Well + wise: Positive affirmations
January 1, 2022
The importance of self-talk
by Juliet Lam Kuehnle
“You is smart. You is kind. You is important.”
We remember these lines from the novel and movie, The Help. These are what we call positive affirmations, and they’re more powerful than you might think. There is science that supports the benefit of repeating positive affirmations to ourselves. Awareness of our self-talk can be difficult, and working to make it positive can feel cheesy simply because the words may seem forced or unrealistic. The truth is, though, these statements help us overcome negative thought patterns and help us feel better about ourselves. Over time, when practiced consistently, we strengthen certain neural networks and reprogram our thinking, which then positively impacts our feelings and behavior. The way we talk to — and about — ourselves truly matters as it creates the narratives that make up our self-esteem. The power is also in knowing that you own the words and can add qualifiers to beliefs you’re learning or wanting to affirm. Sometimes it’s easier to hold onto, “I’m learning to believe I’m doing the best I can,” rather than “My best is good enough.”
Allan Howe, owner and therapist at Allan Howe Therapy, shares: “In the counseling room, my sessions start with asking ‘What’s been going well?’ or ‘Tell me an accomplishment over the past week.’ Every session ends with encouragement to keep looking out for the good. Our culture can be so focused on the negative that it is important to remember the positive, particularly as it pertains to ourselves.”
We can translate these accomplishments or gratitudes to positive statements about ourselves. This is different from toxic positivity in that we’re not ignoring hardship or struggles, but we’re allowing recognition of our strengths. Repeating positive affirmations helps mitigate the effects of stress, increases our resiliency, increases motivation and self-esteem, increases optimism, and allows us to be less defensive and dismissive and more aligned with our personal values.
Kuehnle spoke with Vernisha Crawford, founder and CEO of Bringing You Excellence and a trauma/resilience trainer (pictured above). Below are excerpts from their interview, lightly edited.
What is your mission in your work?
My work is so important to me because so often we look at folks who are in need of help or have experienced great adversity and we try to solve their problems or change something about their lives to get out of a situation they didn’t put themselves in. My mission is to help people become trauma-informed, which is a mindset. It’s shifting your mindset from, “What’s wrong with the person?” to “What has happened to them?” When you become sensitive to one’s social-emotional well-being and how it impacts their behavior, productivity, ability to connect and how they navigate life, you are looking at the human being first instead of their situation being the first thing you see.
What else should people to know about trauma?
What’s traumatic for me may not be traumatic for you. It goes back to brain science. What happens in my brain and body when I experience adversity might be different than what happens to you.
Do you have mentors?
At this age, I’ve listened to external voices enough. I have a better mentor inside of me. If I were to quiet the noise and those external voices, I’d be able to hear it. I’m in the process of trying to allow that voice to be heard.
Do you have any go-to quotes or mantras?
I do affirmation time with my daughter every morning. We repeat these: “Today is going to be amazing. I am strong, brave, courageous and smart. I help people. I respect people. I respect myself.” And we always end with “I love myself.” Whatever you put out for other people, give it back to yourself.
What else would you add around therapy and mental health?
It helps people to admit or say things out loud. This releases the feel-good, stress-relieving hormones because you’re being honest with yourself. Saying “I’m doing the best that I can” or “I deserve a break” is empowering. SP
Juliet Kuehnle is the owner and a therapist at Sun Counseling and Wellness. The full interview of Kuehnle’s “Who You Callin’ Crazy?!” interview featuring Vernisha Crawford can be found on Instagram @yepigototherapy or wherever you stream podcasts.