Self-affirmation is an act of love and self-respect. If we are unable to reassert ourselves, we slip into the terrain of insecurity and doubt. We are likely to end up pretending what we are not or that we accept the demands of others just because we believe we do not have the strength and skills necessary to defend our ideas, needs and dreams.
In fact, self-affirmation is the pillar on which our identity is based. The desire to establish ourselves begins to develop around the age of three, when we realize that we are independent from our parents. So we live in a negativistic phase in which our "no" is an affirmation of our power and our decision-making capacity.
This phase doesn't last long. We soon learn that if we want to be accepted, we have to adapt. Then the need for external approval can stifle the desire to assert ourselves. The result can be catastrophic: our identity, what makes us unique, practically disappears in the shadows of society.
What is self-affirmation?
Self-affirmation is the ability to freely and assertively feel and express the aspects of the personality that identify us and make us unique, from our ideas and opinions, to our emotions or personality 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 properly evaluate our abilities, we can express our needs, ideas, emotions and feelings assertively, without harming others, but also without allowing them to step on us. The concept of self-affirmation therefore refers to the coherence between what we feel, think and do, but also to our ability to express ourselves in a respectful way.
The 3 pillars that support self-affirmation
1. Self-esteem. Self-esteem reflects how we value ourselves and the feelings it generates and varies according to the perception we have of our successes and failures, as well as the importance we give to the image we have formed of ourselves. Strong self-esteem supports self-affirmation because it gives us the confidence and security we need to be able to freely express ourselves and claim our rights.
2. Self-efficacy. Good self-esteem is not enough to reassert ourselves. We cannot fool our "I" forever and live with our backs to reality. If we have gone from one failure to another, it is difficult for us to reassert ourselves as a person. Self-efficacy involves being aware of our abilities because we have tested them and we know how far we can go. Without self-efficacy, self-affirmation is only self-exaltation.
3. Trust in ourselves. The third pillar of self-affirmation is self-confidence. We may not have the skills necessary to solve a certain problem, but we are confident that with a little effort we can develop them. We may not know very well how to get out of the drama we are experiencing, but we are confident in our resilience to overcome adversity. Self-confidence allows us to establish ourselves as a person.
Positive self-affirmation as a way to grow
Self-assertion does not imply imposing our ideas on others, nor getting what we want at any cost. And much less say the first thing that comes to mind at the risk of committing sincericide. Affirming ourselves at the expense of others benefits no one.
Self-affirmation at the expense of others is a strategy in which we appropriate or belittle the achievements of others in order to artificially increase our own worth. However, in this way we become dependent on others because we do not stand up for who we are but at someone else's expense. We do not increase our stature by growing but by climbing onto someone's shoulders.
With negative self-affirmation, the personality does not develop, simply because we do not recognize our mistakes and weaknesses, so we cannot overcome them. Thus we end up cultivating an artificially high self-esteem and a sense of self-efficacy that can "deflate" when the people at the expense of whom we "grew up" decide to assert their merits and qualities.
Positive self-affirmation, on the other hand, involves personal growth. It is achieved through a delicate balance between our wants and needs and the wants and needs of others. It involves being aware of our worth, but not underestimating that of others.
While negative self-affirmation destroys what it encounters in its path by turning relationships into a war of egos, positive self-affirmation strengthens and sows mutual respect. When we affirm ourselves in a positive way we get more security and trust, but we can also decide more easily because we will have clearer goals and needs and, above all, we will be more faithful to ourselves.
A constructive self-affirmation is based on the potential of the self and one's own strength. It does not depend on the growth of others, but only on our personal resources. This type of self-affirmation allows us to grow and become more independent, being more aware of our abilities and limitations.
The incredible benefits of self-affirmation
• Protects our health
The reaffirmation of our identity has been linked to more positive health-promoting attitudes. A study conducted at Aston University revealed that promoting self-affirmation allows us to develop more positive attitudes towards physical activity and greater commitment to training.
On the other hand, psychologists at the University of Sheffield have found that self-affirmation also helps us to eat 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 intrinsic motivation.
• It makes us more flexible and open
Self-affirmation does not imply closing in on 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 have found that simply 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 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 from different sources.
• It makes us happy
Self-affirmation not only reduces the defensive attitude, but also the stress and improves our performance, even when we are immersed in situations that can be threatening because self-confidence is a source of security and serenity.
Indeed, psychologists from the University of Nijmegen have found that self-affirmation is a powerful tool for combating ruminative thoughts. It allows us to broaden our perspective and take 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?
1. Know yourself. You can't assert yourself if you don't know yourself well enough. Therefore, even if it may seem trivial, the starting point is to ask yourself what defines and differentiates you, what you want in life and what skills 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 you don't like, the famous Jungian shadows. However, self-affirmation comes through a radical acceptance of who you are. This doesn't mean that you don't have to strive to improve, but you have to validate your emotions, impulses, beliefs and needs. If you don't self-validate, you'll be tempted to look for that validation externally.
3. Express yourself assertively. It is useless for you to know yourself and accept yourself if you are later unable to express who you are and allow others to manipulate you. Therefore, it is necessary that you develop and practice an assertive communication style that allows you to express your wants, needs and ideas without hurting others. You must have the courage to say "no" when something does not appeal to you and "yes" without fear of criticism.