When I was going through My terror in Ten Years, I tried a lot of things to stabilize my panic and anxiety. A few things helped. I changed my diet by reigning back on sugar and going without it altogether for weeks at a time. I started to work out more regularly to alleviate stress. I took up meditation and Centering Prayer. I also did a lot of positive thinking and said a lot of positive affirmations. My guess is that you know a few:
I am strong. I can do anything I set my mind to.
I deserve the best of everything.
I act from a place of personal security.
I fully accept myself and know that I am worthy of great things in life.
I choose to be proud of myself.
I release myself from anger and forget the past.
I let go of my anger toward ____________________________.
Today is going to be a great day.
I can forget yesterday’s pain. It’s not happening now.
I can move forward with the happiness of today.
I am calm.
I am stable during life’s ups and downs.
I am loveable.
I am worthy of kindness and respect.
I am relaxed.
I am safe.
I do not fear anything.
I think happy thoughts.
I’m too blessed to be stressed.
I respond to my relationships with calm, thoughtful feedback.
I emit positive energy to everyone I interact with.
I trust others.
I am wanted.
I enjoy my life.
I have all the love I need.
I am grateful for everything I have.
I choose to be happy.
I only think about what brings me peace.
I accept myself as I am.
I am a phenomenal woman.
I honor and respect myself.
Peace starts with me.
I choose to be peaceful.
I leave my stress at work.
I calmly process the events of the day.
I can let this go.
It is what it is.
I could go on. I’ll pause here to ask: Do you recognize any of these? Have you recited them to yourself while in the throes of anxiety or depression? Have you used them to try and change your mood, re-direct your attention, clear out your gray, tense, or sagging energy?
And they didn’t work.
It took me a while to accept that positive affirmations didn’t work (for me) at the time of my deepest need. I wanted them to work. I often felt desperate for them to work. I wanted my healing to be easy, quick, and as direct as saying these words, over and over again, for a set number of minutes. I wanted to feel better than I did and I wanted the better to happen fast.
During My terror in Ten Years I learned that transformative healing doesn’t work that way.
Transformative healing is a process. It involves commitment. It’s basically an equation. It looks like this:
Instruction + Coaching x Commitment
Transformative Healing = _________________________
Length of Days
Transformative healing goes beyond scratching the surface that positive affirmations sit on. When positive affirmations don’t work, it’s because they aren’t going deep enough. When positive affirmations don’t work, it’s because they are being used in efforts to begin, process, or sustain healing.
Positive affirmations don’t begin, process, or sustain healing.
Positive affirmations help healing that’s already truly been done.
It’s not possible to avoid doing the messy, scary, exhausting work necessary to experience a shift in your belief system. Paradigm shift is like moving heavy rocks, often in hot weather. Or, in the freezing rain. Sometimes up a hill. There’s no short cut. If you find one, I can tell you that the fix won’t last. The next big bang, the next real terror to be experienced in love and life, will rip the facade off your face and knock you off your feet fast and hard. It will hurt. It may cause regression, making it more difficult to get back up and start again. This cycle can cause more sadness, frustration, and anger. This cycle can move you closer to quitting and believing that life won’t improve, that it’s meant to be hard and painful, or worse, that happiness and strength and wisdom are meant for other people, not you.
Done this way, reciting positive affirmations is not only unhelpful, it can be harmful.
So, it’s better to do healing deeper. It’s better to do healing truthfully. It’s more expedient to do deep excavations of the soul. In the midst of this work, you can find out the vast scope of who you really are, what you really believe, how you really behave, and learn methods of revision that can stick. Then, repeating positive affirmations will be fine. Why? Because then the words being said will have something real to hang on to. Real understanding. Real truth. Real revelations. Real belief. Real conviction. Real knowledge. Real energy. Realness.
There are many ways to do transformative healing. I have researched them for years as a classically trained educational and social anthropologist. I have practiced several for years as a marginalized woman who experienced many deeply painful terrors in life and love. I have developed my contribution to the many ways available and I can share a methodology with you today. Be in touch and I’ll show you how.
Jeanine Staples is Associate Professor of Literacy and Language & African American Studies at the Pennsylvania State University. Her book, The Revelations of Asher: Toward Supreme Love in Self, is an endarkened, feminist, new literacies event (Peter Lang, spring 2016). In it, she explores Black women’s terror in love. She produces research-based courses and methodologies that enable marginalized girls and women to realize internal revelations that fuel external revolutions.
Dr. Staples’ next book details the evolution of her acclaimed undergraduate course, The Philadelphia Urban Seminar. In it, she explores Supreme Love in schools. She shows how she generates curriculum and methodologies that incite anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-ableist pedagogical stances among teachers interested in urban education and equity for all people in schools and society.