I did not fully understand the power of affirmations until I truly needed them.
In my twenties, I laughed at people I overheard on the subway. I thought it was insecurity. I did not understand why people felt the need to say good things to themselves. I arrogantly laughed and judged those mentally preparing themselves for the day.
Thirty-eight-year-old me now laughs for different reasons.
I laugh at my immaturity in those days. I laugh at how lost I truly was. I thought I had the answers to everything. I understood so very little about myself. I had a profound grasp of the world and how it operated, of the people in it and those with whom I chose to surround myself. But never me. I didn’t know myself. I could describe myself. But I didn’t know myself. I hid behind my bravado. The precise focus I used to conquer each goal was never turned inward to calm inner chaos.
And I was chaos.
I can look at my younger self, acknowledge it fully, and not feel shame.
Affirmations helped with that.
The Power of Self-Talk
I am committed to always being transparent. So I will not pretend as though there is not a part of me that feels the need to apologize to some people for the rest of my life. My actions toward them in no way reflect the person I want to be. And that does elicit the feeling of shame.
Daily affirmations have helped me not drown in that feeling. They remind me to lean in on the parts of me that exude positivity, the parts of me that most reflect the best version of me.
Negative self-talk was the way I was taught to stay humble. I was met with admonition when I celebrated myself and approval when I criticized myself.
So, I made a habit of criticizing myself.
And then at some point living alone in my twenties I stopped believing there was any reason to celebrate myself.
I did not have a practice of positive self-talk. So I spent a considerable amount of time alone with the worst parts of my personality. I eventually believed they were the only parts of me. There was no balance.
Enter The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. One of the opening chapters discussed affirmations. She encouraged developing a daily habit of saying affirmations. At first, I did feel silly. And then I didn’t. Little by little, I found myself rejecting negative descriptors and embracing positive ones.
I should note that I started doing daily affirmations around the same time I started developing my mission statement. My mission statement directed my resources (time, talent, and energy). My daily affirmations reminded me of what those resources are. Mission and affirmations were the tools I used to unlearn bad habits. I didn’t realize I was changing my life. I was unhappy, even though I hadn’t fully admitted that to myself yet. I knew that something needed to change but I didn’t know where to begin.
Daily affirmations helped to propel me on that journey.
Legacy: Dehumanizing Black Women
Black American women need positive self-talk. It is essential.
Culturally we are both mythic and lepers. We are mythic because we are uncommonly strong and resilient. Never mind handling us with care. We are lepers because we are angry (because we’re Black) and emotional (because we’re women). Not the type to bring to the party but good enough for the cookout in the back.
From birth, we are told from every avenue that there is something wrong with us. From weaves to pedicures, we are targeted to change everything about ourselves. Every group in America -religious, political, social, and economic- entertains stereotypes about Black American women. More often than not, we must combat negative stereotypes before we are acknowledged. We must be ready to defend all Black women while differentiating ourselves within the first few moments of an initial meeting. We must walk a tightrope of social-emotional intelligence while displaying superior intellect, looking flawless according to White American professional standards, and appearing humble and grateful for the opportunity.
It takes nerves of steel. For all the bad hype Black women get for being “angry”, we are far more composed than 90% of our colleagues most of the time.
And we don’t talk about it. We accept this inequality as just a part of American work culture.
I wholeheartedly reject that. You are not about to exploit my talent or energy and treat me like a leper.
Then to add insult to injury, in an already effed-up healthcare system, Black women rate somewhere below the rats they use for cosmetics testing. Dismissed, exploited, and dying for no reason in one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world, my soul weeps for the soul of this country.
So I am dedicating the month of May to the mental health of Black women. Exploring resources to help ourselves and each other. We’re not crazy, we’ve just been expected to accept some crazy sh*t.
What would this country look if we all supported the mental health of Black women?