(OrganicJar) Canadian researchers found those with low self-esteem actually felt worse after repeating positive statements about themselves. They said phrases such as “I am a lovable person” only helped people with high self-esteem.
A UK psychologist said people based their feelings about themselves on real evidence from their lives. The suggestion that people should “help themselves” to feel better was first mooted by Victorian Samuel Smiles 150 years ago in a book called “Self Help” (it sold a quarter of a million copies).
The Experiment of Contradictory Thoughts
The researchers from the University of Waterloo and the University of New Brunswick, asked people with high and low self-esteem to say “I am a lovable person.” They then measured the participants’ moods and their feelings about themselves.
In the low self-esteem group, those who repeated the mantra felt worse afterwards compared with others who did not. However people with high self-esteem felt better after repeating the positive self-statement – but only slightly.
The psychologists then asked the study participants to list negative and positive thoughts about themselves. They found that, paradoxically, those with low self-esteem were in a better mood when they were allowed to have negative thoughts than when they were asked to focus exclusively on affirmative thoughts.
The researchers suggest that, like overly positive praise, unreasonably positive self-statements, such as “I accept myself completely,” can provoke contradictory thoughts in individuals with low self-esteem. Such negative thoughts can overwhelm the positive thoughts. If people are instructed to focus exclusively on positive thoughts, negative thoughts might be especially discouraging.
The Real Life Factors
Repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, such as individuals with high self-esteem, but backfire for the very people who need them the most. However, they say positive thinking can help when it is part of a broader program of therapy.
Self-esteem is based on a range of real life factors, and that counseling to build confidence – rather than telling yourself things are better than they are – was the solution. These are things like, do you have close family relationships, a wide network of friends, employment and appearance.
If you’re not close to your parents, don’t have many friends, are unemployed and are unhappy with your appearance, it might be hard to have high self-esteem.
Thoughts On What This All Means
We build our personal reality to make sense of the real world, and see reality reflected in it. How we feel about ourselves and about today, and affirmations for that matter, depends on our personal reality. Since our reality operates at an unconscious level, it is unlikely that we are aware of the forces that drive our daily behavior. Our realities are patterns of repetitive behaviors and thoughts; they create the feeling of living on automatic pilot because we have disconnected from reality and plugged into our own version of it.
So if you have a personal reality that is characterized by low self-esteem no amount of positive mantras are going to change your mood and, as the research suggests, it will probably exacerbate your negative feelings.
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