how to help a friend with low self-esteem

It’s so very painful to see the people we love in pain, and to feel like we can’t do anything about it.

This is especially true for caring, empathic people (and I know you’re one of ‘em, because you’re here, reading this). We’re likely to feel deep sorrow when our favorite people are hurting. What hurts more is the feeling of powerlessness: no matter how much we want to, we can’t fix it, can’t make everything magically okay.

Although magic isn’t the answer (unfortunately), there are things we can do to help just a little bit. We can’t fix the pain of a loved one, but we can provide space for it to exist. If we’re lucky, we can even ease it slightly.

Here’s how:

Let your loved one know you’ve noticed, and provide a space for dialogue.

Some people vocalize their negative self-talk because they want help but don’t know how to ask for it. Let your friend know that you’ve noticed she’s been saying some negative things, and ask if she’d like to talk about it. It’s pretty likely that she’ll say no, at least the first time you ask.

If it feels right, you can do the same thing (gently) again in the future. You probably don’t want to ask every day, but you might ask again in a couple weeks. It takes some people a little while to warm to the idea of sharing their thoughts and feelings.

Include her in fun stuff.

Feeling badly about yourself can keep you from wanting to do things, whether or not you’re also feeling depressed. Make sure to invite your loved one to do things with you and participate in life.

Even if she declines, continue to ask, without too much pressure. Remind her that you want to spend time with her, and that other people do, too.

Try not to get too frustrated.

It can be extreeeeemely frustrating to be around someone who’s constantly saying negative things about herself. Especially when you think she’s the bee’s knees and don’t understand what the heck she thinks is wrong with her.

Continue to reassure her that she’s fabulous and gorgeous (as I know you’re already doing, because you’re you), and understand that you can’t make her thoughts and actions change.
That said, if her negativity becomes too much for you to take, your responsibility is, first and foremost, to take care of yourself. Taking time to refuel, away from your struggling loved one, is necessary. Ultimately, she is the one responsible for her own well-being.

Model positive self-care and self-talk.

Quite often, modeling positive self-talk can be more effective than telling your loved one she’s great. Someone who’s struggling with self-worth can easily shrug off direct compliments as insincere. However, the way you talk to yourself helps to establish a norm, demonstrating that this is how we talk to ourselves: kindly.

Taking good care of yourself, and demonstrating that you accept yourself fully, flaws and all, will show your loved one what self-acceptance looks like and make the terrain of self-love more familiar to her.

Share helpful resources, gently.

It can be tempting to send your friend every helpful resource you can possibly think of, especially if you’ve been through similar struggles yourself. Your loved one is lucky to have someone with a connection to those resources. Share them gently and with discretion.

You might ask your loved one if she’d be open to outside help, and if so, what kind. Depending on what she says, you might share your own story, let her know about great therapists, coaches, and healers who have helped you, and pass on articles and books that could help.
If your loved one responds negatively to your attempts to share resources, understand that she might not be ready right now, and respect that. You never know when she might remember your offer and reach out to you herself.

Be a beacon of light.

One of the greatest gifts you can give is your relentless patience and positivity. Continue to radiate love and acceptance for yourself, other people, and your loved one who’s struggling.

Providing a rebuttal to all the negative voices that are overwhelming her is an incredible contribution to her wellbeing. Keep it up, and continue to be a reminder that the negative voices don’t always have to win.

In the comments: Have you ever helped a friend or loved one who was struggling with self-esteem? If so, what worked? What didn’t?

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