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The Role of Self-Esteem and Well-Being
Life Traps continuing education psychologist CEUs

Section 4
Self-Esteem and Self-Affirmation

CEU Question 4 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Couples
Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

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On the previous track we discussed the "Cost-Benefit Analysis of Deliberately Opposing" and RET.

On this track we will discuss a Three-Tiered Method of constructing affirmationsby examining how this method helped Meredith, age 35, personalize the meaning of her Lifetrap. By personalize I mean, for Meredith this Three-Tiered Method helped to facilitate her understanding of where she is in life to where she would want or need to be.

Meredith, age 35, has been married to Christopher for 15 years. They have two children. Meredith stated, "I feel like I'm a failure. I never seem to do anything right. Ever since I was little I always messed everything up. Now I'm afraid that I'm not raising my children right and that Christopher will eventually leave me."

As you know, affirmations of self-worth are hard to practice, especially for your client who has obsessive compulsive tendencies or a deeply-held belief that there is something wrong with himself or herself. In short, they feel they're unlovable. Sound familiar?

As McKay states in his book, "Self-Esteem, Conquer Fear, Overcome Defeat, and Abolish Self Doubt," the best way to disarm your client's self critic is to render this critic useless. I found with Meredith, as with most people who feel they're unlovable, that she felt there was something wrong with her. Meredith felt that it was not okay to tune-out her obsessive thoughts regarding her criticism of herself and her long-held beliefs.

However, if you tell your client to turn-off the criticisms like "I'm a failure," "I'm going to screw up," or "I'll never be good enough," this creates a vacuum. The vacuum exists as long as there's nothing to put in the place of these self-defeating beliefs.

With Meredith, I found that affirmations helped her realize some possibilities and potentials she hadn't thought of. But, have you found, like I have, that a key to the use of affirmations is getting around your client's resistance, created by his or her low self-esteem, to believing the affirmations? Here's a Three-Tiered method I used with Meredith to break through her resistance, thus enabling her to personalize and eventually internalize the meaning of the affirmation.

3-Tiered Method of Constructing Affirmations
For Meredith, who has low self esteem, affirmations can be a double-edged sword. If they're constructed to present too much of a "Pollyanna"-type view of her life, the affirmation could actually make her feel less adequate. For this reason, I took time in the introduction of affirmations and the initial construction of an affirmation with Meredith.

Think of the last time you used the concept of affirmations with a client. What did you say to explain the concept, and how was the affirmation worded? For example, I find the hardest kinds of affirmations for a client to internalize are global affirmations like: "I'm a worthy person," "I'm lovable," and "I deserve happiness."

Tier 1: Content Based Impersonal Affirmations
To assist Meredith's personalization and internalization of affirmations, I tiered my presentation of affirmations to her. The initial or first tier of affirmations is to create an impersonal content-based affirmation, as opposed to a feeling-based affirmation. Examples of content-based affirmations are, "I'm surrounded by white light," or "I see a beautiful flower." I've found since these content-based affirmations didn't require Meredith to have a positive self-image, they were more acceptable to her.

Tier 2: Content Based Personal Affirmations
After the first tier of content-based impersonal affirmations; the second tier is a content-based personal affirmation. So, for example, I changed the global affirmation of, "I'm a good person who does the best she can," and helped Meredith to construct the specific affirmation of, "I make good brownies." This specific affirmation was acceptable to her. Acceptance is the key to this technique... creating affirmations that are acceptable to the client and gradually moving them to the next tier.

The specific statement, "I make good brownies," was something that Meredith believed at a core level. So the second tier of affirmations is constructing a specific statement.

Tier 3: Visualizations
The third tier of affirmations, after content-based impersonal and content-based personal affirmations, is visualizations regarding the future. For example, Meredith's visualization was, "I see myself smiling with Christopher and my two children."

I then told her to Repeat the affirmation to herself several times, and visualize it in some way. After repeating the affirmation and visualizing the affirmation, I told Meredith, "I want you to try acting as if the affirmation were true." How would you stand if you were the proud mother of two healthy children? What would be the expression on your face? How would you feel inside? Do you think it would be worthwhile to write this affirmation several times in a journal so you could see how the words look on paper?"

Affirmations were so effective with Meredith, we began to construct affirmations specific to her relationship with Christopher. In a session she stated, "When I hear old unlovable thoughts in my head, I just think of my affirmations and the unlovable thoughts are crowded out." Do you need to re-evaluate your use of affirmations in a session with a client?

Client's Own Affirmations
I've found that once a client is comfortable with affirmations they can start creating their own. I told Meredith, "You can create specific affirmations that will help you overcome more personal problems." Creating your own affirmations is really very simple and a fast way to help yourself overcome Lifetraps.

Here are some affirmation basics to consider reviewing with your client. Always phrase your affirmations in positive language. Negative words send your unconscious a garbled message. For instance, you might think it would be effective to affirm, "I will never be afraid." But, the word "afraid" conjures up feelings of fear even when your client puts a "not" in front of it.

I inform my client that their unconscious mind is ruled more by emotions than by rational thought. Fear is such an overwhelming emotion that it blots out everything else in the message. I tell my client instead, affirm that you are already calm, strong, and steady.

With Meredith, I told her, "Use affirmations to reinforce your visualizations. In this way you can double the impact on your unconscious, because you're using two senses rather than one to get your message across. Visualize that you are already acting with confidence and back up your mental picture with a positive affirmation." Meredith and I discussed using affirmations to reinforce positive thinking when she was feeling overwhelmed...as well as using affirmations to prepare herself for going into a situation that she caused her anxiety in the past, for example, going through the bills with her husband

After several weeks of creating her own affirmations Meredith stated, " When I feel myself becoming overwhelmed with a sense of failure, I tell myself, "I did the best I could and love myself no matter what."

What do you think of my three-tiered method of constructing client affirmations of impersonal content based, personal content based and visualizations? Consider replaying this track and figure out how you can apply this three-tiered affirmation process with a client you're currently treating.

In the next track we'll talk about Power Imbalances in relationships and how they create a lifetrap resulting in the feeling "I'm Unlovable."

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Johnson, C. S., & Stapel, D. A. (2011). Reflection versus self-reflection: Sources of self-esteem boost determine behavioral outcomes. Social Psychology, 42(2), 144–151.

Stapel, D. A., & van der Linde, L. A. J. G. (2011). What drives self-affirmation effects? On the importance of differentiating value affirmation and attribute affirmation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(1), 34–45. 

van Dijk, W. W., van Koningsbruggen, G. M., Ouwerkerk, J. W., & Wesseling, Y. M. (2011). Self-esteem, self-affirmation, and schadenfreude. Emotion, 11(6), 1445–1449. 

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 4
What are the three tiers in the three-tiered method of constructing an affirmation? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

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