Or: The Power Of Positive Affirmations In Times Of Spiritual Isolation
Positive affirmations have been around for several decades and have only been growing in popularity in recent years. They are commonly defined as short, positive statements – addressed to ourselves and spoken in the first-person perspective – that help us overcome negative thoughts (e.g. about ourselves) and make positive changes to our lives.
Typical examples of daily affirmations would be:
I have confidence in myself.
I accept what I cannot change.
I respect myself.
I never give up.
As Christians, however, we might find such statements a little lacking in depth, unless we find ways to connect them to the source of our being: God's presence in us. To find them useful, I for example had to see them in a slightly different light, namely that positive affirmations are not about believing in myself, but being or becoming my true self through the love of Christ in me. Instead of the examples above, I would therefore be looking for transformative Biblical truths to remember and speak to myself daily.
The problem is just that such Bible-based affirmations are a little more difficult to find online as they are often not quite what their page headings promise to be, i.e. I-statements with a Biblical foundation, but rather collections of encouraging Bible verses themselves. What's often missing in such cases are statements explicitly written out in the form of affirmations to ourselves, as individuals.
Another thing I have noticed is that, even where we find Christian affirmations (set to the 'correct' format) on the Internet, there is little to no differentiation between different groups of people or life situations… much in contrast to secular affirmations or inspirational quotes where you can find anything your heart desires: affirmations for pregnant women; affirmations for alpha males; affirmations for LBGTQ individuals; affirmations for times of crisis, affirmations for marriage and relationships, to mention but a few.
Although some of these more specific examples can be found, with lower search results, in the Christian context as well, what I have found almost impossible to discover are Bible-based affirmations that are not what I would call 'mainstream' Christian such as daily affirmations for LBGTQ Christians and allies, for example.
So, I thought, this has to change! As a gay follower of Jesus myself, I know all too well how fragile our queer hearts can be when it comes to clinging on to our faiths in times of spiritual isolation. What better way could there be than to have a set of faith-based affirmations we could speak to ourselves, safe in the knowledge that they were written from an open and affirming perspective that includes all? And by 'all' I mean LBGTQ Christians And Allies (And All Other Beloved Children of God).
At the end of this article, I will therefore offer you a set of 99 free and (I hope) beautifully designed affirmation cards each of which includes an encouraging Bible quote with a related positive affirmation, meant specifically for people who have been hurt or felt excluded from Christian communities.
But before exploring the spiritual power of such Christian-centred affirmations more closely, I think it is helpful to take a brief look at some of the research behind and potential benefits of positive affirmations in general.
This Article Contains
- The Research Behind And Possible Benefits Of Positive Affirmations
- Challenges LBGTQ Christians May Face That Decrease Self-Esteem
- The Spiritual Power Of Bible-Based Self-Affirmations In Times Of Spiritual Isolation
- Link To 99 Affirmation Cards For Times Of Spiritual Isolation
The Research Behind And Possible Benefits Of Positive Affirmations
Telling yourself how awesome and important you are on a daily basis may seem strange to most of us at first, but there is neuroscience behind the practice of speaking affirmations to ourselves. Put very briefly, a key theoretical framework on which this practice is based is self-affirmation theory (Steele, 1988) which sees a connection between our sense of self-integrity and the act of telling ourselves, explicitly, what we believe (e.g. about ourselves and the world) in positive ways.
This type of integrity relates, in turn, to the concept of self-efficacy – a specific set of beliefs that determines our ability to act and succeed in a particular situation (Bandura, 1977) and to respond flexibly when our self-concept is questioned (Cohen & Sherman, 2014). In other words, it is a central concern for us as human beings to maintain our self-integrity, by protecting our view of ourselves and our sense of identity. Another key principle underpinning self-affirmation theory is therefore self-identity.
Self-Affirmation And Self-Identity
Self-identity refers to an individual's self-conception or self-definition that they apply to themselves as a consequence of the roles or positions they occupy in life or of particular behaviours in which they engage on a regular basis. Self-identities also reflect the labels we use to describe ourselves such as 'conservative' or 'liberal' (Biddle, Bank, and Slavings, 1987). But although self-identity is commonly understood as having a fairly stable and coherent perception of oneself, it should not be confused with having a strictly defined and unchanging self-concept.
