I remember a popular SNL skit from the eighties. In the skit, there was a guy, Stuart Smalley, who looks into a mirror and says, “I’m smart enough, I’m good enough, and doggone it, people like me.”
This was my first encounter with what are typically called affirmations. Affirmations are encouraging statements (some might call them positive statements) that people repeat to themselves to build confidence. Not all affirmations are alike (as I will explain shortly), and people use affirmations for a variety of different reasons—some good and some less than wise or helpful.
When I was watching the SNL skit, I remember being really put off by affirmations, at least the way they were portrayed on the show. It left me with a long-term, skeptical view of their efficacy.
Surprised by Affirmations
Imagine my surprise when about twenty years later, I rediscovered affirmations and realized that certain kinds helped to heal some problems I had dealt with for years.
As I have explored affirmations over the last six or seven years, I have learned several important lessons.
First, not all affirmations are the same. Some affirmations are geared more towards building up self-esteem, while other affirmations are geared towards helping us honor our own dignity and to practice self-compassion.
Generally speaking, I don’t find self-esteem affirmations unhelpful. Affirmations like this tend to focus on culturally-defined standards of worthiness or beauty or success, and to be honest, these cultural standards are often stupid and inauthentic.
In addition, some self-esteem affirmations focus primarily on encouraging continual awesome, carnival cruise-type feelings. This doesn’t work for me. One of the most important lessons I have learned in is that sometimes life is crappy; sometimes I make big mistakes and fail; sometimes I feel miserable: and all of that is okay and normal.
I need affirmations that reinforce true things about myself. And I need affirmations that help me when I feel successful and also when I feel like a miserable failure. So in my experience, affirmations that focus on our dignity and on self-compassion are the most helpful. And that brings me to my second lesson I have learned.
The Purpose of Affirmations
It is important to understand the purpose of affirmations, and in my opinion, good affirmations do five things.
- They remind us we are worthy: Being worthy doesn’t mean we are perfect. Being worthy means that we all have a special light in us that contains seeds of love, wisdom, compassion, and creativity. We can never lose this light.
- They remind us we are capable: Being capable means that all of us can nurture these beautiful seeds. Being a loving, wise, compassionate, and creative person, is something we all can do, and we do it through intentional thought and practice.
- They remind us we are powerful: The more we nurture these seeds through our thoughts and actions, the more powerful we become because we build authentic, life-giving relationships with ourselves and others. The more we do this, the more we can solve painful problems in our lives, in our relationships with others, and in the world.
- They remind us we are essential: We have a purpose here on the earth—every single person does. That purpose is to nurture our seeds of goodness. In doing so, we join our light with the light of others to create a more just, beautiful, and loving world. How we do this is the Great Puzzle we must solve, and as cliché as it might sound, YOU are an essential piece of that puzzle. So am I. So is everyone else.
- They help us show compassion for ourselves when life is hard: Even though we are worthy, capable, powerful, and essential, there is no denying life is very hard. We suffer because of our own personal ignorance and frailty, and we suffer because of the cruel and careless ways people treat us. Good affirmations help give us a strong internal anchor that steadies us during our suffering.
Affirmations are Like…
Fitting affirmations are like a balm to the wounds in our spirit. These wounds develop because of harsh, negative, and unloving criticism from others or ourselves. Fitting affirmations also heal us by remedying deficiencies we have such as deficiencies in self-compassion or hope or an inability to recognize our own dignity.
Fitting affirmations are also like water and sunlight that help water the seeds of your potential grow. A fitting affirmation should resonate with you and make you feel excited, more free, more hopeful, more alive.
If an affirmation makes you feel angry or deeply incredulous or skeptical or feel worse about yourself, it is not a fitting affirmation for you.
There may be times when you first start using affirmations that you feel some doubt and uncertainty. That’s okay. It will probably feel something like this: “I wish this could be true, but I don’t know if it really is.” If you feel this way but feel willing to try, you can say to yourself, “I am willing to practice using these affirmations for a while to see if it nurtures growth in me. I can always change my mind later.”
Using affirmations is a little bit like learning to skip rope. It can feel a little awkward and hard to get the hang of at first. Eventually you’ll get it.
Why Even Care About Affirmations?
It may seem at this point that I am making a big deal about just “saying nice things to ourselves”. Why do affirmations even matter? It is perfectly reasonable to ask this.
To answer this question, I would ask you to consider something.
Very little about the world is given to us in a fixed and permanent way. Instead, we create most of the world we see around us through our collective decisions and actions.
And how do we decide to act? We act according to the things we think about ourselves, each other, and the world around us: our view of the world.
This should concern us when we realize that many of us (perhaps most of us) often walk around saying things like this to ourselves:
I’m a loser.
My life sucks.
Things never change.
I am fat and ugly.
Everyone hates me.
Life is horrible, and that’s just the way it is.
Now let’s be clear: We have imperfections, and so do other people. There are also really bad things in the world. We cannot deny these things, but remember, good affirmations do not deny suffering. Good affirmations remind us we are worthy, capable, powerful, and essential, and they help us show compassion in suffering.
When we forget these foundational truths about ourselves, we develop fear, shame, self-loathing, hopelessness, and despair, to name a few painful feelings. And when we act out of fear, shame, self-loathing, we create a world permeated with this worldview.
Because of this, good affirmations help to heal our suffering and help to cultivate love, peace, and hope in the midst of suffering. (And they are just one tool to do this. There are others, too.) And when we act out of love, peace, and hope, we begin to create a world that nourishes ourselves and everyone else, too.
Would You Like Some Good Affirmations?
If you were asking yourself, What are some examples of good affirmations? you are in luck. I am going to include some down below here. In addition, I will be writing other affirmation posts in the future.
The main thing to keep in mind is that one of the best things you can do for yourself personally, for your friends and loved ones, and for the world around you is to learn to speak to yourself in a kind and compassionate way. As you do this, you will create more love, peace, and hope in your life, and as you act, you will bring these beautiful things into the world.
Thank you for your light, Friend. Love you.
Here are some affirmations to help you get started. You have seen a few of these already in the post. I have included them here, along with some more affirmations about our Light in general and about our bodies, as many of us often struggle feelings peaceful about our bodies.
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 If you find self-esteem affirmations helpful, good for you. Affirmations are kind of like clothes. Clothes that may not fit you may work perfectly for someone else. Some affirmations won’t work for you, but they will work for other people, and that’s okay. Or, you may need to tailor affirmations to help them fit you.
 Most people’s worldview is made up of a mixture of good and bad thoughts about themselves and the world.