder, or I shouldn’t be so fat etc….), and word the affirmations as a choice you are making, i.e. ‘I choose to be lieve that….’ or ‘I choose that…..’ Write these down on small cards, at most ten affirmations per card, and have copies for different sets of clothes, so you’re never without a card. Write it cryptically if you’re afraid to be found out, e.g. by only writing key words, to trigger your memory.
Now say these affirmations out loud if you’re alone, or silently otherwise, saving or reading each line twice before going to the next; say them looking at yourself in the mirror whenever you get the chance. Say them 10 to 25 times a day until they start to work then tailor the frequency to the result.
You don’t need to concentrate on them unless you’re in the mood to do so. Just say them simply and easily, not trying to extract deep meaning from them each time you say them, otherwise it will become a bore, and you will lose your commitment to doing them. Doing affirmartions can be effortless. Frequency is much more important than concentration. Each set should take no more than 30 -45 seconds to say, for the whole card, so you cannot claim that you have no time! If you meditate, include them at the end of your meditation.
How do you remember to do them approximately 15 times a day? (That’s 30 seconds x 15, that is seven and a half minutes per day in divided doses). Well, link them to one or more activities which you perform that many times a day, and do them at these times without fail, e.g. you should choose between smoking, drinking tea or coffee, going to the bathroom, starting and ending meals or snacks, sitting down at your desk, putting the phone down, getting up or going to bed, waiting at bus stops or at traffic lights, the hourly bleep of your watch, the adverts on telly, passing by a mirror etc. Soon you will know your affirmation by heart and can dispense with the card.
Do note and write down any reaction you have to saying them, and accept that there will be resistance to some of the affirmations, especially to those you need the most! Also note any changes in your experience. At first these may be subtle, but soon they will be unmistakeable. Don’t expect the changes to be spectacular, though they occasionally are. Persevere, and they will create major changes in your experience of life.
When an affirmation has outlived its usefulness, replace it with another, more rele vant one. The mind is constantly changing its needs, so your affirmations have to change with those needs. Visualisation exercises can further enhance the power of affirmations, but that is another issue.
Dr. Bernard Stein is a Medical consultant and psychotherapist with the Clanwilliam Institute of personal, marriage and family therapy. He is also a consultant psychotherapist for individuals and groups with The Centre for Creative Change, 14 Upper Clanbrassil Street, Leonard’s Corner, Dublin 8. Telephone 01-920122.