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Reframing Affirmations: When you just don't feel strong

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

I'd like to talk to you about emotions and reframing affirmations using the dialectic of ‘acceptance and change’ as used in DBT (Dialectical behavioural Therapy)

In the real world and online I recognise a lot of pressure for people to feel positive. To show positive behaviours and act in a productive, positive way.

A lot of people, however don't actually feel positive and instead they might feel low in mood, lack self-worth, struggle to feel motivated and have very little discipline to do the actions that will hemp them to feel better. It can be difficult for many people to see the light at the end of the tunnel and so the encouragement to be positive may be hard for them to hear.

I feel that the intention of the positive messages is to people and to encourage them to get out of an undesired emotional state and into a desired stare.

To generalise, at the end of the day, we all have desire to make other people and ourselves feel happy. However, it can be really quite tricky for many people who feel they are unable to change and they might invalidation and shame at all of the ‘hey lets be happy and positive ‘ messages thus feel alone.

So, having an element of acceptance can be really helpful because it can help people to understand each other and ourselves. It is important for people to connect with their feelings and to make sense of what's going on for them, to really get to know what is important to them as well and what is not .

Being able to recognise and sit with emotions regardless of labels of desired and undesired states can help with emotional regulation and distress tolerance.

As said before this level of acceptance, understanding and empathy happens at the same time as change. Considering the possibility of change, imagining being able to feel differently, consider new possibilities and to be able to take different actions. Typically we think, feel and behave based on all kinds of experiences and beliefs and the meanings we place on all this and so even small changes can often feel like big scary hurdles.

Part of the dialectic of acceptance and change is having an awareness of the ups and downs, and awareness that this isn't a linear path. More often than not with mental health and emotions people don't respond in a logical linear way and many people can recognise what needs to be done but not necessarily how it applies to them.

Let’s talk about affirmations.

I hear about affirmations in a way of good intentions and support and many people regularly use affirmations or incantations to help with their mindset. Affirmation means 'to affirm'. To affirm a particular state of mind or belief, to remember or imagine and confirm that statement. With incantations the ideas is to be not just using the words but using ones physiology and tone of voice to embody the statement.

The way we talk and position our body strongly affects how we feel and how much we believe in what we are saying. When we sit in a slumped position with sloping shoulders and leaning back into our chair, we consequently talk in a different way, a lower tone and slower pace and as a result we might then feel fed up and unmotivated.

On the other hand when we sit up and we change the tone of our voice and we speak a bit faster and we are more intentional about what we are saying, we then have more energy and can feel upbeat, focussed and positive about ourselves.

There's an importance in matching what we say to our body language so that we are understood by others and ourselves, however there is also a recognition that the choice of body language can massively affect our emotional state and outcomes.

A lot of people I work with have been through many traumatic experiences that have left them having particular beliefs about themselves, others and the world. They can struggle with their emotional wellbeing and mental health and might find being told to say an affirmation challenging.

Let us try an affirmation now…… ‘I am strong’, ‘I am strong’, ‘I am strong’..........I'm standing up now and I'm feeling strong now. Part of that is being able to visualise and remember or create a time when you were strong (physically or mentally) and affirm it and maybe squeeze your fist too. Confirmed. ‘I AM STRONG’ and even move your arms around to create the strong feeling you had when you were out running.

Suddenly you have got that powerful, strong feeling that you can conquer anything.

In contrast what often happens is that people are looking at that the word. They walk into the bathroom. They have little post it notes on the wall. They say ‘I am strong’ and they are brushing the teeth and they say it in a muffled way blocked by the tooth brush and keep saying ‘I am strong’ but think ‘I'm not strong’. No, I am not strong. What the heck, I'm not strong and as I keep saying I am strong I reminded myself of the contrast and the lack, that I am not strong.

So it can feel a bit fake for some people sometimes with the external not matching the internal, the conscious mind not matching the unconscious mind.

Sometimes it can feel inauthentic and a bit invalidating if someone is telling you ‘yes, you are strong’ whereby they are offering reassurance instead of the empathy of saying ‘well actually I know you're not feeling strong I can understand coz I too have not felt strong sometimes’

Being able to consider a different point of view, to be open minded to see your strengths from different perspective can be very helpful and open up the possibility of change.

So instead of just saying I'm strong, what we could say is: ‘There are times when I remember that I am strong and times I am so strong that I can show my vulnerability, being vulnerable isn’t a sign of weakness but a sign of strength and knowing this makes me stronger’.

I don't know whether that would apply for everybody, but that sort of phrase works for me. Ok it’s actually a bit long so how about ‘I am continuing to get stronger every day’

‘I am loved’

If I had a pound every time someone said to me. ‘You just have to love yourself’ or ‘You won’t be able to receive love from someone else until you love yourself’ i'd be a millionaire.

Self-love is so important but a lot of people find this super challenging, feel this is far from how they currently see themselves with a significant amount of people actually hating themselves and feeling lonely and disconnected from others, unable to be their true authentic selves that everyone loves.

Saying ‘I am loved and I am worthy’, can feel very awkward for people who do not experience unconditional love. They might mistake love for lust and feel that love often comes with a condition hard to achieve let alone deserve. Some of the dialogue in ones head might be a bit like this. So if I buy you flowers, then I'll feel love and I will show you that I love you. If I get diamonds, if I make sandwiches for you every morning, if I dress a certain way, have my hair, and make up perfect. If we go on holiday. If we have like lots of kisses and cuddles. If I do lots of things for you. If I tell you. I love you. Then I know that I love you.

However, these conditions can often make people feel they are not actually loved or that they have to fight for it and the idea of having some sort of unconditional love can be quiet strange for people.

So, what do we do?

The way that I see this is to be able to build some evidence and find ways to recognise things that you like about yourself. So being open to acknowledge and be grateful for the things that you have done in your life, that actions that you have taken to care of yourself including making good choices, doing things that you enjoy, saying no to something you don’t want to do or something as simple as having a shower. By noticing that you did those things to care for yourself and because you are worthy can help someone take the steps towards feeling love for one’s self.

Let’s recognise the things that you did in the past that your future self will thank you for. So I once had a chocolate bar and I left one piece of chocolate in the glove box of my car and I've forgotten about it. But then sometime later I looked in the glove box and was like ‘oh wow I'm so grateful and I love my past self so much for putting this this chocolate here’. With this situation I don’t think I consciously did this but it is worth actively doing things that our future self will thank us for.

When we talk about love about self-care, it can feel for some people, but they're not worthy of it. They do not feel worthy of it. And why would they look after themselves and have good boundaries in place if they're not feeling worthy, and I suppose if we change the language of that and make it feel less difficult to reach then it might feel more possible.

So in view of affirmations for this one here is something to think about ‘I deserve love and I'm loved and am starting to allow myself to feel it and love myself by doing things that I love’

Saying I love myself can feel awkward, saying I’m doing ok and proud of myself for the amount of effort I put in to feeling ok might be more digestible.

Hey anyway this is a bit of a ramble about affirmations and the idea of acceptance and change whereby it in order to feel those things one needs to embody it and believe it and in order to believe it then actions are needed even if it is the smallest of things and be grateful

Where art therapy fits in is that creating art to represent different thoughts, feelings and experiences can allow people to tell their story without feeling judged and allow them to experience the possibility of change,

When I doubt myself and struggle to feel good about myself, when I’m not feeling loved and not feeling strong……I BLINK

When I make myself conscious of blinking, I am reminded that throughout my life I have blinked in a consistently successful way. This is certain. When I allow myself to feel that certainty in the wake of doubts then I am open to change and start to feel strong and love myself again.

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