Affirmations vs. IF-ermations | Counseling | Therapy

Affirmations vs. IF-ermations

affirmation is a powerful tool to be used in therapy, counseling and mental health counseling image

Have you ever found yourself feeling affirmations aren’t as helpful as everyone claims they are? Do you ever feel affirmations are failed attempts to convince yourself of your own abilities? You might find affirmations are everywhere! They can be found incorporated into internet ads, billboards, bumper sticks, t-shirts, coffee mugs, stickers, etc… the list goes on. Or you might have exposure to affirmations by receiving unsolicited optimism from a peer, colleague, family member, partner, etc. Whether you were struggling with stress, self-esteem, or motivation… getting hit with some unsolicited advice or affirmations isn’t always a helpful response. The conversation might have gone a little like this…

You: “Ugh I’m feeling so burnt out with work.”

Peer: “Yeah? I’ve totally been there before. You just need to remind yourself that things will get better. Sometimes I like to remind myself of the following affirmation in the morning ‘I’m not feeling at my best today and that’s OK, tomorrow is a new day.’”

And you might be thinking, “gee, that didn’t help me at all.” Thanks, but no thanks!

Some people struggle with affirmations feeling inappropriate, or too forced, or they just don’t notice much improvement in their negative thought process no matter how much they tell themselves these suggested phrases. So, what are affirmations? What are their pro’s and con’s? And what is an effective alternative? Affirmations are a positive psychology tool to boost self-love and promote confidence in one’s own strength or ability. They are meant to be simple statements that can help shift your attention from perceived failures to your natural resiliency. Some pro’s of utilizing affirmations are: they can enhance self-improvement, influence healthy neuroplasticity in the brain, and boost your confidence.

However, affirmations are not for everyone and sometimes they can do the opposite of promoting healing in oneself. Sometimes affirmations leave an individual feeling in a worse mood, which in return could lead to more feelings of inadequacy. Some might ask themselves, “Why does this seem to work for everyone else and not me?” Sometimes negative self-talk can stem from something a bit deeper and affirmations have the tendency to shut down the exploration process of negative thoughts and feeling patterns. Also, sometimes negative internal dialogue can be related to other mental health concerns, such as anxiety or depression, that should be explored in more depth with a professional. So it’s important to be weary of how often we rely on self-help tools to fix a larger issue.

If you find yourself NOT relating to the buzz around affirmations and tend to feel like affirmations are dismissing the very real struggles you’re experiencing… here is a tip for you: Try IF-ermations instead. IF-ermations take the foundation an affirmation provides and transforms it into a question.

I will use the following affirmation for example: “I am worthy of good things.”

To make this an IF-ermation, it would become: “WHAT IF I am worthy of good things?”

IF-ermations prompt us to have a mental dialogue with ourselves and promote a mental response that requires us to ponder the possibility behind these affirmations, instead of feeling pressured to convince ourselves of these statements to be true. IF-ermations assist us in re-writing the narratives we have for ourselves and identify the negative scripts that tend to run and rerun in our head.

IF-ermations also might encourage us to go deeper and continue to ask ourselves other questions. If I was focusing on the IF-ermation used in the previous example, “WHAT IF I am worthy of good things?” then it might lead me to also ask myself, “Why don’t I feel worthy of good things?” or “Who ever told me I couldn’t be worthy of good things?” IF-ermations can also prompt us to have a future-oriented visualization, for example “If I am worthy of good things, maybe that means I can do…

We will use our example conversation from earlier to highlight ways to begin developing your IF-ermations practice…

“Ugh I’m feeling so burnt out with work”--- This is a great example of where to start. You are feeling burnt out at work and you’re not feeling heard from your support system. So how can you tap into your resiliency without it feeling too forced?

  1. BE MINDFUL- Start by gaining more awareness around the negative dialogue that runs in your head around your feelings of burnout. It could sound something like, “I’m always complaining,” or “You should be able to suck it up and handle this,” or “Maybe if you learned how to say no more you wouldn’t be feeling like this all the time.” So much negativity and pressure!!

  2. CURIOSITY- You may start to ponder various ways to enhance self-improvement and heal from these feelings of burnout. Maybe you’re driving into work, you hear someone on the radio talk about burnout, and they suggest an affirmation ,“my worth is not defined by my to-do list.”

  3. TRANSFORM TO IF-ERMATION- This grabs your attention but you might think to yourself “yeah but… it’s not that simple.” So you change this to an IF-ermation and ask yourself, “WHAT IF my worth is not defined by my to-do list?”

  4. MENTAL RESPONSE- Begin by noticing what your IF-ermation brings up for you. What mental response does this question encourage? Maybe more questions begin to surface like… “How am I defining my worth currently?” “Can I begin to prioritize the many things on my to-do list?” “Are there things on my to-do list I could allocate to another person for help?” “Why am I hesitating to ask for help?”

  5. REFLECTION AND ROUTINE- Reflection can look different for everyone, it’s important to develop a routine with your IF-ermations that makes most sense for you. Some ideas to continue reflecting on your IF-ermations is to use it as a journal prompt, allow it to encourage artistic expression with painting/drawing, or maybe create a playlist of songs your IF-ermation reminds you of. Get creative with this!

In summary, IF-ermations can be a fantastic alternative for those who feel reluctant about affirmations. Next time you are met with some unsolicited optimism or a forced affirmation when you’re not feeling your best… try to transform it into an IF-ermation and reflect on the difference in your mental response. Here’s to hoping you find some solace in this suggestion!

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