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.

Picture: Loren Kerns/Flickr

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]