You think positive self-talk would always result in feeling more positive about yourself.

New research suggests that may not always be the case.

If a person has poor self-esteem to begin with, and then tells themselves something like, “I am a lovable person,” they actually end up feeling worse about themselves than those with good self-esteem. Why does this occur? Because the positive statement contradicts their own self-image, reminding them of the fact they do not see themselves as a “lovable person.”

So positive self-talk is positive only when the person who’s doing it really believes it. If one’s pre-existing beliefs contradict the positive self-talk, it appears the pre-existing beliefs will usually supersede (and overrule) the self-talk.

The new study was published earlier this month in the journal Psychological Science and was led by Joanne Wood:

Dr Wood suggests that positive self-statements cause negative moods in people with low self-esteem because they conflict with those people’s views of themselves. When positive self-statements strongly conflict with self-perception, she argues, there is not mere resistance but a reinforcing of self-perception. People who view themselves as unlovable find saying that they are so unbelievable that it strengthens their own negative view rather than reversing it. Given that many readers of self-help books that encourage positive self-statements are likely to suffer from low self-esteem, they may be worse than useless.

I’m not sure about that last statement, since self-help books are usually filled with exercises and techniques for helping a person try different strategies for dealing with a specific psychological component in their life (such as relationships). A strategy to encourage positive self-statements is rarely done in a vacuum, but as a part of something bigger.

And low self-esteem itself, while perhaps sometimes overrated, is still an issue that is a legitimate focus that folks may want to change. Combating negative self-talk is one way to do that. But this new research suggests that perhaps positive self-statements may not be the best way to do it.

Read the full article: Positive thinking’s negative results: Words of wisdom