Affirmation of self is something we may forget about sometimes, deny, or just not know how to do, because we’ve never felt self-affirming.
It strikes me that many in our community, spanning age and stage, are asking difficult questions about life, goals, expectations, with a healthy amount of trying to figure out a personal kind of existential angst. Younger members of the LGBTQ community who might be characterized as millennials have discovered that what others have told them about life may not be true for them and that individuation during young adulthood is vital for growth. At the same time, it can be challenging when hopes and dreams have been attached to the myths and experience of others.
People seldom mean to misguide a younger loved one by relating experiences from the past; sometimes younger adults do take it seriously though, and if things don’t work out as planned, become a bit jaded and even depressed. It’s extremely difficult for some to carry on, work around what they see as a failure and proceed via an alternate path. How sad when it happens early in life, and that self-named failure becomes almost a resigned expectation. To affirm oneself might seem unrealistic and inauthentic for many. It’s not.
This happens in mid-life as well for adults who are into their career, a family or friend-family group, or a combination of those. There’s often a resilience in all of us that allows us to overcome adversity and carry on. That carry-on idea may not always be positive though, if the carry-on part is to stay in a situation that might not be the best, might not make us as happy as possible, or is simply not fulfilling.
That fear or reluctance to change, grow or risk, can keep us stuck. Those times in life, however, are ripe for self-affirmation, including a personal life review of inner feelings and, ultimately, engaging in a reframing of expectations and successes.
I realize these words often are easier to write than carry out, especially if there are feelings of depression, low self-esteem or even self-hate going on. Sometimes those feelings have been a part of someone’s life for a while, and there may then be a sense that nothing can really change that.
Isolation, a sense of being ‘bored’ or lacking energy, or annoyance with people in your life who once allowed you joy, can occur during these hopefully fleeting times. You may wonder what you can do to feel better, stronger, more confident, or just have more energy. Although it may not seem like it would be a big help, learning to regularly and consistently affirm yourself, your past accomplishments and your connections to others, past and present, just might give some relief and direction.
For adults a bit older, say 60-plus, life may be challenging in unique ways; sometimes there’s a negative regard of aging, a natural process for those of us fortunate enough to be able to go through it. Self-affirmation and life review can be especially helpful, sometimes life-saving, during this phase of life.
Given the experiences someone has gone through in a longer life, there may be a broader array of relationships, connections, and successes from which to pull. The opposite is also true, in that the more years of life that you regard as unfulfilling, the possibility exists that the status quo, the ‘even’ will remain, reaching what in couples/family counseling is known as homeostasis. Mostly it seems easier, however, and a sense of self that is built through the years will eventually become a sustaining element in life for all of us, at any age.
I’d like to share some ways that you could practice affirming yourself and others in your life who are important to you. I believe we are all ‘in relationship’ with people we are around, and there are many kinds of relationships, not merely sexual or in-love-with ones.
For example, I attended a NOAGE Board meeting last evening, and every one of the people on that Board with whom I interacted had a common interest in terms of commitment and time. We are in relationship as a community of committed volunteers, for a common cause and for good. It’s a solid relationship that, although early, I feel will be sustaining and fulfilling.
The phrase “realistic optimism” coined by psychologist Martin Seligman in 2013 comes to mind. My take on it is more about positivity because, sometimes, to be realistic without a reframe of the perceptions of negativity, can cause additional stress and regret.
We know regret gets us nowhere at all. It’s about reviewing life, taking note of what seems less successful or hurtful, and learning. It’s the knowing, the understanding, and the self-compassion that needs to come right after. Maybe before self-affirmation can take place, there needs to be forgiveness of self, at least offering yourself some slack in a serious way.
I love the idea of positivity. I had the honor of being President of a large organization for three years recently, the American Counseling Association. The mantra that I began and ended every keynote, board meeting or session with was “Positivity, Hope and Courage.” It will always be my mantra.
Recently, I was given a workbook called, PRIDE Coloring Book: Inspiring Designs with Affirming Messages of Love and Acceptance (2017),by Ronald Holt and William Huggett, two gay men who have been active in the LGBTQ community. The drawings in PRIDE Coloring Book are of mandalas, from the Sanskrit loosely meaning sacred circle. Each is different, because each experience, each view you take, is different.
If you’re now about to engage in some self-talk that sounds like “I’m not coloring some workbook” I understand, but a little risk can yield a lot. After all, adult coloring books have been very popular in the last few years. The idea of combining beautiful drawings and pertinent quotes, statements and specific affirmations, also has grown as a self-help activity. And choosing colors is just fun! The reason for coloring the mandalas is to give some time and space for thought and reflection. And it’s creative as well.
There are two I especially like (and have done myself, as have a few of my friends). The left pages show a pertinent quote, sometimes famous, sometimes not. The opposite page shows the mandala with an affirmation below that loosely corresponds to the quote.
For example, by the wonderful poet and sage, Rumi: “Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” Under the intricate mandala on the right that will be more meaningful if you actually color it, the affirmation is “I trust love” and that alone is a specific and valuable personal affirmation to use.
The second one I’ll share is a quote from a courageous leader and hero of our community, Harvey Milk: “Hope will never be silent.” Opposite that, underneath the mandala, is the profound affirmation: “I am worthy of happiness, unconditional love, and acceptance—just as I am.” Both of these examples can help to affirm yourself daily and, hopefully, will lead to a more positive self-view.
I hope that you will at least consider engaging in some life-affirming activity, exercise or reading. All of us can benefit, and if one does this, others in your life will also benefit. The circle, the ‘whole’ as Jung would suggest, is powerful if it’s allowed to be instructive as well as enlightening.
As the hot summer blazes ahead, perhaps it’s time to relax in a cool, safe place for a few minutes, and begin or restart, the journey. Try this affirmation from me: I am worth the effort, every day.”