Positive affirmations are very helpful for everyone, especially when people are looking to develop healthier self-esteem or are coping with grief. However, in the current climate, positive affirmations are being pushed as the solution to negative thinking. Mainstream society tells you to replace your negative thinking with positive self-talk. This counter move doesn’t ALWAYS work, instead, people find themselves drained, depleted, and discouraged because they continue to hear their negative self-talk, despite their best efforts to replace the negativity with positivity. Although you might experience short-term relief by shifting your negative self-talk to positive affirmations, it may not last. Sometimes people feel like they are struggling to get out of quicksand: the more you FIGHT the faster you will sink.
This is not to say that positive affirmations should be avoided or neglected, but there is a time and a place for them. If you want to experience true long-term relief from your negative self-talk you must be willing to identify the root of the problem. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can be a useful source for individuals looking to overcome negative self-talk. The acronym ACT stands for A: accept and acknowledge your thoughts, C: choose a valued direction, and T: take action. This model is extremely helpful because it allows you to recognize the deeper meaning of your thoughts and allows you to address them head-on.
It’s important to understand that the issue does not lie in negative self-talk or even positive affirmations. The source of the problem is denying or failing to recognize the very natural, real feelings you are having. You cannot run away from your thoughts by avoiding them, and you cannot expect the negative voices to get quieter without accepting them and choosing to take action.
I often ask my clients to consider what the negative thoughts might be trying to do, and how they might be intended to be helpful or useful. Are they meant to be a warning? Are they intended to set limits on behavior? The intention can be acknowledged, and then perhaps the person can begin to let go and find a better way forward.