Do you recall the last time you were affirmed with words? Maybe it was a friend or family member expressing how much they missed seeing you, a co-worker or boss thanking you for your efforts, or your significant other or child saying how much they love you. How did that make you feel?
Valued? Appreciated? Cared for? Grateful?
Words can be powerful, carrying weight, knowledge, confirmation, and inspiration, and can allow us to co-create when used wisely and generated from the heart. The origin and intent of our words are what ultimately determine their power.
For example, let’s say you go out of your way to do something for someone, and while they respond by saying “thank you,” their tone lacks genuine appreciation for your efforts. Not very affirming, right? The origin of their words was likely coming from a place of obligation, or they were mindlessly running a habitual response pattern — as many of us do.
While maybe not as detectable through tone, one's intention tends to show through the surface out of quid pro quo. For example, if your partner flatters you by telling you how amazing, intelligent, and attractive you are, only later to make a request or share bad news. Not only does this make their flattering kind words null, but it may raise suspicion the next time they offer up words of affirmation.
Dr. John Tholen, cognitive psychologist, and author of Focused Positivity: The Path to Success and Peach of Mind, also adds, “To be helpful, an affirmation must be believable—reasonable, and balanced. None of us is likely to benefit from an affirmation we find unbelievable.”
This lack of believability can result from exaggerated statements or the recipient’s perception of themselves being grossly different from the one providing the affirming words.
To improve the chances of an affirmation being well received and impactful, it helps to provide an example that the recipient can’t dispute. For instance, instead of simply saying, “You are so smart,” you might say, “I’m very impressed with how quickly you solved that problem. Thank you for your help.”
Dr. Tholen states, “Although it seems that our emotions and motivations result directly from the events and circumstances we encounter in life, they are instead reactions to our self-talk—the internal monologue that streams through our waking consciousness, interpreting whatever we experience. An ‘affirmation’ is a thought that is functional—it reassures, inspires hope, or motivates constructive action. When we focus our attention on functional thoughts, they inhabit our self-talk, thereby enhancing our mood and motivation.”
I want to reiterate a few keywords here. “An affirmation is a thought that is functional—it reassures, inspires hope, or motivates constructive action.” When using words of affirmation in your relationship, ask yourself, “Is this thought functional? Does it reassure, inspire, or motivate action?”
To increase an affirmation’s acceptance and power, I recommend “owning” the affirmation either as an individual or a collective group versus stating it as a universal fact.
For instance, a colleague may have worked day and night to ensure a project made the deadline. Instead of saying, “You’re awesome!” which is being communicated as a fact, owning an affirmation is when you make a statement that cannot be disputed, like, “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your commitment to this project. I saw how hard you worked on this, all the hours you put in day and night. Your hard work has not been overlooked, and I believe I can speak for the entire team when I say that we are truly grateful for you and your diligent efforts.”
Examples of when and how you can use affirmations in relationships:
When someone allows you to be with your feelings instead of telling you how to feel.
“Thank you for allowing me to sit with my feelings.”
When someone takes it upon themselves to do something that is not their responsibility.
“Thank you for doing ____. I know it was not your responsibility.”
When someone is feeling down.
“I know it may not feel like it now, but this too shall pass. I’m here for you.”
If someone feels overwhelmed or tired of putting in the work and hasn’t seen results yet.
“You have been working too hard to fail. Think of all you have learned in the process of doing ____ and how you will feel once you achieve_____.”
Simple affirmations that go a long way:
I see you.
You’ve got this.
I believe in you because ____.
We are here to support you.
I love you because ____ (name non-superficial attributes. i.e., because of your kindness).
I appreciate you.
I’m grateful for you because _____.
You have taught me ____. For that, I am grateful.
You inspire me to ____.
Use words of affirmation intentionally and frequently. When you get in the habit of showing appreciation or support for another, the benefits are mutual and feed off one another. Just remember, origin and intention are key.