Instead of seeing ourselves in a rigid way, say as either 'believer' or 'sceptic', our self-identity can be flexible and even consist of a range of different identities and roles: 'I am a Christian and a teacher, and I see myself, in some ways, as conservative and as liberal in others.'
With regard to positive affirmations, this is good news because we can then view different aspects of ourselves as being positive and adapt do a wide range of situations and tasks much more easily in our daily lives (Aronson, 1969). Self-affirmation theory, in other words, does not propose that maintaining self-identity is about being perfect or exceptional in all aspects of our selves (Cohen & Sherman, 2014), but about being competent in certain areas that we personally value so as to be able to lead what we see as moral or good lives (Steele 1988). In this way, positive affirmations can help us form, confirm and/or maintain a positive view of ourselves, which has significant (health) benefits.
Some Benefits Of Positive Affirmations
Empirical studies suggest that positive affirmations can be beneficial. They can help bring us a new beginning and change our thought processes, thus opening up new opportunities we may not have known existed. For example, self-affirmation practices can help us react with less inner resistance and defensiveness when we are faced with threats or unexpected interventions (Logel & Cohen, 2012). This is because by strengthening our adaptive self-sense, they increase our resilience to difficulties and external pressures when they arise.
Furthermore, positive or encouraging statements, addressed to ourselves as individuals, have been found to contribute to the development of a more optimistic mindset, e.g. by reducing our tendency to linger on negative experiences (Wiesenfeld et al., 2001). Here, one explanation could be that when we learn to cope with negative, self-damaging messages and replace them with positive affirmations about ourselves, we construct more adaptive and optimistic narratives about who we are and what we can achieve in life.
And last but not least, self-affirmations have also been shown to decrease health-deteriorating stress (Sherman et al., 2009; Critcher & Dunning, 2015), depression and low self-esteem by supporting what is known as 'cognitive restructuring' (Taber et al., 2016).
Challenges LBGTQ Christians May Face That Decrease Self-Esteem
This last point seems to be of special importance to LBGTQ Christians or people who have felt rejected by Christian communities for reasons other than their sexual orientation or gender identity. While self-affirmation practices can certainly be useful to anybody, the particular challenges that people who are marginalised experience make it even more essential for them to practise self-care and to find ways of raising their self-esteem.
In the case of LBGTQ Christians, such additional challenges to overcome can be:
- Stigma in society and religious communities
- Lack of acceptance from family and friends
- Internalised prejudices against LGBTQ people
- Religious condemnation and possible self-denial of gender and sexual orientation
- Professional discrimination and hostile academic environments
- Experiences of bullying and hate comments
- Lack of spiritual support and LBGTQ-friendly, faith-based counselling
Positive statements that focus on self-worth and self-identity such as, 'I am worthy of love and acceptance,' or 'My sexual/gender identity is valid', can be very effective in overcoming some of these challenges as they promote a healthier self-image and increase self-esteem, which (as we have seen above) helps us to manage stress levels and improves our psychological well-being.
But what about God-centred affirmations? While secular statements like these can certainly be useful, would it not be even better for us Christians to have a set of affirmations that take into account what is arguably our most important aspect of life: our faith? Again, I would make the point that, for us (regardless of where we see ourselves on the spectrum of Christianity), self-affirmative statements are not only about believing in ourselves, but also and more importantly, about becoming our authentic selves through God's loving presence in us. What we need are therefore positive affirmations, specifically designed with a Christian focus and purpose in mind.
The Spiritual Power Of Bible-Based Self-Affirmations In Times Of Spiritual Isolation
There are many reasons why we might feel spiritually isolated as Christians. For example, many LBGTQ Christians and allies (or others who could perhaps be placed in the 'liberal' category of Christian belief and practice) have experienced tremendous hurt and rejection from fellow Christians who told them that God condemned them because of who they were or what they believed in. Sometimes excluded from the church communities in which they grew up, they feel like outcasts or misfits, like outsiders of the Church, standing on the outside looking in. For all those people with a changing faith, with changing religious identities and little to no spiritual support within their reach, isolation is a real problem.
