Stories About Affirmations
Here are some of the responses from friends who were asked to share how they use the Developmental Affirmations:
Nap Time Red Pillows (Birth to 4-year-olds)
In my preschool, the little ones seemed to like it when they heard a teacher say or sing the affirmations, especially the Being ones (0–6 months set). We decided to find a way to let them get the comfort of those words at any time. We made round red pillows and printed a Being Affirmation on each using a magic marker. The children didn’t know how to read yet, but it didn’t take long for them to identify which pillow each wanted, especially at naptime.
Kath Hammerseng — Preschool Director — Plymouth, MN
There is Nothing To Do In This Dumb House. (4-year-old)
On one Thursday, Luke, a usually happy, easy-going, 4-year-old, toppled into being resistant, obstreperous, and irritating. His parents, after about four days of only saying “No” and “Don’t do that,” were miserable, and so was he. “We decided what we were saying wasn’t helping. We needed other words.” The parents went to the Affirmations for help. They chose, “You can be powerful and ask for help at the same time,” but that wasn’t quite right. They played with the words and settled on, “You can use your power to help you make your choices.”
At that point, Luke roared into the room, yelling that there was nothing to do in this dumb house. In a calm voice, Mom said, “Luke, you can use your power to get what you need. You can play with the Legos, or you can choose something else to do.” His dad echoed the words in a matter-of-fact voice. Luke stopped, stared at them briefly, and went to play with the Legos.
One of the developmental tasks of the 3- to 6-year-old is to learn to exert power to effect relationships. Luke got the guidance he needed and the safe, developmentally appropriate words to help him. His parents learned a new lesson about a 4-year-old’s need for structure.
Marry Paananen — Public Health Nurse — Seattle, WA.
A Transitional Device (Grade school)
You asked me to write about how I use the Affirmation ovals in practice. I am happy to do so.
I am a reading and math elementary school intervention teacher for students in the racial and economic gaps. Their lives are often complicated and unpredictable. On days when they enter the classroom appearing unsettled, I lay out the Affirmation ovals and ask them to help me sort and read them. “Read ten and pick five that help you today,” I say. I work alongside, eyes and hands on the ovals, reading aloud and choosing. Within minutes, their energy is restored as the unknown needs are addressed. To the group, if they choose, they read the one that will help them the most for today and slip it in their pocket or shoe. The remaining ovals are returned to their jar and viola! The children’s brains are better able to dive into the work at hand.
Initially, children choose ovals that allow them to belong and feel all their feelings. After a few months, they move on to ovals allowing them to state their needs and advocate for themselves. What could be more powerful than children gaining self-awareness to advocate for themselves?
The Affirmation ovals are simple calming devices. As a transitional device, they frame the children’s minds enabling them to engage in the required tasks that follow. Ultimately, they allow children to move beyond their head noise and take control of what they do have control over — their schoolwork.
When I walk into the cafeteria and I find a child in tears or really angry, and neither the child nor anyone around them can tell me why, I invite the upset child to take a break in my office. I eat next to the child with the ovals on the table. Again, we sort and read, and somehow, they land on words that help them name the antecedent to their blow-up. Rarely do I have to say more. They run off to recess and report the rest of their day goes smoothly. It’s as simple as the magic of those affirming words washing over their brain waves.
Much best regards!
Sue Strom — Gap Teacher — Wayzata, MN
Inner-Selfies (Adolescents and Adults)
In my “Inner Selfies” ebook, I use affirmations to help the makers of the Inner Selfie paper dolls find nurturing and structuring words and actions that support the development and affirmation of a human being’s creative being and actions.
“In making your Selfie art dolls, you allow yourself to see yourself through art-making. You move into a potentially transformative space of remembering, renewing and reenergizing your ways of being, doing and creating.”
In my book, “The Healing Doll Way,” I write about turning healing intentions into affirmations. I share the Love Affirmations, and a paragraph at the bottom of the page shares ways to use them when making a Loving Kindness healing doll.
Barb Kobe — Makes Art Dolls, Healing, and Feeling Dolls. She is an Artist, Author, Mentor, Professional Teaching Artist, Certified ARTbundance Creativity Coach. Crystal, MN
Using Affirmations in Parent Education and Therapy Groups (Adolescents and adults)
Thanks for the opportunity,
Educating Parents about the psychological and developmental needs of children:
I utilize the Affirmations to teach parents the importance of child development and how each stage of developmental builds on the next. I start by introducing the Affirmations first as positive, supportive statements that parents could say to their child, then I draw their attention to the colors and bring them back to the stage based on the color. For example, the RED Affirmations are BEING statements, etc. I ask the parent to take them home and read them, and then I answer their questions at the next meeting.
This allows me to address the importance of a child’s psychological development. Within each Affirmation is a developmental task the parent can support with their child. Example: DOING Stage, “I like to watch you initiate and grow and learn.” This identifies the importance of the child being encouraged to learn by exploring their environment and the parent’s role in supporting this process. As we progress, we go through the entire set of Affirmations and all the developmental stages.
