Definition Of Positive Self Talk
The act or practice of talking to oneself, either aloud or silently and mentally.
Definition Of Affirmations
Statements which affirm something to be true.
We all have moments of self-doubt, but negative self-talk can become outright abusive and detrimental to our recovery efforts if we let it go on for too long. The way we treat ourselves is what shapes our self-perception, yet we tend to be much more critical on ourselves that we really should be.
Why Those In Recovery Experience Negative Self-Talk
Once we’ve detoxed and spent some time abstinent or sober, it’s normal to feel a pinge of guilt, shame, embarrassment or sadness over what we’ve gone through with our addiction.
For many people, they begin to realise just how much they’ve hurt themselves and their loved ones – and this can bring a lot of shame into the equation.
Christopher Smith, a person who has struggled with addiction explained that much of his negative self-talk has derived from negative messages he received when he was younger – either implicitly or explicitly. He recalled traumatic experiences from his past that further became part of his own self-talk script – and he explained that for those in addiction & recovery, it’s not abnormal for a person to have a lot of negative self-talk. Unfortunately, negative self-talk can lead to relapse if interventions and coping strategies aren’t sought and used.
A large part of combatting relapse for me has been learning to identify the negative self-talk early. When the voices are still whispers, they are easier stifled if you know what to listen for. I have put together a few guidelines for myself that have generally helped me identify when I may not be thinking the most clearly or struggling with my own positive self talk…Christopher Smith
Relapses tend to occur because we’re holding in certain painful emotions or thoughts that truly need to be worked through and released. In cases of self-talk, we beat ourselves up – and naturally, these pent-up feelings lead us to buy into these false beliefs, which we act on through reverting back to substance use.
Self awareness is such a crucial practice in identifying and managing negative self-talk. If you’re ready to combat the mean, degrading voices in your head, you have to build awareness, understand why you’re getting them and what you can do to combat them.
Practising Positive Self-Talk
When we’re aware of our thoughts, emotions, feelings and the sensations around us, we’re more apt to recognise negative self-talk when it arises. Not only that, but we’re also able to make healthier decisions quicker – which means that if we start with those phrases – “I’m useless”, “Nobody wants me to succeed”, “I’m not a good person” and others – we know to stop and start applying some cognitive behavioral techniques.
There’s a lot you will explore in both individual and group therapy within addiction recovery that will provide you with steps to take towards working through these moments of negativity, but here are a few suggestions for promoting positive self-talk:
Say It Differently
In 2014, researchers published a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology which found that it’s not just what we say to ourselves that affects our mood and emotions throughout the day – it’s also how we say it. For example, the researchers suggested speaking to oneself in third person – using “he” or “she” – to help gain some perspective and to force us to look at the situation with more objectivity.
Emotions can be all encompassing, and if you become too wrapped up in negative self-talk, you may find yourself starting to spiral. Instead, ground yourself by focusing on the sensations around you. What colours do you currently see in the room that you’re in? What do you smell? What textures do you feel? What tastes are there? If you close your eyes right now, what sounds do you hear? Sometimes this method of grounding can take you away and distract you from the negative messages in your mind to the present moment.
Refer to Your “Mental List”
Create a list in your head or on paper of all the lies your negative self talks you tell yourself. Remind yourself that this is just another one of those phrases that you’ve decided no longer benefit your recovery. Combat the heavy weight of these false beliefs with the truth – use logic to dismantle the arguments your negative self-talk is trying to make.
For example, if you’re self-talk is saying, “nobody likes me”, “I don’t deserve recovery”, “I’ll always be a junkie or alchie”, you could remind yourself that you just spoke with a friend earlier today, or that you’re only at the beginning of your recovery journey and there’s still time to go and meet new people. In doing this, your limiting self-doubts won’t stand a chance – because the logic you use against them will be too strong.
If you’re currently struggling with addiction, know that you’re not alone. Everyone experiences negative self-talk but there are many tools, people and resources to help a person recognise the gifts that they can bring to your world. You can also find more help and support from charities, groups and organisations on our help and support page here.
Don’t wait any longer to seek the help you need. The sooner you start, the easier and less damage will have been caused and easier to rectify!
7 Techniques To Overcome Negative Self Talk
1.Develop Awareness: Becoming more aware of our thinking patterns and the impact on our mood and behaviour is the first step. We can do this a variety of ways, two ways that come to mind for me are:
Timeout to reflect- take a time out to reflect on our thoughts, stop and say to ourselves…” what’s the thought? what is driving it? how am I feeling?”
Journaling – either free journaling or a thought journal, any technique to get our thoughts down on paper can improve our awareness of patterns and become more in tune with ourselves.
