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Week 3: Session 2 - Affirmations

Hello and welcome to Week 3, Session 2.

We’re happy you are back for this week. Last session was pretty intense. How are you feeling? It’s a good reminder to take some time to check-in with your loved ones but also to check in with yourself. 

You know the saying “the only way out is through”? While these first couple of weeks may have been draining, we are so proud of you for taking the time to work through it and give space to whatever emotions or feelings that may have arisen. It speaks to your personal growth. And if you’ve taken a bit of time off between these sessions, that’s alright, just try and find time when you feel safe and replenished enough to work through it at your own pace.

And if this is the first time you’re reading this, welcome! We’re so happy to have you here. However if you’re just starting out please do head back to the first session. We build on material throughout the weeks, and we don’t want you to miss anything!

You’ll need your thought diary for the homework for this week so take a moment to find it if you haven’t already.

These first few sessions have covered some heavy intro material, so well done for working through the content, wherever you are. As a result, however, this session we have some lighter and more fun things planned. We always find balance with Bloom! 

So today, we’ll be looking at affirmations - which we hope will be empowering for all of us on our Week on self-esteem.

Our goal for this session is:

  • Briefly review self-esteem and negative core beliefs
  • Discuss the power of affirmations to build self-esteem and work against automatic negative thoughts
  • Give you examples of positive affirmations, and help you brainstorm some of your own

We will review these affirmations again at the end of our course - don’t worry if they don’t yet feel natural. As ever, it is about practice - not perfection. That is how we make change. 

Let’s start with a grounding exercise...

Stop and take a moment to listen. Just listen. What do you hear? Birds chirping? Cars outside? Maybe it’s really quiet where you are and all you can hear is your own breath or your heart beating. Notice and name what sounds you can hear nearby. Start with the closest or loudest sounds. Gradually move your awareness of sounds outward, so you are focusing on what you can hear in the distance. 

Fun question: What is the funniest thing you’ve seen recently online?

Now, for some uplifting work. Today we are going to be discussing positive-self talk, or using a more popular Instagram-worthy term, affirmations which are another integral piece of the puzzle to building your self-esteem.

Earlier this week, as in our recap, we defined self-esteem as:

  • ‘a term to describe a person's overall sense of self-worth or personal value. In other words, how much you appreciate and like yourself.’
  • Self-esteem is not a stagnant thing and can change with our surroundings and experiences.

We’re going to do a quick review of how self-esteem affects us. Before we review, we want to remind you that YOU ARE NEVER TO BLAME for your abuse. (Remember, it’s one of our 4 key facts to know!) This summary is just a way for us to understand how our thoughts impact us and empower our own ability to move on and to heal.

  • First off, we now know that abusers rely on or else create conditions for low self-esteem in the people they target in order to enforce their control. As a response, to anticipate and then survive these attacks, we bend to their demands to stay safe. It is a survival strategy, but - over time - it can erode and alter our identity and core beliefs. 
  • These core beliefs we hold about ourselves equally impact our self-esteem. Core beliefs like “I am worthless” may result in not challenging bad behavior from others or even believing that abuse is what we deserve - which, again, is why abusers rely so strongly in keeping us down to maintain authority in our relationships.
  • These core beliefs and lessened self-esteem are what causes ANTs - automatic negative thinking. It’s a pretty frustrating and vicious cycle. 

This cycle is why we ask you to keep updating your thought diaries and challenging those thoughts. We can often find ourselves going back in a circle: I think this, because I felt this - I felt this, because of who I am. But, really, it’s not because of who you are. It’s what you’ve come to believe about yourself purely because of the ways you’ve been treated. Thought diaries are important, because they help us debunk and notice these personal myths.

There’s one last aspect of this cycle of negative thinking that we’d like to address before we continue to challenge these negative thoughts. 

The bad stuff is easier to believe, Have you ever noticed that? While this is a quote from the movie Pretty Woman, there is actually a psychological foundation for it - regardless of our past experiences. This is called Negativity Bias. (Here are a couple of cute images that illustrate this - one drawn by a cartoonist called The Awkward Yeti, the other by Gemma Correll).

