Positive Public Affirmations Mitigate Effects of Chronic Pain

We are what we think … and according to the results of a recent study conducted by Wesley P. Gilliam of Rosalind Franklin University in Illinois, people who publicly state that they are coping positively with chronic pain tend to do just that. The strategic self-presentations (SSP) theory suggests that when people publicly declare specific things about themselves using positive affirmations, they experience a cognitive shift that transforms behaviors. This theory has been demonstrated in prior research, but until now had not been tested in comparison to private declarations.

To test the SSP theory further, Gilliam enlisted 89 participants with a history of chronic pain and provided them with scripts that cited declarations of negative coping or positive coping. The participants were then further segregated and selected to publicly declare or privately disclose their appraisals. Gilliam assessed the levels of depression, interference, positive coping, and self-efficacy of the participants before and after the experiment. He found that the participants who publicly declared positive coping strategies had significantly lower levels of negative outcomes related to all four aspects examined.

“Our findings suggest that simple manipulations drawing on social-cognitive theory may contribute to substantial improvements in outcome among patients suffering with chronic pain conditions,” Gilliam said. Because the quality of pain management treatment is difficult to assess and often includes medication that can have addictive properties, cognitive appraisals can offer a viable and less troublesome approach. Gilliam believes that clients with chronic pain could be provided with coping dialogue and publicly disclose their scripts in group sessions to receive benefits similar to the ones attained in the study. Additionally, the cost of implementing such a technique would be cost effective and devoid of any harmful side effects. In sum, the results of the study provide evidence of a novel perspective on effective and affordable pain management that should be further explored.


Gilliam, W. P., Burns, J. W., Gagnon, C., Stanos, S., Matsuura, J., Beckman, N. (2012). Strategic self-presentation may enhance effects of interdisciplinary chronic pain treatment. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029205

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  • candice

    August 31st, 2012 at 12:43 PM

    can see how this works…always great to be confident of your improving condition when you share it with others and it adds to your self belief and positive results will accompany.

  • Maria

    August 31st, 2012 at 2:54 PM

    It’s Stuart Smiley from Saturday Night Live! ;)

  • Mallory

    September 1st, 2012 at 5:58 AM

    I like that this article talks about how this could be used in a group therapy session because I have to admit that I was thinking what a weirdo people would think that I am if I walked around telling random strangers how I hurt because I was looking for positive affirmations to make me feel better! But in group sessions designed for others in pain like me, maybe we could all talk through it and see some positive steps being made. Could you give me any suggestions about how I amy find a group in my area geard toward this very thing?

  • Christina

    September 1st, 2012 at 2:07 PM

    A big part of the battle against pain and disease is fought not in the body but in the mind and if positive affirmations start to flow then that is generally a great thing.I have experienced this with a former injury myself.Talking about my recovery made me feel better and gave me a sense of fully healing.

    Just lying in bed thinking gloomy things can only delay your recovery or keep that chronic pain from going away.So stop thinking and tap the power of your mind to combat pain!

  • Zoe

    September 1st, 2012 at 2:09 PM

    Do you foresee a time when pain specialists will work together with therapy sessions to provide more of a holistic approach to recovery and treatment for their patients?

  • Keith

    September 2nd, 2012 at 3:38 PM

    Good idea, Mallory! Use of this in group therapy will help to enhance not only the one who is talking about his problems but will also encourage the others in the group. Although I would gladly use this technique with a friend who will listen to me and is genuinely concerned about me. if it can help me to just tell my friend about how good I am feeling then why not!

  • Jasonfarmer

    September 3rd, 2012 at 7:32 AM

    I have always thought that others wouldn’t want to hear me complain, even though I am just telling them how I live my daily life. But this sounds like a w ay that I can share my feelings with others who understand, who know exactly what living this kind of life feels like, as well as can help me while I can hopefully help them too. This is a struggle that very few people understand unless you have lived it so it is always nice to find others who can relate and who can give you their own little suggestions as to what has helped them.

  • juliette conner

    September 4th, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    any time that you have the ability to place a more positive spin on things allows you to be a little more free to generally be more upbeat and genial
    if you continue to look at life in a negative way then chances are life will continue to look very bleak and ominous to you
    simple as that

  • Ray Davis

    September 9th, 2012 at 7:24 PM

    Just another scientific proof in the growing body of evidence that the great teachers of the past had it right. Our thoughts really do influence/create our world.

    It’s been my experience in doing this for myself for the past 20 years and helping others to do it for the past 5.

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