2. Challenge It: As we get better at recognising our negative thinking patterns, we can begin to dive deeper and develop a new pattern of thinking. Often times our negative thoughts are connected to irrational beliefs….challenge these thoughts and bring it back to reality. Using concrete, positive affirmation is a great place to start. Instead of “I am never going to get this right,” challenge with “I am doing my best and my best is enough.” Retraining our minds and shifting our lens takes time and practice, so let’s start NOW. We deserve it.
3. Gratitude: Focusing on our blessings, big or small, is another simple yet powerful way to break the cycle of negativity. You have all heard the saying “an attitude of gratitude,” well now is the time to shift our attitudes and our thought processes to focus on all we have to be grateful for. Whether it’s setting aside a minute or two before bed to reflect on the day, identifying 5 things that we are thankful for or keeping a gratitude journal, practicing gratitude is not only a coping skill but an overall mindset. You can find out more about gratitude lists here in our previous article.
4. Step Outside Of Yourself: Sometimes when we are stuck in a negative thought cycle it can be helpful to shift perspectives. “What would my best friend say?” or “Would I talk to my best friend like this?” Developing self-talk that has a foundation of self-love and compassion is so powerful and can really combat the cycle of negativity. We can begin this process by talking to ourselves the way that we would speak to a loved one, taking a stance of empathy and encouragement.
5. Talk It Out: There are times when we may need to lean on our support systems to get out of our heads and challenge negativity. Talking to someone in our network, a loved one or a therapist can help us with this process.
6. Put It On The Shelf: At times, our negative thoughts may feel so overwhelming we may need to take a break and step away. Visualising taking the negative thought or irrational belief and putting it on a shelf…or in a box…whatever works for you, can be super effective in giving us a moment of clarity. Maybe you are at work, in a meeting or at the grocery store and all of a sudden find yourself stuck in a negative thought cycle, the reality is we don’t always have the time or space available to explore and challenge these patterns…..put it on the shelf, do what you need to do and revisit it at a time that better serves you.
Maybe later that night when you are writing in your journal, or maybe later that week when you are at a support group or with your therapist. Visualisation is an effective skill to manage our thinking and increase our sense of control over our thoughts.
7. Focus On The Now: Mindfulness is a tool that may not only combat negative thinking, but provides us with a sense of relief, giving us the ability to stop and refocus.
Wherever our minds wonder, we have the power to bring it back to this moment and focus on the hope within the present. Breathing exercises, grounding, meditation, etc. are all ways to focus on the now and break free from the grip of our negative thoughts. You can learn more about mindfulness here in our previous article on that very subject here.
According to Buddha, “You can’t live a positive life with a negative mind.” Now is the time to give yourself the life you deserve, one that is built on a foundation of love and kindness. And it all starts with our thoughts…empower yourself to make a change.
20 Positive Affirmations To Say Each Day
Here are 20 affirmations that can benefit not just those in recovery but anyone on the journey to better health:
- I approve of myself. You approve of yourself.
- I love myself. You love yourself.
- I support myself. You support yourself.
- I trust myself. You trust yourself.
- I am my best friend. You are your best friend.
- I become more lovable every day.
- My body is beautiful. Your body is beautiful.
- It is easy for me to forgive. It is easy for you to forgive.
- I forgive everyone. You forgive everyone.
- I forgive myself. You forgive yourself.
- I forgive the past. You forgive the past.
- I am free. You are free.
- I know life is for me. You know life is for you.
- I know what to do. You know what to do.
- I am capable. You are capable.
- I easily solve any problems. You easily solve any problems.
- I can handle anything that comes my way. You can handle anything
- that comes your way.
- I am full of praise and gratitude. You are full of praise and gratitude.
- I awaken each morning with joy. You awaken each morning with joy.
- I end each day with gratitude. You end each day with gratitude.
These affirmations are meant to be spoken aloud while looking in the mirror and can be recalled throughout the day.
Take the time to incorporate them into your daily routine and they will help you build greater reserves of self-love, gratitude, self-confidence and forgiveness.
Is There Science Behind Them?
Science, yes. Magic, no. Positive affirmations require regular practice if you want to make lasting, long-term changes to the ways that you think and feel. The good news is that the practice and popularity of positive affirmations are based on widely accepted and well-established psychological theory.
The Psychological Theory Behind Positive Affirmations
One of the key psychological theories behind positive affirmations is self-affirmationtheory (Steele, 1988). So, yes, there are empirical studies based on the idea that we can maintain our sense of self-integrity by telling ourselves (or affirming) what we believe in positive ways.
Very briefly, self-integrity relates to our global self-efficacy—our perceived ability to control moral outcomes and respond flexibly when our self-concept is threatened (Cohen & Sherman, 2014). So, we as humans are motivated to protect ourselves from these threats by maintaining our self-integrity.
Self-Identity & Self-Affirmation
Self-affirmation theory has three key ideas underpinning it. They are worth having in mind if we are to understand how positive affirmations work according to the theory.
