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How Positive Affirmations Took Me From Unhappy And Insecure To An Unapologetic Narcissist

© Photo by Alina Miroshnichenko on Unsplash

Or: how I became 10% as confident as every man I know

I was 21 when I first started to practice positive affirmations. I was six months into my first real heartbreak and not seeing any light at the end of the tunnel. Living in a new city, I’d gone from living in a beautiful, modern apartment with my ex to a five-bedroom house share that I can only describe as very London-student. I was part-way through a journalism masters’ degree that meant I was spending 90% of my time out of my comfort-zone, wondering when I’d have more than a few hours where I didn’t have to pretend to be confident.

I was, categorically, unhappy. But I’d made a promise to myself during the chaos that was breaking up with my ex that I would work on myself. My anger, my low self-esteem, my ability to take absolutely everything and everyone for granted, it all needed work. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t quite the violent, spoilt, shriveled up mess that I’m painting myself out to be, but I was aggravated by the smallest things, subconsciously insecure about everything. And most importantly, I was incapable of acknowledging all of brightness in my actually very good life.

Everything was making me either angry or anxious, until one day, sick of my constant bad mood, I decided on a whim - on a hot Central-line tube - to make an active change to cheer myself up. So I pulled out my phone there and then, opened up the notes and listed all of the things that I was grateful for in my life.

  1. My family are happy and healthy
  2. I'm healthy
  3. I'm living with great people
  4. I'm pursuing the career i've always dreamed of

The list went on…

I wasn’t instantly jumping from the rooftops with happiness, but my mood was definitely lighter. As I stopped focusing on what was wrong, and thought more about what was right, my fists unclenched, and I continued the walk home without wanting to whack someone over the head for standing on the wrong side of the escalator. I decided to make a conscious effort to do this more, whenever I noticed myself slipping into a bad mood for no legitimate reason. Practicing this more and more, and beginning to think more positively day to day, I realised there was one time when I still couldn't shake that negativity - when I looked in the mirror.

Every time I looked at my face, the first thing I would notice was a flaw. I’d see my acne, my hip-dips, my crooked nose, the list, again, went on. So, in the spirit of being more positive, I decided to note down everything I liked about myself. And honestly, this one was much harder - we're all so brainwashed into thinking that we're full of flaws that needed to be fixed, it's hard to undo that thinking.

I started with the things that were ‘objectively’ good, aka the things I’d received compliments on all my life, even if I didn't necessarily agree with them. I have long legs, I have nice hair, I have good cheekbones. And... that was it. In an attempt to get to 10 things to write down, I started to include personality traits I liked about myself, but still struggled to get into double figures. I decided this had to be something I started to do every time I looked in the mirror. And so I did, over and over again, until something started to change.

‘Many of us do repetitive exercises to improve our physical health, and affirmations are like exercises for our mind and outlook,’ reads Mind Tools, an online career advice service, ‘These positive mental repetitions can reprogram our thinking patterns so that, over time, we begin to think – and act – differently.’

Of course, I didn't realise I was reprogramming my thinking patterns - it was more just that as I started to list things that I thought were okay, the more I thought, 'no, actually, those are not just okay, they're really good'. And as I gave myself permission to love things about myself, I began to include everything that I still considered flaws, eventually starting to see them less and less as flaws each day.

According to Kathryn J Lively, a sociology professor at Dartmouth University, positive affirmations are especially important for women. ‘Women still have a tendency to sell themselves short,’ says Kathryn, ‘whereas men are more likely to oversell their capacities. In social settings, or in educational or occupational settings, these tendencies are typically a function of socialization and are not reflections of innate differences in ability.’

‘I do believe that women may benefit more from affirmations than men,’ Kathryn continues, ‘simply because they are still more likely to encounter obstacles across a variety of settings as a result of their gender.’

Looking back now, a woman who can’t list 10 things she likes about herself is a very, very sad woman indeed. But actually, when I think back to that person I’m not sad, I’m grateful. Because despite being in such a negative space mentally, I was active in making a small change in my routine that would eventually lead me to the woman I am now. And let me tell you, the woman I am now is able to list well more than 10 things she likes about herself. In fact, the woman I am now is a full-blown narcissist.

I might not shout all the things I like about myself from the rooftops, because people tend not to like that (especially from women - but that's a conversation for another day) but I definitely believe them, and that sense of security within myself is evident in everything I do. And I honestly believe that positive affirmations are the only way to stay sane in a world where we’re constantly bombarded with adverts that reaffirm all of the things we dislike about ourselves.

We feed ourselves negative affirmations every single day. Every time you look in the mirror and see a flaw, you’re telling yourself something you don’t like – whether it’s subconscious or not. Every conversation where you point out how much weight you’ve gained, every minute you spend staring at your spots close up in the mirror, you’re reaffirming to yourself that you’re not good enough.

And in countering the messages we’ve been subject to our entire lives, we can slowly build up whatever it is that the world has knocked out of us. For me, it was self-esteem and appreciation for all that I have, for you it could be anything, from learning not to care that someone's left muddy shoes in the hallway, to relinquishing control of an uncontrollable situation and thus being at peace.

I can’t begin to describe how much positive affirmations have improved me as a person. I care less about irrelevant things and I’m a 100 times more secure in who I am - all from deciding to list a few things I liked about my life on that dreaded central line train. So try it, because really, what's the worst that can come from you telling yourself you're good enough as you are? You actually become...happy? Radical.

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