Using Affirmations in Group Work:
I have utilized the Affirmations extensively in substance abuse therapy groups. I begin — without explaining anything about the Affirmations — by throwing the large oval (laminated) Affirmations out on the floor and asking each person to choose one affirmation that supports something they did well, and choose another to identify something on which they could improve. When that is done, I have a drop-down poster of the Developmental Stages to explain the stages, and each person can see where the Affirmations they chose are important to their development. I then discuss the idea of recycling and the fact that we all need all the Affirmations as adults. This can be extremely powerful in an Intensive Substance Abuse therapy meeting. I also define Shame. This is often helpful in helping individuals understand what they were seeking and what they missed as children.
CBT — DBT — TF-CBT:
I believe the Developmental Affirmations can be utilized in the process of completing Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) with children who have experienced trauma. The Being Affirmations are helpful in teaching emotional regulation. The Thinking Affirmations are useful in teaching Cognitive Coping. I also find the Identity, Sexuality, Separation Affirmations are useful in the Enhancing Future Safety Module. They are also helpful in teaching the caregiver about child psychological development. By reading the Developmental Affirmations, the child can learn self-care and enhance bonding and attachment with caregivers. They also can be utilized with Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) to support self-soothing and provide an option to rigid thinking and either/or thinking. These evidence-based practices strive to help people achieve psychological flexibility, and the Affirmations can be a beneficial tool in this process.
James Jump LMSW, CAADC, ACSW — Kalamazoo, MI
Look Up at the Ceiling (Young adult)
In a class called “Raising Your Self-Esteem,” a young accountant fidgeted, and shuffled, and sighed, and asked the teacher if he actually believed all this stuff. At the close of the third class, the participant announced she was not coming back, but when the teacher offered her one set of the large plate-size Affirmation Ovals, she took the Red, Being set. She did come to the fourth class. No more fidgeting, but lots more sighing. “What happened?” the teacher’s voice was gentle. “Well, I put those stupid red ovals on my bedroom ceiling and stared at them every day. I began to wish I had got those messages instead of the abuse I got as a child. I am going to try and believe them now.”
Jean Clarke’s observation. — MN
How I Use Affirmations — For Geriatric Support Groups and Church (Youth and Seniors)
I was first introduced to the Developmental Affirmations at a “Self-Esteem” workshop in 1987. They went to the bottom of a pile of things to read on my desk. I thought they were a bit strange, but once I saw them introduced in a parenting class taught by Kaye Centers, I began to see the value. They became a part of my parenting of my daughter, who lovingly referred to them as “Mom’s self-esteem junk.” Later, when she became a teacher, she requested all that “junk” to use in her classroom.
On a personal level, I have used the affirmations regularly as a part of my self-care. I may choose one and carry it in my pocket, or tape it to a place where I need to see it often. Or, I may choose a grouping of affirmations and tape them to a card that I will use with my daily meditations. At times I’ve chosen one or two to use during a period when I journal, centering what I write around how that affirmation speaks to me, or how I may struggle to hear it, or in some other way that works for me at the time. I have a basket of affirmations on my desk, so they are readily available. Sometimes I just play with them and feel the abundance of love that they represent.
Professionally, because the messages from my own personal use of the affirmations are internalized, they have become central to my work with my clients, who are primarily older adults, or medically frail individuals and their caregivers. The affirmations are part of the language of support that I offer. At times, I will either provide a set of ovals for someone to review, at other times, I will recommend the book “Growing Up Again,” and we will review them there. Sometimes, writing an affirmation on a piece of paper and placing it in a prominent location, such as on the television stand or on a mirror, has been helpful. Other times we may choose one of the affirmations and discuss why that may be difficult to hear, or why it would be important to hear at this time, followed by practicing saying that affirmation to one another. We might also choose other affirmations that could support it, and consider ways to practice them between sessions. With caregivers, especially, I encourage using the affirmations for their own self-care and for imagining ways that they may be able to be affirming of their loved one, who may at times not be affirming of them. Some clients are resistant to utilizing affirmations, and that is always okay, as growing and healing are at their pace, not mine.
In my spiritual life, I have found the affirmations to be a way to connect with God’s unconditional love. I recently introduced the affirmations at a “Coffeehouse” worship service in my church on a Sunday morning. The theme for the day was “Renewing our baptisms: claiming God’s love.” We put affirmations on each of the tables, and then we read them to one another as we circled the room to pass the peace. The youth pastor led the service, and that evening when she entered the youth area, the teens were shouting the affirmations across the room to one another. She noted they were doing this with genuine care for one another.
I find the possibilities for sharing affirmations endless. During the pandemic, while we were “sheltering in place,” I offered “Affirmation Hopscotch” to my neighbors while they walked about on a beautiful spring day. It gave me hope, and I pray that others felt some too.