First, through self-affirmation, we keep up a global narrative about ourselves. In this narrative, we are flexible, moral, and capable of adapting to different circumstances. This makes up our self-identity (Cohen & Sherman, 2014).
Self-identity (which we’re seeking to maintain, as mentioned before) is not the same as having a rigid and strictly defined self-concept. Instead of viewing ourselves in one “fixed” way, say as a “student” or a “son”, our self-identity can be flexible. We can see ourselves as adopting a range of different identities and roles. This means we can define success in different ways, too.
Why is this a good thing? Because it means we can view different aspects of ourselves as being positive and can adapt to different situations much better (Aronson, 1969).
Secondly, self-affirmation theory argues that maintaining self-identity is not about being exceptional, perfect, or excellent (Cohen & Sherman, 2014). Rather, we just need to be competent and adequate in different areas that we personally value in order to be moral, flexible, and good (Steele, 1988).
Lastly, we maintain self-integrity by acting in ways that authentically merit acknowledgment and praise. In terms of positive affirmations, we don’t say something like “I am a responsible godmother” because we want to receive that praise. We say it because we want to deservethat praise for acting in ways that are consistent with that particular personal value.
A Look At The Research
The development of self-affirmation theory has led to neuroscientific research aimed at investigating whether we can see any changes in the brain when we self-affirm in positive ways.
There is MRI evidence suggesting that certain neural pathways are increased when people practice self-affirmation tasks (Cascio et al., 2016). If you want to be super specific, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex—involved in positive valuation and self-related information processing—becomes more active when we consider our personal values (Falk et al., 2015; Cascio et al., 2016).
The results of a study by Falk and colleagues suggest that when we choose to practice positive affirmations, we’re better able to view “otherwise-threatening information as more self-relevant and valuable” (2015: 1979). As we’ll see in a moment, this can have several benefits because it relates to how we process information about ourselves.
Benefits Of Daily Affirmations
Now that we know more about the theories supporting positive affirmations, here are six examples of evidence from empirical studies that suggest that positive self-affirmation practices can be beneficial:
- Self-affirmations have been shown to decrease health-deteriorating stress (Sherman et al., 2009; Critcher & Dunning, 2015);
- Self-affirmations have been used effectively in interventions that led people to increase their physical behavior (Cooke et al., 2014);
- They may help us to perceive otherwise “threatening” messages with less resistance, including interventions (Logel & Cohen, 2012);
- They can make us less likely to dismiss harmful health messages, responding instead with the intention to change for the better (Harris et al., 2007) and to eat more fruit and vegetables (Epton & Harris, 2008);
- They have been linked positively to academic achievement by mitigating GPA decline in students who feel left out at college (Layous et al., 2017);
- Self-affirmation has been demonstrated to lower stress and rumination (Koole et al., 1999; Weisenfeld et al., 2001).
What Are The Health Benefits?
As the studies above suggest, positive affirmations can help us to respond in a less defensive and resistant way when we’re presented with threats. One study that was mentioned above showed that smokers reacted less dismissively to graphic cigarette packet warnings and reported intention to change their behavior (Harris et al., 2007).
But more generally, an adaptive, broad sense of self makes us more resilient to difficulties when they arise. Whether it’s social pressures, health information that makes us feel uncomfortable, or feelings of exclusion, a broader self-concept can be an extremely helpful thing to have.
Can They Help One’s Outlook on Life?
As inherently positive statements, affirmations are designed to encourage an optimistic mindset. And optimism in itself is a powerful thing. In terms of reducing negative thoughts, affirmations have been shown to help with the tendency to linger on negative experiences (Wiesenfeld et al., 2001).
When we are able to deal with negative messages and replace them with positive statements, we can construct more adaptive, hopeful narratives about who we are and what we can accomplish.
What Are Healing Affirmations?
This kind of affirmation is a positive statement about your physical well-being. Popularised by author and speaker Louise Hay, these affirmations are based on the idea that your thoughts can influence your health for the better. You don’t have to be unwell to practice healing affirmations; this idea can be just as helpful for healing emotional pain if you find the idea rings with you.
“My happy thoughts help create my healthy body,” and “Wellness is the natural state of my body. I am in perfect health.”
Answers To Common Questions About Affirmations
If you haven’t practiced positive affirmations before, you might have a lot of questions at this point. Here, we’ll address some of the most common questions asked about the topic.
Are Self-Affirmations Best Said Every Day?
There are no hard and fast rules about timing or frequency when it comes to practicing self-affirmations.
According to psychotherapist Ronald Alexander of the Open Mind Training Institute, affirmations can be repeated up to three to five times daily to reinforce the positive belief. He suggests that writing your affirmations down in a journal and practicing them in the mirror is a good method for making them more powerful and effective (Alexander, 2011).
Can They Help with Anxiety and Depression?
