Self-affirmation is an act of love and self-respect. If we are unable to assert ourselves, we will slide into the terrain of insecurity and doubt. It is likely that we end up pretending what we are not or that we accept the demands of the others just because we believe that we do not have the strength or the necessary skills to defend our ideas, needs and dreams.
In fact, self-affirmation is the pillar on which our identity is based. Around the age of three, when we realize that we are independent from our parents, that desire to assert ourselves begins to develop. So we live a negativistic stage in which our “no” is a reaffirmation of our power and our ability to decide.
That phase doesn’t take long to pass. We soon learn that if we want to be accepted, we need to adapt. Then the need for external approval can bury the desire to assert ourselves under its weight. The result can be catastrophic: our identity, that which makes us unique, practically disappears under the shadow of the society.
What is self-affirmation?
Self-affirmation is the ability to feel and express freely and assertively those aspects of the personality that identify us and make us unique, from our ideas and opinions, to our emotions or traits. Self-affirmation reflects the strength and stability of our identity, as well as being an indicator of our level of self-acceptance.
At its base is self-confidence. When we are sure of who we are and correctly value our abilities, we can express our needs, ideas, emotions and feelings with assertiveness, without harming the others, but also without allowing them to trample us. The concept of self-affirmation refers, therefore, to the coherence between what we feel, think and do, but also to our ability to express ourselves with respect.
The 3 pillars that support self-affirmation
1. Self-esteem. Self-esteem reflects how we value ourselves and the feelings that this generates in us. It varies according to the perception we have of our successes and failures, as well as the importance that we give to the image we have formed of ourselves. Strong self-esteem supports self-assertion because it gives us the confidence and security necessary to be able to express ourselves freely and claim our rights.
2. Self-efficacy. Good self-esteem is not enough to assert ourselves. We cannot fool our “self” forever and live with our backs to reality. If we have gone from failure to failure, it is difficult for us to reaffirm ourselves as a person. Self-efficacy implies being aware of our skills and abilities because we have put them to the test and we know how far we are capable of going. Without self-efficacy, self-assertion is mere bragging.
3. Self-confidence. The third pillar of self-affirmation is self-confidence. We may not have the necessary skills to solve a problem, but we are certain that with a little effort we can develop them. We may not know very well how we will get out of the drama we are experiencing, but we trust our resilience to overcome adversity. That confidence in ourselves allows us to reaffirm ourselves as a person.
Positive self-affirmation as a way to grow
Self-affirmation does not imply imposing our ideas on the others. Nor do we achieve what we want at any cost. And much less we say the first thing that comes to mind risking committing a sincericide. Reaffirming ourselves at the expense of the others is not beneficial to anyone.
Self-affirmation at the expense of the others is a strategy in which we appropriate or belittle the achievements of the others in order to artificially increase our worth. However, in that way we become dependent on the others because we do not affirm ourselves for our worth but at someone else’s expense. We do not gain stature by growing but by climbing on someone’s shoulders.
With negative self-affirmation, the personality does not develop, simply because we do not recognize our mistakes or weaknesses, so that we cannot overcome them. Thus we end up nurturing an artificially high self-esteem and sense of self-efficacy that can be shattered when the people at the expense of whom we have “grown” decide to assert their merits and qualities.
Positive self-affirmation, on the contrary, implies personal growth. It is achieved through a delicate balance between our desires and needs and the desires and needs of the others. It implies being aware of our worth, but without underestimating that of the others.
While negative self-affirmation destroys what it encounters on its path turning relationships into a war of egos, positive self-affirmation empowers and sows mutual respect. When we affirm ourselves in a positive way we achieve greater security and confidence, but we can also decide more easily since we will have clearer our goals and needs and, above all, we will be more faithful to ourselves.
A constructive self-affirmation rests on the potential of the “self” and the own strength. It does not depend on the others to rise but only on our personal resources. This type of self-affirmation allows us to grow and become more independent, being more aware of our capabilities and limits.
The incredible benefits of self-affirmation
• It protects our health
Reaffirming our identity has been linked to more positive attitudes towards health. A study carried out at Aston University revealed that promoting self-affirmation allows us to develop more positive attitudes towards physical activity and a greater commitment to training.
On the other hand, psychologists from the University of Sheffield found that self-affirmation also helps us to follow a healthier diet. It is not magic. The secret is that when we are sure of who we are and what we want, it is much easier for us to achieve our goals because we are driven by an intrinsic motivation.
• It makes us more flexible and open
Self-affirmation does not imply closing ourselves in our world, but it gives us the necessary security to open ourselves to different ideas. Therefore, it is not surprising that psychologists at the University of Michigan found that the mere fact of writing about the values that are important to us makes us less defensive and more open to dialogue.
Another study conducted at the University of California concluded that “Assertive people are more likely to accept information that they would otherwise consider threatening and subsequently change their beliefs and even their behavior.” Therefore, self-affirmation makes us more flexible and open to different ideas and ways of thinking, which allows us to grow by taking from different sources.
• It provides serenity
Self-affirmation not only reduces defensiveness, but also stress and improves our performance, even when we are immersed in situations that can be threatening, since that confidence in ourselves is a source of security and serenity.
In fact, psychologists from the University of Nijmegen found that self-affirmation is a powerful tool to combat ruminative thoughts. It allows us to broaden our perspective and assume a psychological distance from threatening situations, so that their emotional impact decreases, which allows us to react in a more balanced and adaptive way.
How to develop self-affirmation skills?
1. Know yourself. You reaffirm yourself if you don’t know yourself well enough. Therefore, although it may seem banal, the starting point is to ask yourself what defines and differentiates you, what you want and what skills do you have to achieve it. Clarify your dreams and goals, but also your skills and weaknesses.
2. Validate yourself. In this process of introspection, you may discover things that you do not like, the famous Jungian shadows. However, self-affirmation goes through a radical acceptance of the person you are. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to strive to improve, but you need to validate your emotions, drives, beliefs, and needs. If you do not validate yourself, you will be tempted to seek that validation outside.
3. Express yourself assertively. It is useless to get to know and accept yourself if later you are not able to express who you are and allow the others to manipulate you. Therefore, you must implement an assertive communication style that allows you to express your desires, needs and ideas without hurting the others. You need to dare to say “no” when you don’t like something and “yes” without fear of criticism.
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