When I first heard about people repeating to themselves that they were powerful or standing in front of a mirror telling themselves how gorgeous they were, I was doubtful. In fact, it felt cringy and potentially harmful to recommend this tactic to people struggling with their self-esteem. Over time though, I realized I was throwing the baby out with the bathwater by dismissing this idea all together. Therefore, in honor of Self-Love Month, I’m here to help you practice positive affirmations, and positive iffirmations (we’ll explain below), in a way that feels authentic to you and without the discomfort or ick factor.

How affirmations work

If you’re used to hearing a little voice in your head that is critiquing you and making you feel bad about what you said, how you are acting, what you are wearing, or how you look, you are experiencing negative affirmations. These voices can be frequent and intrusive. You could be regularly telling yourself negative statements that become harder and harder not to believe because of their frequency and sometimes because they are the only self-talk you are hearing.

Positive affirmations offer an opportunity to change the language you are using with yourself and change your self-perception. When we reply to the negative affirmations with positive ones, it becomes harder to believe the bad is true. By intentionally offering ourselves regular positive feedback, we begin to tip the scales towards a positive self-image by drowning out what may have been purely negative feedback. Basically, you are likely engaging in affirmations no matter what. Through intentionality, you can choose the type of messaging you give yourself.

If affirmations feel unrealistic, try scaffolding

Technique 1: Create bite-sized affirmations

Though broad and confident statements can work for some, a more accessible version of this activity is to scaffold or break down affirmations into smaller and more manageable pieces. Instead of starting with “I’m gorgeous,” you can start with “my eyes are beautiful” or “I like/love the shape of my right breast.” Instead of “I’m powerful,” you can say, “I deserve to be respected” or “I can do X, even if it scares me.” Concentrate on statements that already feel true or like stretches that are within reach rather than ones that feel disconnected from how you currently view yourself.

Offer yourself a positive affirmation every time your mind tells you a negative one. This will start to create healthier patterns that will become more natural over time.

Technique 2: Use Iffirmations

If you struggle with being able to say affirmations, such as “I deserve respect” or “I am worthy of love,” iffirmations are another great scaffolding technique. Iffirmations turn affirmations into questions, like “What if I deserve respect?” or “What if I am worthy of love?” This creates a problem for your brain to solve. For example, “If I am deserving of respect, how would that shift the way I treat myself or expect to be treated by others?”

When you start asking and answering some of these questions, you might feel inspired to seek out what you’ve discovered. Rather than repeating a statement that might not feel true, you can begin to consider actionable steps for making something true. You can identify what you could change to treat yourself with respect and love. For example, someone who deserves respect would take credit for their work or would speak up when their boundary is broken. Taking even one action brings you closer to a mind space where the idea of being worthy of respect becomes more internally believable than before.

Technique 3: See yourself through the ideas of another

If you’re having trouble saying anything positive to yourself directly, or asking the iffirmation questions feel stressful, try writing a letter using the voice of someone who cares about you. How would they describe you? What are their favorite qualities about you? Sometimes seeing yourself from someone else’s viewpoint can help kickstart this process. If that still feels like too much of a stretch, ask someone to name 3 things they like about you and use that as a starting point!

What other techniques can you think of for making affirmations work for you? Do these feel more accessible? Take the time to add affirmations and iffirmations this January and see how your self-love grows!

Yael R. Rosenstock Gonzalez

Yael R. Rosenstock Gonzalez

Sex Educator, Researcher, Author, Speaker
Yael R Rosenstock Gonzalez is a sex educator, researcher, author, speaker, and curriculum developer. As a queer, polyamorous, white-presenting Nuyorican Jew, Yael has always been interested in understanding the multi-level experiences of individuals. This led her to found Kaleidoscope Vibrations, LLC, a company dedicated to supporting and creating spaces for individuals to explore and find community in their personal identities. Through her company, she facilitates workshops, develops curriculum, offers Identity Exploration Coaching, and publishes narratives often left out of mainstream publishing.

Yael has been engaged in workshop development and facilitation since she joined the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) as a teen peer reproductive rights educator at 15 years old. Since then, she has served as an educator with children ranging from 10 months old to adults in their 70s with different organizations and communities. In her work as first Program Coordinator, then Director of Programming, and finally Associate Director of the Center for Ethnic, Racial, and Religious Understanding, Yael developed and led events, workshops, and programs with an intersectionality lens.