“You are beautiful”
“You are worthy”
“You are strong”
These are the words my friend used to ask me to repeat to myself everyday, while looking in the mirror. I really did give it my best effort, but I always ended up feeling worse after I tried to do the exercise.
Welcome to Day 13 of #31DaysofSelfCompassion
The theme today is “Find your truth”.
Nothing about positive affirmation exercises felt uplifting. Instead, I was always feeling much worse after, not only from my already existent low-self esteem, but also from the added shame of failing at what seems simple to do. However, I discovered why when an article in “Psychology today” titled “Why don’t my positive affirmations work“?
A study was done where 2 groups of people were told to say positive affirmations out loud, then had their mood measured afterward. The group of people with low self-esteem actually felt worse after, while those with high self-esteem felt better, but not by much.
The reason for this is that most of us, even with our best intention, only seek the statements that match our self perception. So if you have low self-esteem, positive affirmations feel hollow because they don’t match what you believe about yourself. You will then reject it and actually feel worse because they only confirm what you already believe about you. You don’t feel beautiful, you’re worthless, you will never be enough.
Does this mean there is no hope? Not at all. Here is what does work. Instead of statements that ring hollow to you, reach for the closest truth you have. If you don’t love your body, can you name a body part you love instead? If you don’t feel worthy, can you name a specific skill you have? This is how I learned to love my body and myself piece by piece. Simply saying “I love my body”, wasn’t something that felt true. So I first focused on what I already loved. Like my long legs and my lips. Then I learned to appreciate the rest with time. Some days I still can’t stand my body, but I don’t lie to myself with positive affirmations. I reach for the closest truth. “Dear body, I don’t love you right now, but I know how loyal and resilient you are and I love that”. “I don’t love the scars on my legs, but I recognize how hard they work to take me places”. Whatever it takes to be kinder to me, without having to lie through positive affirmations.
This method allows you to let go of the negativity you have within, without feeling like you are lying to yourself. It makes you work hard to recognize good things about you, which you might have actually overlooked before. So whenever you feel awful about your body, find your truth instead of repeating positive affirmations.
What’s your truth?
Isabelle Masado writes about body compassion on her blog "The Dear Body Project". She knows all too well that the personal is the political, is the community. As such, there is no discussing body compassion without talking about the assault on black bodies, trans women, and people with disabilities. Her mantra is, "How can I live in a way that makes room for you too"? She writes to examine, to heal, to redeem.