• Resilient Practice

How to Reframe Core Beliefs through Affirmation

“We believe what we tell ourselves”

Doe Zantamata

Affirmation – The action or process of affirming something - Oxford dictionary

Along with the dawn of the New Age and the evolution of the concept of ‘Self-Care,the word ‘affirmation’ too, has taken a new meaning. In the fields of psychotherapy and ‘self-help,’ we find ‘affirmations’ discussed in plural as a tool that can be used to reframe our thoughts and more importantly our ‘core beliefs[1].’

Have you ever practised ‘affirmations?’

Looking in the mirror and telling yourself how great you are?

The mere thought of this makes people roll their eyes. The words ‘conceited, big headed, self-centred and narcissistic’ may well be running through your head as you read.

You may be tempted to stop reading now, feeling that this type of work is not for you

Press pause.

Positive affirmations are a metaphorical gold mine as a resilience tool.

They are free, quick and easy.

You can tailor them individually

They are scientifically proven to help in many areas[2][3][4][5]

· Academic achievement

· Self-control

· Performance

· Our health/lifestyle choices

· Problem solving

· Memory

· Anxiety

· Over thinking

The research tells us that positive self-affirmation in the form of writing or thinking about our core values improves our memory and inhibitory processes. Increased inhibition helps by reducing the impact of things that might affect our ability to do an activity for example, fear. This with improved memory, results in enhanced performance, increased self-control and ultimately better achievement.

Unlike rumination and negative overthinking, positive self-affirmation works by motivational substitution[6]. Basically, our affirmation is more important that the negative rumination as a process.

Affirmations also reduce the effect of any psychological trauma that threatens how we value the Self, (e.g. when we are devalued by others through, racism, gender bias etc.)

Self-Affirmation is about reinforcing our own core values.

Our core beliefs have developed over our lifetime. They are a product of our experiences. This process begins in our childhood.

Most of us have some negative core beliefs. They can develop directly as a product of negative experiences and trauma.

They can however develop even if you had a wonderful childhood.

Below are some examples of childhood situations which, especially when repetitive, may negatively affect belief about the Self.

· Being told you are horrible, rude, naughty (what was meant was that your behaviour was horrible, rude, naughty)

· Being criticized for behaviours which reflect or express your individuality (usually because your behaviour has triggered something in the adult’s own psyche that needs acceptance)

· Having a sibling chosen above you

· Being shown that you are not liked by those around you

· Being prepared for failure, for example being advised not to get your hopes up before an exam or course (this is usually done to protect us but can often lead a belief that we are not capable of achieving.)

As we increase our self-awareness to improve resilience, we may identify a number of our own negative core beliefs and can often link them to our experiences. They can usually, however be distilled down two common examples:

1. I am not good enough/worthy

2. I am broken/defective in some way/I am not whole

Once these core beliefs are formed, they bed in. The human mind likes, above most things, to be right. We spend time looking for evidence in all situations that supports them. We reinforce them over and over.

One of the ways we do this is self-affirmation.

“I’m so stupid” (not good enough/defective)

“I can’t believe I have done that again” (defective)

“I am ugly” (defective)

“I am rubbish” (not good enough/defective)

“I’ll never get that promotion” (not good enough)

“I’ll never find a healthy relationship” (both)

We have discussed both the benefits of positive self-affirmation and the damage we can do with negative ones.

Now we can cultivate the habit of using positive affirmations as a tool for improving wellbeing and increasing resilience.

But there is a problem.

When we have identified which negative core beliefs we wish to counteract or reframe and chosen the appropriate affirmation for the job; we find that there is an almost unbearable level of discomfort in physically saying them about the Self. This is because of the very process of their becoming embedded in the first place.

Negative core beliefs are present as a result of learning uncomfortable lessons. None of the childhood examples we used above would have felt empowering or positive when experienced, in fact they would have been unpleasant and attached to negative emotions. This is because they were the negative experiences that lead to the negative beliefs. There will, of course, have been positive ones as well – but it is the negative ones that we wish to reframe – and so we must

address that discomfort!

Try this:

This week the task is to create a simple set of positive statements that you feel comfortable saying to yourself.

Out loud is better than in your head.

In front of a mirror is better still!

Begin by taking some time to explore your negative beliefs about the Self.

You may wish to make a list of negative things that you say to yourself when things go wrong. You may also wish to explore the things that were said to you when you were younger that stuck with you because they were painful or repetitive. Writing these down may be helpful. Try to distil them into their simplest form.

Now choose the one you are most drawn towards reframing and construct a statement that counteracts it.

Your new affirmation must be true, clear, precise and most importantly positive.

Use uplifting and motivating words.

Be sure to seek evidence to support them. For example, think of a time when this belief has been contradicted by a compliment from someone who values you. Try to remember the language that they used. Try to really accept that compliment. Accepting compliments is difficult because it challenges negative core beliefs and invokes the very discomfort that we discussed earlier.

For example:

“I’m not clever enough to attract a partner”

can be distilled down to

“I am stupid/not intelligent” (defective/broken/not whole)

can be reframed to

“I am clever, creative and interesting.” (backed by evidence)

Once you have your affirmation – say it out loud.

Look at yourself as you do it and try to truly believe the words. Take them on as your own.

Do this several times and observe the feelings and emotions that come up for you.

Sit with them.

Where do you feel them in your body?

Can you name them?

Without being drawn into thinking, sense their origin.

Accept them.

They belong to your old patterns.

The old way of believing that supported you before you knew better.

Breathe deeply as they come up to the surface.

Let them dissolve.

Visualise the new way of being.

The you that you know is all the things in your new affirmation.

You have seen the evidence. You know it to be true.

Notice how different that feels.

Repeat your affirmation.

Affirmations work best when we repeat them regularly and weave them into the routine of daily life.

We rarely go all day without looking in a mirror, right?

Once you have done the work to create your simple set of affirmations and committed to their regular use, as always, detach from the outcome. Remember that digging up seeds after they have been planted to check on their progress is counter-productive to growth.

Affirm on a daily basis along with your toothbrushing, exercise routine and bathing. You will soon begin to see the benefits.

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[1] Louise Hay. 1984. You can Heal your Life : Hay House [2]Koole S.L., Smeets K., Van Knippenberg A., Dijksterhuis A. (1999). The cessation of rumination through self-affirmation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(1), 111 [3]Cascio CN, O'Donnell MB, Tinney FJ, et al. Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2016;11(4):621-629. doi:10.1093/scan/nsv136 [4]Philine S. Harris, Peter R. Harris, Eleanor Miles, Self-affirmation improves performance on tasks related to executive functioning. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology Volume 70, 2017, Pages 281-28 [5]Albalooshi S, Moeini-Jazani M, Fennis BM, Warlop L. Reinstating the Resourceful Self: When and How Self-Affirmations Improve Executive Performance of the Powerless. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2020 Feb;46(2):189-203 [6] Tesser, A.. Martin, L. L., & Cornell, D. P. (1996). On the substitutability of self-protective mechanisms. In P. M. Gollwitzer & J. A. Bargh (Eds.), The psychology of action (pp. 48-68). New York: Guilford Press

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