No one likes the sting of rejection. For those with low self esteem, trying to get up the courage to ask someone out or even strike up a friendship is a Herculean task too risky to the heart. I wrote about those that are “rejection-sensitive” and the brutal cycle of the self-fulfilling prophecy in relationships. It is equally as powerful at killing relationship initiation: Jane thinks her neighbor Brad is cute, but she doesn’t want to put herself in a vulnerable position. In trying to avoid rejection, Jane may presuppose it, acting cold, distant, or even hostile. Brad feels this lack of warmth and rebuffs her. Jane therefore feels confirmed in her view of Brad’s lack of interest, and is alone. The cycle continues; leaving Jane craving acceptance and dealing with a growing sense of loneliness.
If you are someone like Jane- fearful of rejection and yet wanting acceptance and love, how can you break out of the cycle? Remember the video of little Jessica and her affirmation in front of the mirror? I thought that was a sweet pep talk that ultimately would fade in influence about five minutes later. Turns out, participating in a self-affirmation may have lasting effects for months (or even longer).
New research shows that a single 15 minute writing task helped those that struggled with social insecurity break the cycle and increase their well-being, with lasting results. Individuals ranked eleven values by personal importance (e.g., athletics, academics, artistic skills, intelligence, creativity, spontaneity, physical attractiveness, etc), and then wrote an essay on why their top-ranked value was important to them, how it influenced their lives, and what made it central to their identity (a control group wrote about a lower-ranked value and it’s general importance). Those individuals that were initially insecure and completed the affirmation task grew more secure over time. Two months later, those affirmed individuals reported significant increases in self-esteem! Not only that, but their increase in self esteem also extended to behavioral changes: individuals felt more comfortable interacting with others and behaved in a more relaxed and positive way.
Why does it work? The researchers behind the work surmise that it might be that affirming yourself triggers something substantive, which has subtle influences on how you treat those around you and how that is reflected back to you. So in the above scenario, Jane completes a writing affirmation in the morning, and steps out to start her day. On the way out she runs into Brad, smiling. He smiles back. Jane registers this smile and thinks “that felt good. If I see Brad tomorrow, I’ll make sure to smile again, maybe even say hello….”
Want to try out self-affirmation? Here’s how to recreate a similar affirmation at home….