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By Steve Wells

Here’s something that might surprise many of you: Positive affirmations don’t always produce positive results. In fact, they can – and often do - produce negative results for some people. We have known this for some time from our workshops, where we ask people about their experiences with affirmations. Our consistent finding has been that affirmations only work for a small percentage of people.

In previous blog posts I have written about how affirmations don’t actually work for most people who use them and how so-called negative thinking and negative feeling ain’t always so devastatingly bad as you may think (You can see those previous posts at: and )

Now there is some research which supports the contentions I made in those previous posts and also points to why our PET approach works so well.

According to a recent study in Psychological Science (as reported in Science Daily), individuals with low self-esteem can actually feel worse about themselves after repeating positive self-statements. The researchers, psychologists Joanne V. Wood and John W. Lee, asked participants with low self-esteem and others with high self-esteem to repeat the typical self-help book phrase “I am a lovable person”, then measured their moods and their momentary feelings about themselves.

The participants who had low self-esteem felt worse after repeating the positive self-statement compared to another low self-esteem group who did not repeat the self-statement! On the other hand, the individuals with high self-esteem did feel better after repeating the positive self-statement, but only slightly.

In a follow up study where the participants were allowed to list negative self-thoughts along with positive self-thoughts, the paradoxical finding was that low self-esteem participants actually had better mood responses when they were allowed to have negative thoughts than when they were asked to focus exclusively on positive thoughts!

The following quote taken from the Science Daily Article raises an issue which should be of concern to all who are still routinely using the same EFT set-up phrase with every client:

“The psychologists suggested that, like overly positive praise, unreasonably positive self-statements such as “I accept myself completely” can provoke contradictory thoughts in individuals with low self-esteem. Such negative thoughts can overwhelm the positive thoughts.”

(Journal Reference: Wood et al. Positive Self-Statements: Power for Some, Peril for Others. Psychological Science, 2009)

This was our consistent finding when using the self-acceptance phrase in EFT. In another controversial article on our blog I wrote how when we were using EFT we discovered that using the self-acceptance phrase actually causes many people to “tune into” their self-acceptance issues (i.e. it puts them in touch with their lack of self-acceptance!). For these people, we achieved consistent positive results by having them repeat a seeming “negative” phrase instead, such as, “I deeply and completely reject myself!” Of course we would do this with the characteristic humour of the PET style. (That article can be found here: )

In our workshops we’ve frequently demonstrated that having a person repeat aloud their negative belief often results in a lift in their energy state (or what I call a “yes” response) where they clearly accept that statement as “true”. Then having them repeat an opposite, positive belief often results in a disturbance in their state (or “no” response), where they clearly energetically and emotionally reject that statement. Therefore, rushing to the positive side and having them repeat this can overwhelm them and be an invalidation, similarly to simply telling a depressed person to “cheer up”. As Marianne Williamson has said, it is our light, not out darkness, that most frightens us.

Paradoxically, a lack of willingness by the practitioner to work with the dark side may prevent some people from being able to more easily approach the light!

The research mentioned above very much vindicates the approach we take in PET which, by joining with the client’s negative beliefs, validating them, and tapping on them, leads to positive shifts away from attachment to the negative belief, and more acceptance of the positive alternative.

Now of course as the research from Psychological Science points out, those who already have high self-esteem and who can accept the positive belief statement without having the energetic equivalent of a hernia can go straight to the positive side. In PET, when we see an energetic “opening” where the client is ready that is when we know we can deliver positive messages without provoking a repulsion or rejection response… This stage is often reached only after a lot of tapping whilst focusing on the negative belief and it’s antecedents.

But there is a level beyond releasing negative beliefs or accepting positive alternative beliefs., and this can be achieved often only after continued tapping on both sides of the belief continuum and on all the emotional attachments to these beliefs, whether negative or positive. This is the transformative step where we start to realise that none of these beliefs are real, they are all just ideas from the vast sea of ideas. They are not us, we are not them. This is a move towards the place of peace, the land beyond duality, where the concept of positive or negative is no longer necessary or relevant.

