I’m not gonna lie, affirmations make me gag. Historically, that is. I’ve recently had an experience or two that have changed my mind about affirmations, as well as new skills to help me create them so that they are helpful and not barf-inducing.
And what were those experiences? I recently wound up in the Emergency Room with a mental health crisis brought on by more than a year of the pandemic, a background of trauma, and some personal issues that popped up unexpectedly. The last year and a half have been a long and hard (that’s what she said) road, and we all have suffered.
Fortunately, I got the help I needed. The hospital’s behavioral health department offered me a four-week outpatient intensive therapy program, online and every weekday. The program came with weekly (or more) one-on-one visits with a therapist, one-on-one weekly visits with a psychiatrist for medications, and daily small group sessions. This opportunity sounded wonderful and intense and terrible.
I jumped at the chance. What I had been doing for over a year clearly wasn’t working. I was desperate for help.
Recently graduated from the program, I have a notebook of skills to help me navigate, well, everything: my depression, emotions and feelings, the world with pandemic re-entry, and most importantly, healing. My healing journey from abuse and trauma and ptsd.
And guess what? One of the most effective healing strategies is self-compassion through affirmations. Here are four steps to help you create affirmations that won’t make you gag.
Step 1 – Identify Your Baggage
We all have trauma. We may not all believe that or identify our storied events as traumatic, but it’s true. As Brene Brown says, “Every single person has a story that will break your heart … And if you’re paying attention, many people … have a story that will bring you to your knees. Nobody rides for free.”
Nobody rides for free. As a result, our heads are filled with all kinds of messages that are both negative and untrue. And we can’t deal with what we refuse to see, so get a pen and paper out and write down those negative feelings and messages that make so much noise in our brains. Write without judgment, just observe.
A few examples of mine:
- I am not a good mother.
- I don’t deserve good things.
- I can’t manage my mental health.
Whoa, that’s heavy, right? They’re heavier when I don’t identify them. Even writing them down in plain language was a relief.
Step 2 – What Do You Want?
This step was easy for me. I want intimate relationships. I want to be present and self-compassionate. I want to feel confident and happy.
Make a list of what you really want. It’s easier than you think. Within minutes, I had a list of a dozen things I wanted for my life that I’m either not experiencing or am working on changing.
Make your own list of these things – these good things – that you deserve and are good enough for and need and want.
Step 3 – Visualize Your Best Possible Self
Neurons that fire together wire together. This means that whatever we think and believe is reinforced each time we run it through our minds and bodies. If we believe we’re “fat” and we say over and over again, “You’re fat,” that neural pathway is reinforced.
The great news is that these pathways can be changed. Mental health research in the last few decades has created new and exciting treatment options around neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to change neural pathways. Plus, the brain doesn’t know the difference between visualization and reality. That old gaggy cliche “mind over matter” is actually true.
Take the list of good things and focus on one in particular. For example, I focused on what “intimate relationships” would look like in my life personally, socially, and professionally. Set a timer for five minutes and focus on visualization.
Step 4 – Create Your Personal Affirmation
Here’s the exciting part. Take all of this processing – all of your notes from this exercise – and create an affirmation.
I’m going to follow up with the first piece of baggage I identified: “I am not a good mother.” I know this is not true but have not known what to do with this message before now.
Then factor in step two -“I want intimate relationships” – along with step three, visualizing what intimacy would look like with my kids. I realized that, in many ways, I have wonderful relationships with my boys. We are close and stable. We communicate regularly and with depth. We are open with each other.
Moving on to step four, I created the affirmation, “I am a warm, open, nurturing, loving mother.”
This affirmation resonates with me. It gives me an answer to the old neural pathway, “I am not a good mother.” This affirmation speaks to a piece of my personal baggage, allows me to see it without judgement, and gives me the opportunity to change the way I think and feel.
And most importantly, this affirmation doesn’t make me gag.