Positive affirmations are not designed to be cures for anxiety or depression, nor are they a substitute for clinical treatment of those conditions. But that’s not to say that they won’t help.
The idea of affirmations as a means of introducing new and adaptive cognitive processes is very much the underlying premise of cognitive restructuring. This is supported by a study of cancer patients that suggests that spontaneous self-affirmation had a significantly positive correlation to feelings of hopefulness (Taber et al., 2016).
Will They Boost Self-Esteem?
Affirmations can sometimes be very useful for boosting your self-esteem—but there’s a caveat.
The most important thing, according to self-affirmation theory, is that your affirmations reflect your core personal values(Cohen & Sherman, 2014). There is little point in repeating something arbitrary to yourself if it doesn’t gel with your own sense of what you believe to be good, moral, and worthwhile.
To have any kind of impact on your self-esteem, your self-affirmations should be positively focused and targeted at actions you can take to reinforce your sense of self-identity. Use your real strengths, or strengths that you consider important, to guide your affirmations.
Can You Improve Sleep With Affirmations?
A large number of anxiety-sufferers experience disturbed sleep (Staner, 2003). In the sense that affirmations can sometimes help to relieve anxiety, they may have some beneficial effects in promoting better sleep.
In addition, incorporating your affirmations into meditation can be relaxing and soothing. Meditation has been found to have numerous benefits in terms of sleep quality, so positive affirmation meditation could very well be a good way to improve your sleep (Nagendra et al., 2012).
If you are interested in trying this, you’ll find some audio and video below that may be helpful.
Are They Just Positive Mantras?
If you start digging into the academic literature, you’ll find that the terms “affirmation” and “mantra” are regularly used interchangeably. The same goes for more colloquial uses of the terms. There is a difference, though.
Technically, mantras are sacred words, sounds, or verses that carry more spiritual meaning than affirmations (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2019). Frequently said aloud or mentally, they are believed to have deep significance and they feature a lot in meditation. More specifically, according to Encyclopedia Britannica (2019):
“Most mantras are without any apparent verbal meaning, but they are thought to have a profound underlying significance and are in effect distillations of spiritual wisdom.”
Positive affirmations, in contrast, are described by the Psychology Dictionary as brief phrases, repeated frequently, which are designed to encourage positive, happy feelings, thoughts, and attitudes. They hold no spiritual or religious meaning in the traditional sense and can be used for many purposes.
Positive Affirmation Examples
Based on this definition, here are some examples of positive affirmations:
- I believe in myself, and trust my own wisdom;
- I am a successful person;
- I am confident and capable at what I do.
9 Positive Affirmations To Help Relieve Anxiety
Most people who have suffered from anxiety will likely know how important it can be to cut off negative thought patterns before they begin to spiral. These affirmations can be used at any time, and even those who don’t typically feel anxious may find them useful during stressful moments.
- I am liberating myself from fear, judgment, and doubt;
- I choose only to think good thoughts;
- My anxiety does not control my life. I do.
Here are some that draw inspiration from the list:
- I breathe, I am collected, and I am calm;
- I am safe, and everything is good in my world;
- Inside me, I feel calm, and nobody can disturb this peacefulness.
- I recognise that my negative thoughts are irrational, and I am now going to stop these fears;
- This is just one moment in time;
- I’m not going to be scared by a feeling.
While practicing these affirmations, try to take deep, slow, soothing breaths. As you become more attuned to the flow of your breath in and out, try not to let your feelings distract you. Focus on the affirmation that you’ve put time into creating for yourself, and each time you practice, it will feel more natural.
5 Daily Affirmations For Depression
As with anxiety, depression is often linked closely to—if not underpinned significantly by—thought processes such as overgeneralisation and cognitive distortions (Beck, 1964).
Selective abstraction is a common distortion that is associated with depression and describes the tendency to overexaggerate negative things while underemphasising the positive. Affirmations can help us to try and correct this balance by acknowledging and focusing on more positive aspects of both ourselves and our lives.
Here are 5 daily affirmations you can adapt, as we have.
- I am not afraid to keep going, and I believe in myself;
- I have come this far, and I am proud of myself;
- This is just one moment in my life, and it does not define who I am;
- This is one isolated moment, not my entire life. Things will get better;
- These are just thoughts. Only I determine the way I choose to feel.
5 Positive Affirmations to Help Build Self-Esteem
Here are five positive affirmations that are designed to help you increase your self-esteem:
- I release negative feelings and thoughts about myself;
- I always see the best in others;
- I believe in who I am;
- I am on a journey, ever growing and developing;
- I am consistent in the things that I say and do.
Further Help & Support
If you want further help, support and guidance on this issue or any others, you can find a list of groups, charities and organisations who can help on our help and support page here.
If you found this article helpful, you can check out other similar articles below or on our blog. You may also like to read our article on challenging your thinking and thoughts here.