Posts Tagged: Wallowing

Negative Affirmations

Here is a new age paraphrase of the beginning of the Gospel of John: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was a vibration, and the vibration was divine, and the divine Word created all that is, and all this is a load of new-age bull….

Mmmm – an example of a negative affirmation that we hear so often about anything that connects spirituality to health.  

We all – all of us – practise affirmations, but many of these are negative ones, and often entirely unconscious: I hope I won’t mess this up….No one loves me…..Typical for me to choose the slow queue…Knowing my luck I won’t succeed……I can’t do this…I am going to be ill if this goes on…..

Negative affirmation 2The twenty-first century may go down in history as the age of positive thinking, though it was first popularised in the 1920s by French psychologist Emile Coué. The idea is to replace negative beliefs with positive ones that will assist us in making positive changes to our lives. In grammar a negative affirmation is one that negates the validity of the concept in the sentence. In psychology a negative affirmation can negate our own abilities. Every affirmation we think or speak reflects our beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. It is claimed that choosing to replace negative ideas with positive ones forces the subconscious to react in one of two ways – avoidance or reassessment of a truth. Inner resistance is often felt as we say something we have internalised is untrue, and this is taken as a sign the positive affirmation is needed more urgently. An example of this might be, “I deserve to be paid handsomely for my work,” since many of us harbour negative associations around money. Another affirmation which often throws up resistance is, “I am lovable and attractive,” or “Everyone I meet is well-intentioned towards me.” The subconscious may seek to avoid to address the issue if the learned negative belief is very strong. Bringing oneself to the point of reappraisal is the first step towards replacing the belief with a more life-affirming one.

Undermining negative beliefs is a kind of brainwashing in which we select which negative beliefs do not serve us. Sceptics say this is pop psychology, an easy gimmick for problem solving, But positive affirmations are not about dismissing negative traits in ourselves; they are about replacing the underlying attitudes that lead to psychological tendencies that can prevent action and stymie peace of mind. We may even speak in a positive fashion, but every fabric of our being cries out denial of what we state. For example, people with narcissistic paranoia who display megalomania are thought to suffer from chronic denial of deeply embedded low self-esteem. Those who reject positive affirmations as unscientific fail to recognise that there are also negative affirmations which are untrue, but which clog up our minds and attitudes. These negative affirmations outnumber the positive ones, often hugely in a large proportion of the population.

Negative affirmation 3Research published in the journal of the American Association for Psychological Science has documented the effect of repeating affirmations. It is thought they reinforce a chemical pathway in the brain, making the connection between two neurons stronger, and therefore more likely to conduct the same message again, irrespective of whether the affirmation is helpful or harmful;  affirmations have been very effectively used in oppressive sects or by dictators to brainwash populations or war prisoners.

Many psychologists continue to be sceptical, suggesting that bringing up painful beliefs can make things worse in people with low self-esteem. Research done at the University of Waterloo in Canada states that people reported feeling better when they were allowed to have negative thoughts. However, there is a word for this : wallowing.

Taking pleasure in one’s misery is an age old pastime, and there are words for it in many other languages – kaiho in Finnish, saudade in Portuguese. Perhaps the key is to not only sense the resistance to a new and positive statement, but to question it, that is to step outside one’s comfort zone. And of course it is crucial to want to adopt new attitudes, otherwise the positive affirmations will be cancelled out by the subconscious will. Some proponents suggest that repeating them while looking in the mirror makes them more powerful and will bring up inner resistance more directly.

Some examples of positive affirmations are :

I attract only healthy relationships

I am generous

I overcome difficult times successfully

This work-related activity is going to be done quickly (rather than “I hope I’m not stuck here till midnight”)

I can only relate to you when you speak with respect (rather than I am sick of you being offensive)

I deserve prosperity and happiness

Those who believe that the world is a vibration would of course go further, and claim that sending out a positive affirmation will actually warp reality and attract new circumstances into our lives that match our new vibration. Who knows? Worth a try?

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Stoicism and the Art of Self-Denial

The Stoics believed that by controlling our minds, we can control our world and ultimately our destiny – not unlike the law of attraction that has gained so many followers today. For the 3rd century BC Stoics, negative emotions were a result of wrong thinking. Distress was the result of being of the opinion that something is bad and that the only possible response is feeling distressed. When we feel that the world has done us a disservice, it is not uncommon for our inner monologue to imagine explaining our distress to others : in this way we justify our sorrow and indignation to ourselves. Stoicism taught self- control and reason with the aim of being free from rage, jealousy and depression. Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor in the 2nd century and a follower of stoicism. In his meditations he says:
“Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All of these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill… I can neither be harmed by any of them, for no man will involve me in wrong, nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him; for we have come into the world to work together…”
Clear-thinking and a philosophy of virtuous living is the basis for all philosophies and religions, but it is the Stoics’ aversion to self-pity that makes stoicism timeless. Marcus Aurelius echoes Byron Katie’s epiphany when she woke up from her years of depression in 1986 in advising : get rid of the thought I am hurt, and you get rid of the hurt itself. Attitude is therefore everything.
Stoicism 2Stoicism is often maligned as being about emotional detachment and self-obsession, the stiff upper lip which engenders insensitivity to others. What is less known is that they advocated the cultivation of happiness and benevolence towards their fellow men. The real self-denial of a Stoic is denying oneself destructive thoughts and attitudes. They advocated enjoying pleasures without being dependent on them (“mastery of passion”), feeling joy in our relationships to others without the fear of loss and overcoming mistreatment by others through practical techniques, so that we may be sick yet happy, in disgrace and yet at peace. The Stoic Epictetus said, “Men are not disturbed by events, but by their opinion about events.” Wallowing was a reflex they subjected to personal will. Exercising will power was, to them, like exercising a muscle – the more we use it the stronger it gets. Physical and mental self-control was the key to a successful life.
The principles of stoicism have been adapted to modern-day cognitive behavioural therapy, which treats patients with depression and trauma. History is full of individuals who applied these principles to overcome suffering – captured soldiers in times of war, people born with a disability, those facing famine or epidemics or natural disaster. If we have faced adversity in our lives, and bounced back, we are a modern-day stoic.
Adversity is nothing more than an opportunity for greatness. Overcoming stressful situations can actually promote health. Stoicism is not a dry, joyless antiquated ideology; it has much to offer for the foundations of a successful, long life.

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Photo Credit: christopherdale via Compfight cc

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