Overthinking and Positive Affirmations

In my journey to stop the 40+ year habit of obsessing about my weight/appearance, I truly have learned the power of what I call “deliberate messaging.” This is just the repetition of truths that can’t be debated to counter negative programming inside my own head.

For example, I often will say to myself, “There are executives (who are mostly straight old white men) in board rooms today discussing the profits that they made off of you hating yourself.” This is not a positive affirmation, this is just a truth that I find very important and that I often forget and so I have spent a good chunk of the last few years reminding myself of that. Every time I get down on myself because of my body or my wardrobe or my personality or my wrinkles I remind myself: THERE ARE PEOPLE MAKING MONEY OFF OF YOUR SELF-HATRED. DON’T GIVE THEM MORE.

This deliberate messaging becomes a lot more permanent in my brain every time I say it so that I’m less likely to fall into traps of self-hatred. The radical social activist side of my brain is holding up a fist saying: NOT TODAY, MOTHERFUCKERS.

I also have some deliberate messaging I deliver to myself in regards to parenting. Things like THERE ARE NO PERFECT PARENTS, and THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS PERFECT PARENTING. I also like to remind myself YOU ARE A SHITTIER PARENT IF YOU DO NOT TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Whenever I feel like I’m failing I remind myself of that and see if I A) Need a nap B) Need a meal C) Need a walk or D) Need some alone time.

Repeating this messaging is like installing a speed trap with cops and radars on the shoulder of a road, or an intersection with stop lights on the highway of self-criticism. When I find myself just speeding down the pavement thinking of all of the ways I’m screwing up my kids, this deliberate messaging trains my brain to slow down and remember some important facts: Don’t strive for perfection that does not exist. Take care of yourself.

I also have a lot of deliberate messages I use in response to urges I have to own/buy nicer things: “Extraction capitalism survives on you constantly feeling like you don’t have enough!” Or when I feel like my kids are disadvantaged compared to their peers: “You are surrounded by wealthy people, don’t compare yourself to them. Your kids have plenty. They are truly wanting for nothing and are simply falling victim to the competition that fuels consumerism.”

This is a new part of my system, using very specific messages to counter the programming done by media/society that promotes consumerism at all cost.

The science that shows why it works, and my own personal experience seeing it work in my life, makes me really want to do better with positive affirmations. The things I categorize as “deliberate messaging” works with the same science as positive affirmations. (Resources: Study Reveals the Neural Mechanics of Self-Affirmation, To Affirm or Not Affirm, We decode the science behind affirmations and how they can infuse positivity in your life, Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation.) It creates more permanent pathways to thoughts you may not naturally have because of previous negative programming. And I see it work with this effort to offer myself these pragmatic reminders/messages.

But jeezus if I don’t struggle with positive affirmations. It’s like the second I try to come up with some positive affirmations, they either sound empty or I spend a million years circling what the affirmation should be and never settle on anything.

For example, if I’m looking in the mirror and hating what I see…coming up with a counterbalancing positive affirmation sends me into introspective spirals. “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL EXACTLY AS YOU ARE,” make me argue with myself and say, “But has the word ‘beauty’ been co-opted in such a way to describe physical appearance when really it’s okay to not be beautiful so am I confusing my focus with that message?“Or maybe if I try something like, “YOU ARE PERFECT HOW YOU ARE,” then I’ll start to wonder, “But what is perfection? And what about striving to be better? I’m not perfect if I want to be better. Is it okay to want to be better?

I think I just need to have better positive mantras. I like the one Brené Brown took from Sonya Renee Taylor’s book “My body is my ally,” but I really want to read the rest of Taylor’s book to see if there are others. I keep waiting to find some positive affirmations that are simple and fit and don’t send me into these weird spirals of overthinking.

Speaking of overthinking…as I typed that last paragraph my brain asked me: Kim, do you struggle so much with self-love that positive affirmations simply make you uncomfortable so you feel the need to argue with all of them?

You can see my problem, can’t you?

When I hear my kids exclaim something negative about themselves I scream, “PRACTICE RADICAL SELF LOVE!” or I ask them, “What would you say if someone just said that about me? Or one of your friends?” Maybe I need to just start there. Just reminders to disrupt the negative self-talk until I can work through my weird block against positive affirmations.

