Why Affirmations Don't Work
One of my clients recently told me that “affirmations don’t work for me” and my response was…“That’s great! Thank you so much for being honest with yourself and me.” Looking back at a confused face, I started to explain. In order for affirmations to work they must pass our well-developed core belief system. This system filters all information coming through our senses as we interact with other people and our environment. According to a Medical News Today article, “Core beliefs are strong beliefs a person holds consistently
over time that inform their worldview and self-perception.” Core beliefs develop through our
experiences and affect our “personality, decision-making and mental health.” We all hold core beliefs and many of them developed out of stress and trauma. The job of these rigidly
held beliefs is to protect us from pain. For example, by not trusting others a person may remain on hyper alert and subconsciously be working hard to predict any chance of harm. This behavior at times will prevent hurt but can also prevent positive ideas from being accepted as true. With my client starting to relax and appearing more curious about what I was saying I continued. First, I wanted to ensure my client that they were not alone in feeling this way about affirmations and that this would be a great place to explore their own core beliefs. So, we worked together to identify areas in her life that she would want to improve and what ideas or thoughts may be holding her back. She identified wanting to improve her marriage but feeling frustrated that her husband did not listen to her and that she was left doing the majority of the household tasks alone. At one point, seemingly almost out of frustration, my client declares, “I deserve support” and “My needs are valid.” I could tell that these ideas felt true to her but were not as well established in her subconscious to be core beliefs. So, I pointed that out to her to explore a bit further. She expressed some hesitancy around the word “deserve” but expressed that she wanted to feel that way and knew it cognitively to be true. So this indicated to me that these ideas did not conflict directly
with her core beliefs and that she desired a more felt sense of these ideas. I then asked her what it may be like if she started saying these statements to herself daily. My client reported that she would like to try it.
In closing, it is important that the affirmations we say to ourselves are believable and that they need to pass the inspection of our core beliefs. We all have an internal truth finder ability, but for some with negative self-image, low self-esteem or a history of trauma this truth finder may be a challenge to get past. Taking a more exploratory approach to discovering what a person holds as true (or at least not in direct conflict with a core belief) may elicit an affirmation that just could work.
Written by Rebecca Bargeron
Villines, Zawn (2022). Medical News Today. Core beliefs: What they are and how to identify them
Accessed March 13, 2023. Medically reviewed by Danielle Wade, LCSW.