Negativity bias is the brain’s tendency to focus on negative stimuli, thoughts, emotions, experiences, or interactions over the positives. The negative things tend to have a greater effect on our psychological state and processes over positive or even neutral things. It is the “bad things” that stick to our mind and our memories, and often influence the decisions we make after.

This negativity bias starts at a very basic level of our psychology -- how we make sense of incoming input from our environment, the sensory experiences we have, what we pay attention to, what we encode in memory -- but can also travel up to higher levels of our psychological experience, to how we interpret the things people say about us, and how we interpret the meanings of certain situations. 

Does this sound familiar? In simple terms, our brains make it really easy to ingest and believe all the bad things we hear about ourselves. People are just wired this way, and it is 100% not your fault!

Not being able to easily or naturally let go of what is hurtful, scary, or bad is not a personal failure. Our tendency towards negativity is not about strength of will or character. No individual can be expected to sustain a positive self-image against a human brain prone to see what’s bad - over and over - especially when we’ve survived trauma, or we’re in an environment (or with people) who support our self-doubts.

What we’re doing now is just putting on the right glasses (let’s call them) to filter out the bad, learn the good, and remind ourselves of all the ways - as ever - we are deserving of love.

So, for the rest of this session, we’re going to build up some more Bloom tools to “nourish” our self-image. Let’s add another tool to our toolkit -- AFFIRMATIONS!

What are affirmations? Put simply, they are positive phrases or statements used to challenge our negative or unhelpful thoughts. They are always “I” statements and should be used with a lot of regularity so we get comfortable hearing them, and - over time - fundamentally believe them.

Let’s look at an example. Some people get ANTs that are related to communicating with people over text or email, for example reading into people’s messages as evidence that they don’t like us. So when we see that we haven’t responded to someone’s text in a really long time, we might think ‘I’m the worst friend ever, they must be really mad at me’. And this sometimes means we put off responding for even longer! 

So as a way of questioning that negative thought with an affirmation, we could try to instead say ‘I am a very caring friend, and so-and-so really likes me’. This reminds us that we’re actually a pretty good friend overall, and gives us the confidence to push through our negative thoughts and get back to them in a caring way.

Positive affirmations can be used for a lot of different things: 

  • to motivate yourself
  • encourage positive changes in our life - working from love rather than shame (as fuel)
  • recognise the validity of our emotions and experiences (what do we see when we look for the positive?) 
  • boost self-esteem and undermine abusive control 

They can be particularly effective in empowering survivors of abuse, by helping us clearly articulate and acknowledge our personal values, strengths, and skills, and by inspiring us to engage in behaviors that reflect these values. They can also support our own self-compassion by encouraging us to be kind and understanding with ourselves, especially when encountering obstacles. We can give ourselves the messages we have been so unjustly and unkindly denied by those inclined to cruelty, uncare, and hurt.

Affirmations are most beneficial when they are said aloud, on a consistent basis, and individually tailored to address your own unique challenges and experiences.

Here’s a few examples of affirmations, from Chayn’s lovely team.

Mein unkay bina nahi jee sakti - I am enough for myself.

Mistakes happen and don't mean I'm incompetent.

I've learned ways I can do better. OR: I have value, whether or not I succeed.

Mi valor no está basado en mi productividad + encontraré el trabajo de mis sueños - My value is not based on my productivity + I’ll find my dream job

je suis belle et forte - I am beautiful and strong

The homework for this week is…

  • Pick three affirmations that you feel are important for you and your recovery. What do you want to say to yourself that is kind? (If it’s easier, imagine you’re saying these things to a friend you want to uplift.)
    → Write them down somewhere (a post-it, a notebook, your cellphone, or in your journals) and say them to yourself once a day, every day for this week.
  • Keep working on those diaries! 

If writing down or saying these affirmations feels uncomfortable at first, that is very natural. We can acknowledge the discomfort while still committing to the action. Feelings give us information about what we have experienced/what is normal (where are our limits, what is new and strange), but we can still, ultimately, decide what we want in our own lives. We have agency, wisdom, gut, grit, along with kindness and resolve. We are survivors. And we are amazing. 

Remember, this is an investment in your own journey to recovery. Give yourself the best chance to build resilience. You can do this. 

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