This is where I believe positive affirmations, with a clear focus on (e.g. liberal) Christian values and Biblical truths, can be so helpful. They can help us to identify, (re-)connect with or confirm our own values, thereby validating our personal faith identity and path, free from the noise of external comments coming from family members, friends or church members. But this is not all. Bible-based affirmations are also like short and simple prayers that we can pick on a daily basis and speak to ourselves and to God, even at times when we feel lost or too fragile in our faith to make up our own prayers.
Daily affirmation cards that highlight some of the many messages of love and inclusion found in the Bible could be particularly useful in that respect. Here is an example:
For those of us who have felt excluded from Christian communities in the past, this could be an important reminder that we are all part of the Church – the body of Christ and share the same spirit (1 Corinthians 12:12-13), even if we have been told we don't meet the 'entry criteria' for Christianity or don't meet other people's expectations at least.
In the last section of this article, I would therefore like to present and offer to you a set of affirmation cards I have created to encourage you to try out and, hopefully, experience the spiritual power of such Bible-based affirmations for yourself!
99 Affirmation Cards For Times Of Spiritual Isolation
This collection of daily affirmation cards, based on encouraging quotes from the Bible, is a digital resource for personal spiritual inspiration, meditation and devotion, written from an open and inclusive Christian perspective, with a particular focus on gay Christians and all other members of the queer community and allies.
The e-book has been designed with the intention to support queer Christians, allies (and all others who may have felt spiritually isolated), through the power of positive affirmation, to be confident in their own faith journeys and spiritual development. The daily affirmations are meant to provide a safe space for those who have been hurt by the Church, by honouring and encouraging personal faith and devotion, free from oppressive religious forces. Click here to get the affirmation cards
! And start telling yourself, from today on, how awesome and precious you are –
in the eyes of your God.
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*Disclaimer: For copyright reasons, this website uses a Bible translation, the World English Bible (WEB), that is in the public domain. More suitable translations for an open and inclusive vision of the Church would be the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and the Common English Bible (CEB).
Aronson E. (1969). The theory of cognitive dissonance: A current perspective. In Berkowitz, L. (editor). Advances in Experimental Social Psychology. New York: Academic Press, 1–34.
Bandura, A . (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review. 84 (2): 191-215.
Biddle, B. J., Bank, B. J., and Slavings, R. L. (1987). Norms, preferences, identities, and retention decisions. Social Psychology Quarterly 50 (4): 322–337.
Cohen, G. L. & Sherman, D. K. (2014). The psychology of change: Self-affirmation and social psychological intervention. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 333-371.
Critcher, C. R. & Dunning, D. (2015). Self-affirmations provide a broader perspective on self-threat. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41(1), 3-18.
Logel, C. & Cohen, G.L. (2012). The role of the self in physical health: Testing the effect of a values-affirmation intervention on weight loss. Psychological Science, 23(1), 53–55.
Sherman, D. K., Cohen, G. L., Nelson, L. D., Nussbaum, A. D., Bunyan, D. P. & Garcia, J. (2009). Affirmed yet unaware: Exploring the role of awareness in the process of self-affirmation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97, 745-764.
Steele, C. M. (1988). The psychology of self-affirmation: Sustaining the integrity of the self. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 21(2), 261-302.
Taber, J. M., Klein, W. M., Ferrer, R. A., Kent, E. E. & Harris, P. R. (2015). Optimism and spontaneous self-affirmation are associated with lower likelihood of cognitive impairment and greater positive affect among cancer survivors. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 50(2), 198-209.
Wiesenfeld, B.M., Brockner, J., Petzall, B., Wolf, R. & Bailey J. (2001). Stress and coping among layoff survivors: A self-affirmation analysis. Anxiety, Stress and Coping: An International Journal, 14, 15–34.