February 19, 2013

Saying sorry…


Im not one for aspirational quotes. I think the more time you spend on social media the more you tend to notice peoples love affair with the written word. Not necessarily their own but quotes from famous old people…(I thought Thomas Aquinas was someone on TV until Wendy Harmer pointed out he was big in the 13th century)

When times are tough we cant often see the shit for the trees, you can get so caught up in your own mind that sometimes the profound words of another can create a brief moment of clarity. Its like reading your stars when your stars make you yell ‘oh my god thats me’. I guess things only relate to you when you need them to.

Someone on instagram someone put up an image of the word HOPE…with a sub heading pointing out that hope stood for Hold On Pain Ends. While I’m all for the inspirational message sometimes I worry that being bombarded with so many’great’ thoughts causes the message to get diluted. Its like hearing a song for the first time and loving it and then all of a sudden you think “if I hear Gotye one more time I will hunt down that woman that he used to know’. It loses its magic and mastery.

Same too when people are coping with their limits. The need to hold on to a bit of sunshine, a bit of positivity can be the difference between sinking or swimming but replacing genuine heartfelt words by affirmations doesnt enhance the relationship human to human, you just become a recycling tool for stuff.

I was sitting in a seminar yesterday pondering this post I wrote about a year ago and listening to the speaker discuss his thoughts on high and low self esteem and the social conventions that sit around those labels. He referenced the 2009 paper published in the American journal Psychological Science undertaken by Joanne Wood, professor of psychology at the University of Waterloo. She found that repeating positive self-affirmations, like the ones we find in every second shop, in our newsfeed and in response to people when we just dont know what else to say; often end up making people feel worse rather than better.

People often talk about their uncomfortableness of not knowing what to say when faced with people struggling with unhappy or sad thoughts but watching people juggle the most awful moments of their life I learnt very quickly that saying ‘I’m sorry this is happening to you’ is a lot better than pointing out the sun will come out tomorrow.

We all exist in the space in between up and down – its called life.

Whats your take on positive affirmations?



Join the conversation! 15 Comments

  1. I agree with you in principal but I find inspirational quotes have been very uplifting for me & they can encapsulate a feeling or situation really well – I agree that too much of it does dilute their message & make them seem trite & I certainly wouldn’t wax lyrical with a quote when someone has suffered a loss or is in a horrible situation – I’d like to think I have more respect for the person concerned than that. But I love them – I love starting the day reading one from my desk calender….they really speak to me…

    • Thanks Carmie…this is why I love blogging because it starts a conversation and difference is embraced. I like some too for myself when Im feeling like I need more than my morning coffee….the part where I see the overload is at certain times of year, especially in the new year when they come out in force and sometimes suggest that feeling low just needs a positive reframe. There isnt anything wrong with feeling down or low…Thanks for reading x

  2. PMSL at your Thomas Aquinas line!

    I have to admit that while I do love the odd inspirational quote, I am getting inspirational quote fatigue from facebook. AND I hope I would never substitute a garden variety hug for someone sharing a problem with me with a trite quote!

    • yes IQF will be a recognised syndrome by 2020 I think Kel…genuine, authentic connections will always trump the words of anon x

  3. For me I don’t tend to read them anymore, and I filter them out even more when I don’t feel myself! Thanks for such an interesting post!

    • Thanks Heather – I love a good quote when the time is right but social media has taken the randomness out of seeing them. Now we are bombarded with happy happy joy joy! Thanks for your thoughts x

  4. I’ve written a lot about this lately. As someone living with chronic illness I get sent positive affirmations continually, to the point that now they simply annoy rather than help. You are so right, when you say ” saying ‘I’m sorry this is happening to you’ is a lot better than pointing out the sun will come out tomorrow”. That I can appreciate and sounds far more sincere than yet another platitude that I’ve already been sent 17 times this week. I should add that I am a pretty upbeat kind of person 99% of the time but the times when I’m not I would rather be allowed to feel what I’m feeling and work through it with someone simply ‘being’ there rather than give me a line, well intentioned or not.

    • The type of therapy I use in my counselling practice is focussed on acceptance and commitment – so instead of trying to push emotions aside and squash the symptoms I focus on helping people to accept that life is full of a whole range of emotions – grief, sadness, happiness, joy, anger – all those things contribute to the possibility of living a rich life. I think sometimes we move people on too quickly because we get uncomfortable with the down days when in reality they are just part of life! Thanks for commenting x

      • I used to work in neuro rehab (neuropsych in another life) pre being ill and had the same philosophy. I think I still bring that into play for myself and the support groups for my illness I now work with. Wish it would translate to become more of a societal view.

  5. Ah, that space in between – I ‘get’ your blog name now in a deeper sense. 🙂 Love this post, Sarah. Totally agree. Kirri (from Kirri White Coaching) wrote a post about this very thing today. I’d rather be realistic about my emotions/hopes rather than trying to convince myself to believe a positive affirmation. (I also wrote about this too back in September last year with a post called ‘Permission to be Real’). xx

    • Thanks for getting it Deb – its interesting to watch peoples faces when they ‘get it’ (its the name of my counselling practice too so at least I get to see it in peoples faces in real life). Kirri and I were discussing it earlier this morning – the research paper came from a seminar Ive been at for the last two days which focusses on being OK with the mix of emotions that come with life rather than getting people to reduce their symptoms of sadness by pushing them aside x

  6. Hi Sarah – I really like this post – although I do fall for inspirational quotes. And I’m amazed at how whole FB pages are built on regurgitating quotes. I have written several posts for Tiny Buddha, a community that shares a daily quote – but the idea is to use the wise words as a starting point for deeper exploration. I think the issue is when simple affirmations are seen as an answer. Gratitude probably goes a whole lot further to pull us out of our funks at times. And sometimes we just need to sit with our sadness and our problems and let ourselves BE. In my view of a yinyang world happiness + sadness = contentment. And in between, as you say, is living.

    • Sitting with it is exactly what my blog is about Kathy – Thanks for getting that. I think when I reflect back, either personally, or in counselling with my clients about ways to get out of our funk its important to acknowledged the value of sitting in that funk first and then thinking about ways to get out, if thats what people really want? x

  7. Sadly I am a huge sucker for inspirational quotes. Sure I agree there is an overkill on social media but I do sometimes find some that simply “speak to me” and I know I’m meant to embrace it’s message.

    I’ve been trying to say some positive affirmations when I get out of bed each day and to my shock, my son started saying them yesterday in an attempt to get me out of bed quicker! I actually wondered then if it was a good thing, as he is too young to need them I am sure!

    • If they speak to you then they work for you Donna – its like people that run marathons – if it works then keep doing it. I love that your son sees the value in positive speaking – I’d love to hear some old philosophers words wander out of the mouth of babes!

      Dont get me wrong I love reading the words of great thinkers but when they get over-used or used in the space of real conversation then I think people sometimes use them as an easy way out.


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