- We have a variety of automatic, defensive mental strategies that protect our self-esteem from plummeting in the face of threats.
- We can "self-affirm"—or protect our sense of self—by engaging in activities that remind us of who we are.
- Affirmations can be defined as statements that we repeat to ourselves to help us shift the way we're thinking to be more positive.
Do you struggle to feel sure of yourself? Do people tell you that you lack confidence? Or does negative feedback rattle your sense of self or well-being? Then learning about self-affirmation may be helpful for you.
Each of us faces numerous threats to our self-worth (insults, criticism, etc.). Yet, we are often able to look past these threats and still feel good about ourselves. Researchers propose that this is because we have a psychological protection system—a system that involves a variety of automatic, defensive mental strategies that protect our self-esteem from plummeting in the face of threats (Sherman & Cohen, 2006).
For example, we tend to believe that we are responsible for positive outcomes but that we are not responsible for negative outcomes. We also diminish the importance of things we have failed at or things we're not very good at. And, we tend to be overly optimistic about our chances of success, our knowledge, and our competence (Sherman & Cohen, 2006). All of these "rationalizations" actually help us continue to feel good about ourselves, so they are generally good for our well-being.
What Is Self-Affirmation Theory?
Self-affirmation theory is based on the idea that we are motivated to maintain our self-worth in the face of threats (Sherman & Cohen, 2006). When our self-esteem is threatened, we sometimes affirm other parts of ourselves unrelated to the threat (e.g., he may say I have a big nose, but I know I have a good personality). When we do this, it helps us realize that our self-worth is not contingent on whatever negative feedback we just got (Sherman & Cohen, 2006).
According to psychologists, we can "self-affirm"—or protect our sense of self—by engaging in activities that remind us of who we are. These self-affirmations can involve family, friends, volunteer work, religion, art and music, or other activities that are central to how we see ourselves (Sherman & Cohen, 2006).
How to Use Self-Affirmations
Affirmations can be defined as statements that we repeat to ourselves to help us shift the way we're thinking to be more positive. Often these affirmations are used to shift the way we're thinking about ourselves to be more positive.
For example, if we've just been rejected by a potential romantic partner, we might say the affirmation, "I am worthy of love." Or, if we're struggling in our career, we might say the affirmation, "I am capable of success." These examples show how we try to maintain our self-esteem when it’s broken down.
To try it, just choose a statement that represents how you want to think. Then, say it to yourself using these guidelines:
- Say it out loud.
- Use the present tense.
- Focus on the positive rather than the negative.
- Choose the statements that are most meaningful to you.
- I approve of myself.
- I grow and improve every day.
- I am at peace with who I am.
- I am enough.
- I give myself permission to do what is right for me.
- I am intelligent.
- I am courageous.
- My future is bright.
- I deserve success, as I define it.
- I love myself fully.
Finding ways to maintain our self-worth is a worthwhile endeavor. Affirmations are just one way, but they are a fairly easy strategy to practice and use in daily life.
Adapted from an article published by The Berkeley Well-Being Institute.
Sherman, D. K., & Cohen, G. L. (2006). The psychology of self‐defense: Self‐affirmation theory. Advances in experimental social psychology, 38, 183-242.