To end, one of our favourite quotes from Rumi:

“Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

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7 Replies to “Positive Affirmations with Negative Results”


what a wonderful discovery for me ! this explains so much. all these failures , even though i´ve been using eft for years now. and feeling stuck anyway , just making minor bettermant in the way i feel about myself. it is this deep selfrejection ! and using the negative statement makes so much sense and brought me relief almost instantly. thank you steve , for this wonderful wonderful article ! it more than made my day !

Mike Grant

Hello Steve

Thanks for your newsletter -which i always find inspiring and thought provoking. I love your article on the negative effect of positive affirmations linked to the research article you referred to. Silvia Hartmann has commented for a while now that these positive affirmations can cause disturbances (and hence rejection of their intention) in people, thereby causing even more pain – as the unconscious/energy system responds ‘oh yeah’. With clients i have long since given up on the ‘deeply & completely accept/love myself’ phrase and use the phrase ‘i’m ok’. I haven’t found any rejection with this phrase and i especially like it because it is ambiguous – ‘i’m ok’ (‘as in i’m safe/i survived’ -whatever has happenend) and ‘i’m ok’ (as in ‘i’m acceptable, still have worth/value’ -whatever has happened).

Thanks again for your great newsletter and being ongoing leading light in the energy psychology field



Maureen Cram

Hi Steve

Can’t agree more! We do occasionally use the love and accept myself words… usually when we are working on ourselves… and only if the issue is one where it feels appropriate. For clients, especially those with weight issues I find saying I want to work through this… or I am willing to work through this… is neutral enough for their self-image.

When working surrogately with animals I nearly always find the animal refuses to say it loves and accepts itself even when reworded as I am a good dog or cat or horse etc. So I use the working through this with them as well. It is interesting as we (the animal and I) progress that the animal becomes able to say I am a good dog or cat :).

Best regards


Well done Steve – what a brilliant article about Positive Affirmations with Negative Results! There is a great book called The Positive Power of Negative Thinking by Julie K Norem (2001) which I used to give to my corporate clients as a gift before we started our coaching journey together. Maxine x

Thanks Steve

Another thought provoking and fantastic article. I haven’t used positive statements in EFT since attending one of your workshops a few years ago, which makes for much more time with clients to clear their negatives instead of battling with them trying to deal with their self acceptance issues.

Personally, I found I started beating myself up with the tapping, trying to tap away the negative and tap in the self acceptance; yet after all those repetitions of ‘deeply and completely accept myself’ I was no closer to feeling love for myself than before I discovered EFT.

These days I ask my clients to decide which is smarter. Is it smarter to beat yourself up, or is it smarter to love and accept yourself? It’s a rational and intelligent choice they make for themselves.

And great point about letting go of both sides of the beliefs too. It’s all stuff we’ve created, and when we let go of attaching negative and positive values to it and see it for what it is, ‘just stuff’, it’s so much easier to let it go and be free.

I love your work 😉

Hi Steve,

Thanks for this important reminder. I’m sure it explains several stuck issues I’ve encountered lately. I see my clients and I will benefit from rethinking the tapping sessions I record for general distribution. When a session is created for a specific person I can meet them where they are but I see I will do well to change the wording on the general sessions I create.

As usual, I’m appreciating your insight.

best wishes,


Hi Steve,

You definitely put the finger on the right spot there !

I found it funny to read “Paradoxically, a lack of willingness by the practitioner to work with the dark side may prevent some people from being able to more easily approach the light!”
Well ! Is it that paradoxical or just LOGICAL ?
As practitioners like patients do project their limits and beliefs around.

It is probably why the “positive approach” works often too : the beliefs are so strong on the practioner side AND the patients wants so much to BELIEVE int it. They are two of a kind, and that does work.

I know some practitionners who won’t dare… they’d rather send their patients to me for an “Orangina shake” (do not know if you have that drink and the add in Australia) !!!

Well Life is that generous that it send the right people to the right place… at the right moment…

Friendly yrs,


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