Are Affirmations Dangerous Brainwashing?
“Today I deserve only good in my life.”
“Everything I touch is a success.”
“I am abundant and the universe wants to send me money.”
“I can do anything I put my mind to!”
If you’ve been in the self-help world at all I’m sure you've read or heard affirmations like these at some point. You’ve heard the power of positive thinking, right? Yeah, I’ve heard it too and as someone who considers herself a positive person, I figured they’d totally help me through a rough time.
But in fact, they didn’t work at all.
Now let me give you a backstory…
The first time I thought I would brave affirmations was just after my husband and I had separated. I remember walking my dog in rainy Vancouver and trying to tell myself all these positive things I was hearing Louise Hay (the queen of affirmations) was saying I should recite to myself on a Hay House podcast. I was telling myself how this would help me feel better; that it would help my mood. I remember thinking, “This has to work, everyone seems to love Louise Hay.” But something in my stomach felt gross. With each step and each forced positive phrase, I felt worse and worse. It was having the opposite effect on me.
“This is bull shit,” I thought. “This was supposed to help and now I feel worse.”
So, I put the affirmations aside. Maybe they’re just not for me. Maybe I’m not like the masses and don’t like to brainwash myself with the power of positive thinking.
The second time I tried affirmations was shortly after I had moved out of the condo we had owned together and I was officially on my own. I had been in my small bachelor basement suite for almost 3 months and then BOOM I got into a car accident. A pretty bad one too…I couldn’t work and I had nothing but time on my hands. My physical and emotional body was exhausted, but I still had to walk my dog, so one day about 3 years later I thought, maybe I’ll try affirmations again. I knew I was in a different headspace and again I knew the power of the mind and thinking positive. Deep deep down I knew this.
This time it was sunny out. I had begun to step into the dating scene again and decided that I was ready for love. So, I put my Louise Hay love affirmations on and pressed play on my phone while I walked my dog under the sun. She would say one phrase and I would repeat after her 3 times in my head. I tried to smile, I tried to believe her, I tried to lift my head high and really feel what she was saying to me. I wanted to believe her, but I didn’t. “I deserve the best, and accept it now. All my needs and desires are met before I even ask.” She’d say. “Hmmm maybe, but I’ve never felt this Louise.” I thought to myself.
There was again, feeling worse after listening to the affirmations that were supposed to help me feel better.
Now, during the past 2 years I had been seeing my counsellor A LOT. Together we spent a lot of time helping me figure out me which is why I felt I was ready for the work of doing self-growth on my own. (such work as affirmations) I felt like the separation created rapid self-awareness and learning in me. One of my biggest takeaways in the last few years was how I was ignoring my needs and my feelings all my life, but especially in my marriage. So when I listened to affirmations that were trying to tell me how to feel it seemed like a betrayal of self.
The inner-rebel in me kept saying “Who are you, Louise Hay, to tell me what to feel?!”
And here is where the juice is for you and affirmations:
DO NOT RECITE THEM IN ORDER TO AVOID YOUR FEELINGS.
Two super important things to remember:
1) Do not attempt to change your mood with affirmations when you have the right to be sad.
What I mean is this, if you are grieving a loss, if you are in the throes of physical pain, if you are going through any major life changes or stressors you do not need to feel happy doing them. You can if you want, but you don’t HAVE TO. It’s ok to be mad, it’s ok to be sad, it’s ok to feel frustrated and its totally ok to feel super blah. You have to feel these feelings in order to get to being happy again. If you push your feelings aside when you feel them, they will just rear their ugly monstrous head back at you the next time something triggers that same feeling. You could find yourself yelling at the cashier at your grocery store for no reason or blowing up at your best friend just because.
Feel what you need to feel. Honour your darkness, honour the not so “good” feelings just as you would your happy ones. This is the first thing to remember in your everyday.
2) Do not try to listen or speak affirmations if you do not believe they will work.
If there is a teeny tiny portion of your soul that feels like these affirmations will not work, THEY WON’T. A wise friend of mine once told me something that blew my mind. She said, “If you don’t believe the affirmations you are listening to, you are lying to your soul. Your soul knows this and you are affirming the lie instead of the truth.” Yikes. I remember when she told me that I had this ah-ha moment! No wonder they weren't doing the trick! I’m an honest person, I don't believe in lying to anyone, why would I keep trying to lie to myself?! I realized that I was just manifesting (making happen) the opposite of what I was forcing myself to create with affirmations. No thanks!
And now here is the flip side to affirmations. The flip side to what I have been saying up until now…
I believe they do work.
You read that right, after all this doubting of the power of positive thinking I shifted my beliefs about them. Here is how I did it.
Nine months after my car accident, a bout of depression from chronic pain and after confusing the grieving process of my ex suddenly passing away I decided to go to counselling and coaching school. I worked and worked and worked super hard on myself. I went deep. I truly realized how to honour myself in ways I would love to teach you all.