Deborah Search Willoughby — Psychiatric Social Worker in Geriatrics — Kalamazoo, MI
Theory: Affirmations: Phoney or Real?
A few years ago, I started working with cancer patients basing my work on the Simonton approach outlined in their book, “Getting Well Again.” One of the important ingredients of the Simontons’ work is the use of visualization or imagery where the client is taught to visualize a positive outcome of the treatment and elimination of cancer cells in the body. It was, in essence, the beginning of the repackaging of an older brand of pop-psychology, the power of positive thinking. In the last decade, there has been a massive influx in the market of Self-Healing, Self-Loving, Self-Affirming techniques, using creative visualization and positive affirmations.
From the beginning I had some discomfort with certain aspects of this overall approach. Partly it was due to the evangelical zeal with which this approach was being expounded, but also because many of my clients seemed to develop an almost obsessive need to look and sound positive, no matter what else they were feeling.
The philosophical assumption behind this goes something like this:
We create our experiences by our thoughts and feelings. The thoughts we think and the words we speak create our experiences. We create our experience and our reality. So patients were asked to say things like, “I am healthy. I will have a long life.”
Even though they may have felt frightened, doubtful and unconvinced of their chances to increase their life-span, they thought that if they stayed positive enough, hard enough, long enough, their fears would be eliminated. What I saw happening was a developing of a phoney attitude, a scared child masquerading as an internal positive parent with a strong belief — “I must be positive, or else.”
My knowledge and understanding of Transactional Analysis gave me some understanding of the way ideas and beliefs about the self get incorporated and with this information I was not satisfied with the pop-psychology approach.
It was when I was attending an affirmation workshop with Jean Illsley Clarke that the process for the incorporation of positive beliefs or affirmations about self became clearer to me and in particular the role of the Nurturing Parent and the Free Child. As she began to speak about using affirmations, I found myself inwardly groaning. I imagined the workshop participants adopting the phoney unconvinced child position that I had seen so often in my clients. However, as she read out the affirmations, I noticed a profound difference.
Instead of the person being asked to say “I can trust my inner wisdom,” a partner was asked to tell the person “You can trust your inner wisdom.”
Instead of the individual saying “I love who I am,” a partner was asked to say “I love who you are.”
What a difference. I found myself sitting up and taking notice. The message and the process had excited my Free Child and it made sense to my Little Professor.
Editors Note: Transactional Analysis theory, created by Eric Berne suggests that the way we talk to ourselves and others can be understood more clearly if we think of the personality as having three parts or Ego States: The Parent is the part from which we nurture, structure, criticize, or marshmallow ourselves and others. The Adult is the part from which we do here and new problem solving, taking the environment and ourselves into full account. The Child is the part that responds freely or adaptively. The Free Child responds freely and authentically. The Adaptive Child responds over-compliantly or over-rebelliously or psyches things out like a Little Professor. Using this model, external and internal dialogues can be diagrammed.
So what is the difference and why is the difference so important?
If you now take note of how the message is worded, you will notice that the message is being sent from one person to another or from one part of a person to another part of that person’s self.
I identified the following steps in that process:
- Message is sent from the Nurturing Parent of one person to the Free Child of the other person. “I love who you are.”
- Message is received by the Free Child, who feels good.
- The Little Professor intuitively knows that the message makes sense and accepts it.
- The message from the Nurturing Parent is thus received by the Free Child, who can incorporate it into the whole self.
- Having accepted the message from the Child and having integrated it, the person can now nurture self with the same message. “I love who you are.”
This process made a lot of sense to me and highlighted the importance of the Nurturing Parent in the process. Instead of a person attempting to convince themselves from their own Child, they were being taken care of by someone else’s and their own Nurturing Parent.
Jean then went on to show us different ways to use the messages and you will notice again the use of the Parent in these techniques.
- Participants find a partner — A selects messages she wants to hear and B conveys the message to A (e.g. “I like the way you initiate things”).
- Participants in groups of threes — A selects messages she wants to hear and B & C convey the messages to her indirectly by saying it to each other about her (e.g. “I like the way she initiates things”).
- Participants in groups of ten — Five people form inner circle, seated. Five participants form outer circle standing behind them. Inner circle participants select message they want to hear. The message is conveyed by each person in the outer circle in turn, so that the message is received from five different Nurturing Parents. Change places and repeat the exercise.
Thanks to Jean Illsley Clarke’s different approach to the use of affirmations, I can now work with them comfortably, satisfied from all my ego states that the process makes sense to me.
Rosemary Taylor is a therapist in Goodwood, South Australia.
Editors Note: People experience affirmations in their own ways. For me the process is a follows: I check my values about the external message in my Parent, evaluate it in my Adult and let my Child listen in. If I choose it as a fitting message for myself, I say it to myself. After I come to believe it in all three Ego States, I find that I spontaneously change the message from “I love who you are” to “I love who I am”!