4 thoughts on “Overthinking and Positive Affirmations”

  1. I had to comment because I too have had these problems. I also realized that at times my positive affirmations have no impact because I am saying them but believing something else. Does that make sense? My beliefs are blocking the message of the affirmation. I know it’s not for everyone but man has Tapping helped me figure so many things out. That and therapy of course but I love Tapping because it’s free!! (The Tapping Solution and Brad Yates being favorites if any one is interested).
    I also feel that swinging from a negative thought to more positive thought can be a really big leap at times. You know what is in between those two? A neutral thought. A nothing thought. A blank mind. Back in the day when I was trying to have more positive thoughts about my boss I would feel so defeated—recognizing the negative thought was pretty easy but changing it to positive? really hard. So I just started to try to recognize the negative thought and then think nothing about her. Just try to not think about her by distracting myself with something else. Later if there was anything remotely positive that occurred to me about her I would try to over focus on that. make sense?
    anyway you are not alone!!
    Off to work in the guest room and virtual school!!!
    Julie

  2. When I was in middle school I found this declaration of self esteem on a poster, it hung on my wall all the way through college. To this day I have it saved on my phone. I will find myself sometimes saying to myself, “I am me and I am okay.” I truest believe this has helped me to have the high self esteem I do today, don’t get me wrong I have times were I get down on myself but then I try to remember that I alone have the power to change those feelings. Anyways, I thought It might help you as much as it’s helped me.

    I Am Me
    My Declaration of Self-Esteem and Self Acceptance
    “In all the world there is not one exactly like me. Everything that comes out of me is authentically mine because I choose it…I own everything about me, my body, my feelings, my mouth, my voice, all my actions whether they be to others or to myself…I own my fantasies, my dreams, my hopes, my fears…I own all of my triumphs and successes, all of my failures and mistakes…because I own all of me. I become intimately acquainted with me…by so doing, I can love me and be friendly with me in all my parts…I know there are aspects about myself that puzzle me and other aspects I do not know…but as long as I am friendly and loving to myself, I can courageously and hopefully look for solutions to the puzzles and for ways to find out more about me…however I look and sound whatever I say and do, and whatever I think and feel at a given moment in time is authentically me…if later some parts of how I looked, sounded, thought and felt turned out to be unfitting, I can discard that which is unfitting and keep the rest and invest something new for that which is I discard…I can see, hear, feel, think, say and do. I have the tools to survive, to be close to others, to be productive, and to make sense and order out of the world of people and things outside of me…I own me and therefore I can engineer me…I am me and I AM OKAY.”
    -Virginia Satir

  3. Omg. I love the phrase “introspective spirals”. This paragraph right here is my brain.

    (For example, if I’m looking in the mirror and hating what I see…coming up with a counterbalancing positive affirmation sends me into introspective spirals. “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL EXACTLY AS YOU ARE,” make me argue with myself and say, “But has the word ‘beauty’ been co-opted in such a way to describe physical appearance when really it’s okay to not be beautiful so am I confusing my focus with that message?“Or maybe if I try something like, “YOU ARE PERFECT HOW YOU ARE,” then I’ll start to wonder, “But what is perfection? And what about striving to be better? I’m not perfect if I want to be better. Is it okay to want to be better?“)

    I don’t do that with body image, but I do it with other things, including over-analyzing of over-analyzing. Me: “Introspection for the sake of self-improvement seems ethical. You can’t be truly know if you’re doing the right thing unless you know yourself. But maybe questioning my subconscious motivations and thoughts is not ethical, but just an anxiety avoidance/escape mechanism. Maybe I would ACT and DO more to solve my problems and the analyzing is just an escape mechanism for being afraid of doing something to actually fix it because I’m afraid of failure, and right now I’m over-analyzing my over-analyzing to avoid taking action. So, fear of failure and fear of being wrong may be driving my hyperfixated introspection, but then I need to stop thinking about this so I can do the right thing and take action.”

    Ugh.

    Do you ever have a hard time accepting positive affirmations from others as well? For me, when it comes to positive affirmations from others, there is an immediate reason for me to distrust it. Like, I think “Something must be wrong with you to have something nice to say about me. You are likely biased, may have mental health problems, are unhappy in some other aspect of your life, etc. The research shows like attracts like so you likely also have a history of ADHD, anxiety, depression, and relationship issues, and I do not trust your compliment. You are projecting your unconscious ideal onto me without really knowing me, and therefore your compliment is invalid. ” I mean, how messed up is that train of thought?

    Keep up the positive affirmations. Your repeating them and spreading those positive affirmations to your children HEALS AND BREAKS THE CYCLE of trans-generational emotional trauma. You are doing good work for your children and you’re a great mom.

  4. Thank you for sharing! This resonates with me, especially for parenting and making time for myself without guilt. I always enjoy solid specific advice rooted in science!

    Idk if this might help with self image, but here’s my perspective – instead of trying to redefine what is beautiful, what if it’s okay to not be beautiful, it’s okay to just BE. I exist and my life is a gift. Maybe similar to what the previous poster said about shifting from a negative thought to a neutral one. Wrestling with beauty takes up so much head space – it’s freeing to just let it go.

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