We Don’t “Do” Positive Affirmations in Our House

By Guest Writer: Melissa Ann Dimick Waller

Recently, my 9 year old son walked up to me and told me about the “pressure” he was feeling during the day. The pressure of needing to be good enough, the pressure of needing to be smart enough, the pressure of needing to be kind enough, fun enough, happy enough, loved enough, proud enough, capable enough. When we started diving into this idea of “pressure” I suddenly realized my sweet 9 year old was feeling anxiety.

Together, my son and I started exploring what to do to squash this pressure. We discussed the theory of a fist. Often, pressure or anxiety feels like a hand that grabs hold of you and won’t let go. Sometimes it feels like a hand grabs your heart and begins to squeeze. Sometimes it feels like a fist stuck in your throat and you can’t swallow. Sometimes it feels like a fist punched you in the face and you can’t relax your mouth. Sometimes it feel like the fist punched you in the gut. Pressure can take on many, many forms but it usually revolves around this fist.

We talked about this fist and how many fingers it has. Five. What are 5 truths that you know about yourself? Each truth has the power to make one of the fingers relax and lets you get out of the grasp of this hand. My son started to list off things he knew to be true about himself.

“I am smart. I am good at school. I am fun to be around. I will do my best. I am strong.”

That was when I realized. Positive affirmations were not helping my son. In fact, they were hurting him.

It is great to think about yourself as strong. As capable. As fun. As good at school.

But what happens WHEN (not if) life kicks you in the face? What happens when you are laying on your dirty bathroom floor, unable to move because you are suffering so badly for post-partum anxiety that the thought of looking at your other children makes you want to vomit? What happens when your family member comes to you and tells you that they have cancer and are living on borrowed time? What happens when you don’t have money in your account and hungry kids and shoes with holes in them? What happens when the person you have given your life and soul to looks you in the face and tells you that they don’t love you anymore?

What happens when you don’t feel good enough, strong enough, fun enough, good at school, or like you can even take another breath because the hand around your heart is squeezing so hard you can’t even breathe? How are your positive affirmations going to help you then? My son needed 5 things that are true, have always been true and will always be true. And I’ve come to realize, we all need these 5 truths. We all need to know that when there is nowhere else to turn, when there is nowhere else to hide, when we are backed into a dark, scary corner; that there are 5 things about us that are still true. That there are 5 truths that no one can ever take away from you.

Here are my son’s 5 truths:

  1. I am a child of God
  2. Mommy loves me
  3. Daddy loves me
  4. I am a part of this family
  5. I am enough. No matter what person I show up as today, I am enough. If I get no questions right on my math test, I am enough. If I get every single question right, I am still enough. If I feel mean and mad and angry, I am enough. If I am happy and kind, I am enough. I am enough.

None of these truths will ever change, even as the surrounding circumstances around my son change. His personality will change. His interests will change. His life will change. But none of his truths will change. We talk about his truths every day. We discuss how they have been life changing to him and how he no longer feels pressure. We don’t “do” positive affirmations in this house. We do truths.


The Parable of the Pee

It seemed like the reasonable plan, the sand was blazing hot, the potty was far, and between my daughter and I we had already taken three unsuccessful trips.  But when my daughter told her 2 year old to just go in her swim diaper her response was, “I don’t know how Mommy!”  It seemed strange; only a short time ago this little one regularly used her diaper, not the potty seat, but here she was now, unable to relieve herself on demand.  

“It’s okay,” we all encouraged, “you have a swim diaper on, that beach bathroom is way too far, and the sand will burn our feet.  We will get back to using the potty next time, but just this once, please use the diaper.” 

Finally, it came, she figured it out, she was able to use the swim diaper successfully.  Seemed like a win win, we didn’t have to brave the hot sand and little Abby realized she could indeed go in her swim diaper.

While the battle had been won on the beach day, as the days passed it seemed that the potty training war had experienced a setback.  When Abby and her family first arrived in town it appeared she was pretty reliable at using the potty. But after the beach day, accidents began.  At first, it seemed that she was just so busy with fun summer and cousin activities that she just plain forgot to go.  But as time went on, and we continually found little puddles around the house, it seemed a major backslide was in the process.  When my daughter quizzed Abby about it, she giggled and announced, “Ha ha, I peed!”

What had happened?  Where was the girl who such a short time ago had very few accidents?  Where was the child who just days ago told her mommy that she didn’t know how to go without a formal potty?  And now, it seemed that she was just randomly piddling on the floor like a little puppy.

Eventually, with more time and practice, and a few less distractions, Abby learned again to successfully pee in the designated place, but this experience got me thinking.  Did our encouraging her to use the swim diaper instead of taking her to the bathroom cause the backslide?  As her body became accustomed to using the potty instead of her diaper, going anywhere but in a toilet seemed not right, and she rarely had an accident.  But, with a single time of using a diaper again, her body had no trouble relieving itself again and again away from the potty.

Recently, I was pondering this incident and realized how similar this was to our attempts as mortals to learn to avoid sin.  Just as a baby comes to earth with no natural ability to avoid soiling itself and use a toilet properly, we come to this earth with no natural ability to avoid sin.  Just as a child is taught, and then learns, to use a toilet properly, we are taught right from wrong and learn to make good choices.  Little by little, as a child uses the potty correctly, their body no longer feels that it is right to pee just any old place, and their ability to hold out for the right time and place increases.  And, just as we learn right from wrong and get in good habits of making correct choices, our ability to hold out for the correct way to do things increases.

But, sometimes things go awry.  Sometimes life if hard, the sand it hot, and the bathroom is too far away.  Sometimes those voices tell us, “It’s okay, just this one time, use the diaper, no one will know if you don’t do it this week, think only of yourself just for today, skip that good habit you have acquired.  You will get right back to the better choices next time, when things are easier.” 

But then, just as Abby’s body no longer felt that it had to wait for the toilet to relieve itself, we find ourselves with a lot of exceptions, a lot of times we didn’t do the right thing, only think of ourselves and our good habit, that seemed so well formed, has just gone out the door.