How to talk to low self-esteem.
Loving someone is hard.
You are a person with a history and issues that are continually shifting and you are trying to balance taking care of yourself with caring for and showing love to another person.
It can be a lot.
So what happens when that person needs you? Really needs you?
Not in the, I’ve had a hard day and I need to unwind kind of way. Not in the, I’m sad right now and could do with a pick me up. But in the, I feel bad about myself and I feel like I can’t accomplish things way. In the my self-esteem is suffering way.
What if they don’t need you but they need help. What can you do?
Seeing the person you care about most going through something so difficult can be tough. But it’s ultimately not about you and while you might not be what they necessarily need, there are still ways to be helpful.
Affirmations won’t work
Studies have shown that positive affirmations are a powerhouse for people who already have healthy self-esteem and are detrimental to people with negative self-esteem. This is because you essentially asking that person to lie to themselves and it makes them feel worse, not better. It even goes so far as to say that people who experience negative self-esteem feel better when they are talking negatively about themselves.
“Repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, such as individuals with high self-esteem, but backfire for the very people who need them the most.” -Journal of Psychological Science
Think of a person like a room. Hanging the paintings without having cleaned up the room and painted the walls, is like trying to get someone to recite positive affirmations without having cleared out the negative stuff that’s already in there.
Realistic language is good
While you might be tempted to flood the person you love with compliments and correct every negative sentence with something good, this isn’t helpful. Instead, help them correct negative thoughts, with honest ones.
Instead of “I never finish anything.” Try “It’s not true that you never finish anything. If there are things you have a difficult time sticking with we can talk about the reasons why and if you want, you can try again.”
Instead of “I’m a failure.” Try “There are things you haven’t accomplished yet but that doesn’t mean you can’t pursue those things now.”
Instead of “Doing this thing is too hard for me.” Try “Doing this thing might take more effort than you thought, but its doable and there are people to help you if you want it.”
The idea is not to be overly positive, but to be neutral. You’ll hear when the bad stuff in their mind has been cleaned out in the way they talk. When they start using neutral language in the place where they normally would have been negative. This will take time.
Negative self-esteem is not a permanent affliction. Remember that with time and practice, it’s going to get better. Be patient. In the meantime, focus on being supportive and talking in a way they will help, not hinder, the process.