Positive Self-Affirmation May Backfire On People With Low Self-Esteem

Positive Self-Affirmation May Backfire on People with Low Self-Esteem

Some people have a level of success using self-affirmation mantras, such as "I'm great and people like me." Others find them trite and unhelpful. The distinction may boil down to self-esteem and, more importantly, how much self-affirmation causes conflicting internal thoughts.

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A study conducted at the University of Waterloo found that repeating self-affirmation statements like "I'm a loveable person" boosted self-esteem in some subjects. However, in subjects with already low self-esteem, they found that repeating the mantra only made the situation worse. They theorise that this is because the conflict between self-perception and the statements themselves caused more stress, leading the subject to feel worse:

"…outlandish, unreasonably positive self-statements, such as ''I accept myself completely,'' are often encouraged by self-help books.

Our results suggest that such self-statements may harm the very people they are designed for: people low in self-esteem."

The problem of low self-esteem, according to the study's authors, isn't one that can be solved simply by telling yourself something over and over until you believe it. Self-affirmation can help someone with otherwise high self-esteem get through periods of doubt and stress, but low self-esteem typically needs more concrete perception adjustments in order to escape the cycle of self-denial.

"I Am a Loveable Person!": Why Positive Mantras Backfire For Some [Psyblog]


    I view another difference as "inward focussed" vs "outward focussed". If you are outward focussed (eg. I gain my value by what I do for others for much of my time), then such mantras will fail miserably, because the drive is in the wrong direction, regardless of self esteem level.
    For those that gain satisfaction by focussing on themself (and that doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing), a self focussed statement is more likely to be effective at the right time.
    Other strategies for "outward focused" people would be to highlight potential discoveries, new learning areas, social groups to help kids, etc.

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