I dove deep into my core beliefs and began to authentically know myself on a level I never had before. I started listening to music that was uplifting, going to yoga classes and meditation courses that had chanting in Sanskrit and noticed I loved it. Words are powerful beings of their own, one slight change in a synonym can shift your entire perspective. I noticed that using the word “mantra” instead of affirmation created a shift in me. The word mantra is a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation; a Vedic hymn or a statement repeated frequently.
To me, affirmation meant permanent, finite, and it had this sort of “convince yourself and you make it happen…” kind of energy behind it. My inner rebel didn’t like anyone telling me what to do. NO MORE will I let someone else control my thoughts!
This was the first shift to soften the process…
1) Change The Words You Use
To shift into something you know will be good for you, sometimes we need to soften our perspective and change our words. For example, if you want more energy to run around with your kids and you tell yourself “I need to go on a diet lose 20 pounds to do this” it may not be the most inspiring thing to continually tell yourself. What if you said “Spending time playing with my kids gives me so much joy. The most loving thing I can do for myself and my children is to eat food that nourishes my body and gives me vitality.” How’s that for softening?
The second shift happened when I noticed how much I was already letting repetitive words into my world regularly. I realized that songs are powerful mantras. I realized that studying on one topic are powerful mantras. I realized that every Instagram quote I read I was telling my mind what to think…
2) Notice The Mantras Already In Your Life
Awareness is key. Are you listening to music with lyrics you believe in? Are you listening to songs that feel uplifting or does the music bring you down? Songs get into our subconscious in such sneaky ways. I’m sure you’ve had a song in your head on repeat for hours or days. Have you ever thought of the lyrics you are singing over and over to yourself?
Not only with music but news, books, social media. All of it affects your mind and your thoughts. Anything that repeats continually, including the way you speak to yourself, becomes an affirmation. You’re basically telling the universe “this is what I believe because I keep saying it over and over again. Please make it come true!”
I’m not saying stop listening to cheesy pop music, or reading the news…but what I am encouraging you to do is to be aware of what isn’t yours. Just be aware of what is true for you. This is the key to the next step.
My third shift happened when I became aware of my desires. When I acknowledged my feelings and dug deep into the pits of my soul and spoke to my heart. I did this through practicing awareness and mindfulness while continuing to work with a counsellor and coach. Even though I am a coach and counsellor now, I still have my own counsellor and coach in my life to offer me their perspective and to help bring awareness to what I am telling myself…
3) Be Aware Of Your Desires
Slow down and listen to your heart. That still quiet voice within you is trying to speak to you constantly. Are you listening to her? All she wants is what’s best for you. Perhaps it’s time to listen. Notice what your mind, body, soul, and emotions are asking of you and then listen! Do what they are asking. When you are aware of what you need and desire you hold the key to unlocking your mind though mantras.
This leads into my last step…
4) Create Your Own Mantras (or Affirmations)
If you’re stuck on how go back inward and listen to what your heart is asking, another great way to test out what to say to yourself is this…go ahead and put on some of Louise Hay words of affirmation, they’re all over Youtube. She is genuinely coming from a pure and loving place and her words are powerful. As you say one phrase back to yourself, slow down, close your eyes, take a breath in and see if you feel right with it or not. If it’s a maybe…then take the phrase given to you and tweak it to be your own. For example, you may hear an affirmation such as; “I believe today is going to be a joyful day.” and you may not disagree but perhaps joyful is a strong word for you. Try changing it to “Today I desire to feel content and grateful for everything that comes my way, to the best of my ability.” This can give you freedom and space to show up as yourself and to acknowledge you are trying your best. You are human! You’re allowed not to feel joyful constantly!
The main thing to keep in mind when creating your own mantra is to keep it uplifting and gentle. The universe, God, angels, your spirit guides hear what you have to say but don’t actually understand “negative.” That beautiful source energy is pure and positive, there is no such thing as “don’t” “can’t” “wont” etc…so when creating make sure you say something like “Today I wake up and choose to love myself.” instead of “Today I wake up and choose not to be so hard on myself.” (Free free to comment or message me if you’re struggling with creating your own or just want a second opinion.)
How I integrated mantras into my life now, is starting my day with 2-5 I wrote myself. I realized I was READY for them. There was a part of me that was asking to shift my nuropathways of thoughts and really program in positive, loving, and kind messages to myself. When I created mine I was inspired by Abraham Hicks, but you can glean inspiration from any source that connects with you. I recite the same ones to myself for at least 30 days straight and do them first thing in the morning when I wake up. I repeat each mantra a minimum of 3 times and maximum 20 times. With each phrase I breathe deeply into my body and connect to the words. I fully absorb their effects and I will tell you now, it will change your day and it will change your vibe completely. You will begin to attract more and more magic into your life when you feel empowered in your mantras.
Listen, create or integrate when you are ready to.
If you decide affirmations aren’t for you then don’t force it. The biggest thing I always ask my clients, and to you reading this is honour yourself first. You don’t have to do practices that don’t resonate with you. There are many other things that can help you shift your mindset. You just have to find the one that works for you!
Full disclaimer: I LOVE Louise Hay. For the purpose of this article she was referenced due to her popularity on the topic.