Positive self-affirmations have taken the internet by storm. If you have used positive self-affirmation before and they have worked for you, that’s wonderful! You don’t have to read further. However, for some people self-affirmations don’t work. Or they might even make it worse.
This article is for you if self-affirmations didn’t work. I’ll show you how Alfred Adler thought about self-affirmations and why he thought self-acceptance is the better way towards a meaningful life.
First of all let’s look at what self-affirmations are. Self-affirmations mean making suggestions to yourself. You might be standing in front of the mirror, you say “I’m strong, I am confident, I am happy”. But it can feel a like lying to yourself. If you say “I’m happy” when really all you feel is everything but happy. This often why self-affirmations don’t work.
Adler says, the better thing to practice to live a fulfilling and meaningful life is self-acceptance. That means accepting yourself as you are in that moment. With all the incapabilities, all your inferiorities, all your insecurities. It means to acknowledge when you feel sad or when you failed at a test to accept that you failed. In this way you don’t lie to yourself and you just acknowledge what it is that you’re feeling in the present moment.
In his Individual Psychology Alfred Adler used the term “resignation” which can sound off-putting, but wait! He said that this resignation is actually having a firm grasp on the truth. It’s actually not pessimistic at all because it requires a lot of courage to accept yourself as you are.
And then you may ask yourself well why is not everyone doing that? Why am I not doing that? And the thing is not that we’re not able to accept ourselves (it might actually be well simple but not easy) but we lack the courage to do so. It all comes down to courage and congruency.
Congruency means for things to make sense. It is absolutely substantial to the way we work as human beings. It’s when you talk to a friend who is in a very bad relationship but she keeps justifying to herself why she is staying in that relationship. It’s when you bought something impulsively and need to come up with a good reason to why you bought it.
We always need for things to make sense, we always need a story that is coherent in itself. In that way, we do exactly the same thing when it comes to self-affirmation.
If you tell yourself “I’m happy” but what you’re actually feeling is sad, then there’s a huge gap between what you say and how you feel. Or what you’re saying to yourself and what’s actually happening inside of you in that moment. You will always try to bridge that gap. You will always try to find ways to bring coherence to the difference you experience.
If you keep telling yourself that you’re so happy but you’re actually feeling sad, the felt experience between those two poles is going to become bigger. This is why self-affirmations don’t work.
And in a way this all circles back to the superiority complex that I wrote about previously. You will try to find ways to make the story coherent. To feel the way you say you want to feel. But most likely they’re going to be very maladaptive.
For example if you are in a very unhappy or maybe even abusive relationship you will keep telling yourself that maybe it’s your fault and your partner is so great and you cannot leave and you’re going to tell everyone how great everything is because you cannot dare to accept the reality as it is.
If you want to live a truly fulfilling life, self-acceptance is only the first step. Maybe remember from my article about the inferiority and superiority complex, the striving in healthy and unhealthy people differentiates itself by the fact that unhealthy people tend to focus more so on themselves.
If you want to live a fulfilling life and you started accepting yourself, the next step is to show concern for others. Here we have to distinguish between trust and belief.
Trust vs. Belief
Trust has to do with security. You need some sort of security to trust one another. The bank needs to be sure that you’re going to pay back the loan. And, well, maybe the bank trusts you because you show them statements. Or you trust your partner because he has always been faithful to you. But trust can be broken very easily.
What cannot be broken easily is belief. I mean try to break someone’s belief for the religion that they believe in. That’s why Adler says it’s not about having trust in other people it’s about believing in other people.
After you accept yourself, you need to believe in others and that means believing without security. Without any sort of trust or any condition that they will not disappoint you. This is the basis of interpersonal relationships.
If self-affirmations don’t work, you can ask yourself: what is the difference between who I am now and what I want to be? And this is taking action. So in case you don’t feel ready right now to go down the route of believing in others, you can take the route of taking action because that means it will actually change something.
You’re not just going to lie to yourself saying that you’re happy when you’re actually not but you’re going to take your fate in your own hands. You’re going to show courage and you’re going to start taking action on the things that matter most to you. Maybe it’s about approaching new people, maybe it’s about changing your job, maybe it’s about going for a run every other day? If you truly want to bridge the gap between how you’re feeling now and who you want to be in the future, it’s not enough to just say what you want to be because likely this is only going to increase the gap that you already experience and it’s only going to make you feel worse.
What you have to do is first you have to accept yourself as you are in this very moment, warts and all, being the incapable human that sometimes you are. And then you need to start taking action. If you ever heard of cognitive-behavioral therapy the most important thing is taking action so that you can change your thinking, you can change the way you experience yourself, and the world.