So much of who we are is expressed without having to say a word. From the clothes we wear, to the products we use; where we spend our time and who with. The seemingly small details which when combined, illustrate what you care about the most and reflects who you are and who you want to be. Concealed under these details is the need for us all to maintain a state where we are in control of choices (autonomous), surrounded by loved ones (relatedness) and see ourselves as skilled and fruitful (competence).
Self-affirmation occurs when we participate in activities which reinforce important self-defining aspects such as values, relationships and personal attributes. Self affirmation is the way we maintain self integrity. It’s how we cultivate and maintain an image of a self that is valuable, worthy, stable and good. This ‘self’ has different versions: you as a student, a parent, a friend, a musician, a chef.
In one way or another, at various points, we all fall short of standards which were set by others or ourselves; we fail to match up to whoever’s expectations. Whether it’s failing a class, facing rejection, missing a deadline, being a little clumsy or a little forgetful; failure in any aspect that we consider important can be a threat to the mostly positive self-image we create. On any given day, events and interactions that ‘threaten’ our sense of adequacy are likely to surpass those that affirm it.
Naturally, this can have a negative impact on our perceived self-adequacy, so our minds work hard to repair this sense of worth. When adequacy in a particular aspect of the self is threatened we often become dismissive and defensive, upset or angry. Self-affirmation allows us to respond to difficult situations in a more open, even handed manner, as we acknowledge that many aspects that make us ‘enough’ remain. For example, people from negatively stereotyped or marginalised groups may use self-affirmation to reduce the psychological impact of identity threats in unwelcoming environments.
Self-affirmation can be written
Most research is around self-affirmation through reflecting on personal values. This involves taking the time to appreciate what we truly, fundamentally believe is important- for example, family time, bringing attention to a pressing issue, faith, etc. Reflecting in this way makes us less likely to focus on a single aspect of our lives that maybe isn’t going to plan, and more likely to see the bigger picture.
To practise written self-affirmation, you can start by listing the values that are most important to you, or by trying out gratitude journaling. This kind of self affirmation makes us less likely to focus on where we fall-short (as many of us often do), and can restore a global sense of contentment.
Self-affirmation can be spoken
Similarly, words and statements of affirmation may be spoken to yourself, if you’re not too keen on writing. The statements, used to self-affirm should, again, reflect a belief or value that is core to your self-image. These statements may be reinforced by future-orientation I.e. by lining up your value-based statement with who you see yourself becoming.
For example I am capable of being_______ because…
I will do ____ because I am _____
Self-affirmation can involve actions
We’ve all heard the saying ‘actions speak louder than words’. Self-affirmation through actions and activities allows us to demonstrate what we say or think is valuable to us. This can be as simple as setting aside more time to read, paint or pray. This activity, whatever it is for you, is representative of a core value, and which meets at least one of the 3 psychological needs (autonomy, relatedness and competency). Practising self-affirming activities can help to lower stress, and allows us to be less psychologically impacted by so-called threats.
Self affirmation can help us develop a more balanced and positive outlook, as we acknowledge that we are multi-dimensional beings who will be imperfect- but that transient failure does not diminish our inherent value.