The Power of Positive Thinking on Low Self-Esteem

Weve all seen those self-help books that promise if you repeat positive statements, or affirmations, youll feel better. From at least as far back as Norman Vincent Peals 1952 landmark book The Power of Positive Thinking, the media has supported the notion that saying favorable things to oneself will produce positive results. But a recent study shows that if you suffer from low self-esteem, those so-called positive statements could actually make you feel worse.

Joanne Wood of the University of Waterloo in Ontario and two colleagues conducted experiments in which they asked students to repeat statements to themselves such as "I am a lovable person" -- then measured how it affected their mood. In one of their studies involving 32 male and 36 female psychology students, the researchers found that repeating the phrase did not improve the mood of those who had low self-esteem, as measured by a standard test. They actually ended up feeling worse, and the gap between those with high and low self-esteem widened.

The scientists hypothesize that one reason for their results may be this: Just like over-positive praise, these statements can elicit contradictory thoughts and prompt people to focus on how the positive statement is not true about them.

Ultimately more research on the subject of positive thinking may be needed before a solid conclusion is drawn.


Robin Westen is ThirdAges medical reporter. Check for her daily updates. She is the author of The Big Book of Personality Quizzes for Women.

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