Self-esteem, the way each person evaluates themselves, impacts all aspects of of our lives, from personal relationships to education to jobs and much more. But when a friend, family member or partner has low self-esteem, it’s difficult to know what to say, how to help, or even if you can help. Though you can’t actively change someone else’s evaluation of themselves, there are ways to help someone with low self-esteem. Many of these methods have added benefits for you too; you may find you are more empathetic, more active, and more social yourself.
7 Ways to Help Someone With Low Self-Esteem
What is Low Self-Esteem?
We all have negative views about ourselves some of the time, particularly if we do something we feel guilty about, or when someone puts us down. But, on a day-to-day basis, individuals with a healthy self-esteem feel that they are, overall, good people who are talented and competent. Individuals with low self-esteem feel the opposite; they feel they are, overall, bad people without any particular skills or value.
This perception can arise in many ways. Abuse during childhood or negative experiences during adolescence when a person begins to form their self-image can cause low self-esteem. Personal losses such as the loss of a job or divorce can also damage someone’s self-esteem.
Low self-esteem is not necessarily permanent, but it can be difficult for someone to change their self-evaluation. Counseling with an experienced therapist is the best way to reframe a negative self-image. Ongoing support from loved ones is also an important factor. While it’s important to remember that you alone cannot change another person’s self-esteem, there are ways you can help someone with low self-esteem. Keep in mind that self-esteem, self-image and self-confidence are complicated concepts, and it may be difficult to understand your friend’s low view of themselves.
1. Recognize Their Feelings
When talking to someone with low self-esteem, your natural impulse is probably to counter or deny negative things they say about themselves or the world. If your friend says something like “I’m good for nothing, no one likes me,” you probably want to say “That’s not true! You’re a great person, all of our friends love you!” Though this compliment may seem helpful, it’s unlikely that your friend with low self-esteem will believe it, even if you have been friends for a long time.
Since your friend holds a low opinion of themselves, contradictory opinions, even though they are positive, create cognitive dissonance, an uncomfortable situation where reality doesn’t seem to match a person’s beliefs. This can cause them to gradually distance themselves from friends and seek out people who treat them badly.
It is helpful in this situation to recognize how your friend feels, though neither confirming nor contradicting what they are saying. If your friend says “I’m no good, no one likes me,” you might recognize their feelings and reassure them by saying, “it sounds like you’re feeling isolated or alone. I know that can be tough. I’m here for you.” This type of response may seem awkward at first, but it will become more natural as you practice.
2. Suggest Counseling
Someone with low self-esteem sees themselves in a negative way and, for them, this is reality. This means they may not think that they need counseling, think that it will help, or even that they deserve to feel better about themselves. They will probably not seek out therapy for themselves, and they may be resistant to the idea if you suggest it. However, a professional counselor or therapist can help your friend actively rebuild healthy self-esteem. Gently suggest that they seek counseling, and give them the contact information of a counselor nearby.
3. Practice Good Listening
If a friend with low self-esteem is consistently negative about themselves or the world, it can be difficult to hear. However, this is one of the most important ways to help someone with low self-esteem. Though it’s normal to want to “fix” your friend’s outlook or the situation, understand that they are probably not looking for a solution. Most likely, your friend wants to express how they feel, which can help them to stop internalizing guilt or negativity.
Good listening skills are helpful in many situations, and this is a valuable skill you can teach yourself while also helping someone with low self-esteem. When practicing good listening, remember to;
- Give your attention to the speaker by facing them, looking at them, and removing distractions.
- Consider what they are saying or trying to express, instead of trying to formulate a response.
- When you can, reiterate what you understand. You might say “It sounds like you’re feeling frustrated,” or “how did that make you feel?” if you aren’t sure.
- Be patient and avoid making judgements about their behavior or emotions.
4. Be Supportive
It can be tough to hear a loved one put themselves down. Many people feel the urge to practice “tough love” and say things like “I don’t want to hear you talk that way about yourself anymore.” However, this disapproval can cause people with low self-esteem to feel judged and withdraw further. A better strategy is to demonstrate that you are there for them at their best or worst. If your friend feels secure in being themselves around you, and sees that your opinion of them does not change, this reinforces the idea that they are not actually a “bad” person.
5. Include Them
People with low self-esteem tend to internalize negative events and think about them more. In an effort to protect what little positive self-esteem they have, they will try to avoid things they think might end in embarrassment or regret, such as meeting new people or trying new things. This can lead to isolation, depression and social anxiety.
However, positive events can help to bolster your friend’s self-esteem, and it’s helpful to include them in new experiences or social activities you’re confident that they can handle. Be aware that your friend may break plans, come up with excuses, or even lie to avoid these activities. Let these things go and continue to include them. Your continued support will show them that they can trust you, and that these seemingly “risky” activities might not turn out so bad.
6. Ask for Their Help
While your friend may have a negative view of their own abilities, showing that you have confidence in them can go a long way towards building them up. Ask for their help, especially if they have a chance to show off and succeed in something they are truly good at. This not only shows that you trust their skill and competence, but it also shows that they are important to you, which can help to build up their self-worth.
7. Help Others Together
You may have heard your friend with low self-esteem say things like “I’m no good to anyone” or “I’m a waste of space.” One of the ways you can help someone with low self-esteem is to encourage them to do things that they will feel good about, like volunteering. When your friend is actively helping your community, animals, or the environment, it’s harder to hold on to the false perception that they are “no good.”
Volunteer work will not only negate a negative perception, but also give them a sense of purpose and solidarity within a group. Remember that your friend will most likely be nervous about meeting new people or doing something unfamiliar, and they may need to see you participate first.
Being around a friend, family member or partner with low self-esteem can be a daily challenge. If you feel frustrated with them, or depressed about the situation in general, remember that your own mental health is also important, and take some time for yourself. Remember that, even as you try these ways to help someone with low self-esteem, you will not see a quick change, and your attempts may not always work. Be patient, and remember that these strategies also strengthen your own social skills and self-esteem.
At Michigan Counseling Centers, we are the experts in resolving any issue that might be causing you discomfort. We currently offer services in Bloomfield Hills and Taylor, and plan to expand our services to other communities.
To inquire about or receive treatment, please contact us and we will follow up with you to schedule an initial consultation.