I have written a lot about the power of our thoughts and positive thinking, so it came as a surprise to me to come across this article. New research suggests that the common prescriptive of positive self-talk may not be positive for all people, after all; in fact, it might even be dangerous to some. The people most in need of encouragement and self-coaching are those with low self-esteem; however, such positive affirmations may be outside the realm of what they find to be believable. Thus, these ideas can be immediately dismissed or the individual may immediately internally contradict such statements. If you found Stuart Smalley to be ridiculous, you will have a hard time believing yourself saying such things.
This research utilized Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale to divide participants into a high-esteem and a low-esteem group. Participants were then asked to write down any thoughts and feelings they had during a four-minute period; every fifteen minutes throughout this period, a doorbell would ring prompting half of each group (high-esteem and low-esteem) to tell themselves “I am a lovable person.”
After this exercise, participants completed two questionnaires designed to assess mood and two questionnaires designed to assess current self-esteem. The researchers discovered that the positive statements increased the differences between the two groups; those with high self-esteem already felt better about themselves while those with low self-esteem felt worse after repeating a validation of their lovability.
Positive self-talk seems to only be helpful if you already believe what you are saying to yourself. If you are convincing yourself rather than reminding yourself, you are likely to internally contradict these statements and actually convince yourself that these statements are not true.
I have yet to find research that contradicts the power of our thoughts, but I am refining my strategy for teaching clients to harness this power. You must create your own script, rather than repeating those things that others tell you that you should believe. A friend, counselor, or loved one may be able to help you identify those things that you do believe. Create your own list of reminders of your positive characteristics and successes. Be realistic and focus on the small things, those things that truly make you unique. Repeating positive things that you do believe more often can keep you in a positive frame of mind and increase your self-esteem.