The psychology of relationships: strokes
Affirmations are a variation on the theme of strokes.
Affirmations are short, positive strokes you can give yourself or other people. They are a way to express how we want to be and they are often used to strengthen one’s own or another person’s self-belief.
Any time we credit another person or ourselves verbally or non-verbally in a positive way, we affirm that person. An example of an affirmation would be “I love you as you are.”
We all need affirmations or permissions during childhood and later on as adults to be ourselves, to grow and to love.
At different ages in our childhood we have to master different tasks and therefore require different sets of affirmations as we grow up.
As adults, we still go through the same stages or developmental tasks, especially if there is a task we didn’t quite complete as children. (For example, someone may never have learned to be separate from his or her parents and now still clings on to his or her partners.
That person may need affirmations for doing things their own way and to be their own person.) The process of going over developmental tasks again and again is called recycling. (
To continue with the example above, that person will have a chance and the challenge to complete their ability to be separate each time a person leaves his or her life, or whenever a relationship ends.
Recycling early developmental tasks means that people re-experience earlier developmental tasks in a more sophisticated form at a later age.
Here is a general list of childhood stages and related affirmations
Birth – 6 months. Task: Deciding to live.
Affirmations: You have a right to be here. Your needs are ok with me. I am glad you are a boy/girl. You don’t have to hurry (and grow up). I like to hold you. I am glad you are alive. I love you just the way you are. I love you and I care for you willingly.
6 months – 18 months. Task: Gaining confidence in doing. Affirmations: It’s ok to do things. You don’t have to do things for me (like be smart, be cute….). I like to watch you initiate and grow and learn. I love you when you are active and when you are quiet. You can use all of your senses when you explore. You can do things as many times as you need to.
18 months – 3 years. Task: Gain confidence in thinking. Affirmations: I am glad you are growing up. I am not afraid of your anger. You can think about what you feel. You don’t have to take care of me by thinking for me.
You can be sure about what you need and want and think. You can think and feel at the same time. You can know what you need and ask for help. You can become separate from me and I will continue to love you.
3 – 6 years. Task: Find own identity and power. Affirmations: You can be powerful and still have needs. You don’t have to act scary, sick, …. to get taken care of.
You can express your feelings straight. You can find out the results of your behavior. You can be powerful and ask for help at the same time.
6 – 12 years. Task: Find own structure to do things. Affirmation: You can learn to do things your way. You can think before you make any rule your own. You can trust your feelings to help you know.
You can do it your way. It’s ok to disagree. You don’t have to suffer to get what you need. You can find a way of doing things that works for you. You can learn the rules that help you live with others.
12 – 19 years. Task: To find sexual identity. Affirmations: It’s ok to be a sexual person (and I will not act out my sexual feelings towards you as the parent). You can be a sexual person and still have needs. It’s ok to know who you are. You are welcome home again. You can develop your own interests, relationships and causes. I look forward to knowing you as an adult.
As you read through this list, notice the affirmations that you would like to hear or the ones that move you.
Write those down and keep repeating them to yourself. Maybe you didn’t get enough of that particular permission as a child.
It is particularly powerful if you give yourself affirmations at the end of a relaxation exercise. Similarly, there might be affirmations you simply can’t believe to be true about yourself (the above example person may not believe that it’s ok for them to think for themselves).
If that is the case think about what that means for your life. How does it hold you back? If you think it’s a big part of what’s not working in your life, do something about it.
Talk to your friends, read self-help books or consider psychotherapy.
You could also talk this through with your partner and see what kind of affirmations she or he might want to hear from you.
You could make a deal where you exchange the affirmations you have chosen for yourselves and receive them from the other person on a regular basis.
Experience suggests that those relationships where the partners constantly affirm each other are much more likely to be sexually successful than those where they do not.
In a way, that stands to reason, really, because nothing is more subject to negative feedback than a man or woman’s enjoyment of sex.