Loving Someone With Low Self-Esteem

As a person who deals with low self-esteem, I can tell you that remarks such as “You just need to have more confidence in your abilities!” and “You’re just too harsh on yourself” can end up aggravating more than aiding. However well intentioned these words may be, for people who have low self-esteem they are often the last things they want to hear. People with low self-esteem are fully aware that they need better self-confidence, and having others point out this very obvious fact, rather than focusing on their capabilities and potential, isn’t very constructive.

People with low self-esteem don’t want others to throw compliments at them in an attempt to make them feel better because this, most likely, won’t work. It is up to the individual to improve their own self-image. Compliments given immediately after individuals have expressed their insecurities may be perceived as not fully genuine and the individual may believe that the person delivering the compliment may only be doing so to make them feel better about themselves. Compliments may not be the most effective route to take, however, affirmations can go a long way. The difference between a compliment and an affirmation is the support that is tied to words of affirmation, which is not necessarily present in compliments. Affirmations are not meant to shut down one’s insecurities, but rather focus on the individual's strong points. Therefore, people with low self-esteem would prefer to have someone to listen to them and to support them with occasional words of affirmation (when appropriate), throughout their journey of self-acceptance. As a partner, friend or parent, you can help most by standing by your loved one’s side and supporting them as they learn to gradually accept their insecurities and discover their strengths.  

In all partnerships, whether it be with parents, friends or a significant other, low self-esteem can be a relationship killer. It can make one question just about everything, from ‘do they really want to know about my childhood imaginary friend?’ to ‘do they really love me?’ It can affect how one communicates, how one deals with issues, and can lower one’s expectations on how they should be treated and what they deserve from their loved ones. It will also unearth trust issues, which are toxic in any relationship. That’s why as a parent, friend or partner of someone who deals with low self-esteem, it is important to not let this issue be brushed under the rug. It is vital to create a supportive environment where the individual feels your love, support, acceptance, and hears your words of affirmation on a regular basis.

Poor body image is often intrinsically bound to low self-esteem. If your loved one deals with poor body image you can help them become more comfortable in their skin by practicing body positivity. Giving occasional sincere compliments will help boost their self confidence considerably. If they are unhappy with their weight, avoid phrases such as “You look so thin,” and instead say “You look so healthy.” Putting the emphasis on healthy rather than thin will help on so many levels. If they are unhappy with the way they look, avoid saying, “You are so cute” and instead say, “You are beautiful,” as the word “cute” may sometimes be misinterpreted.

Often low self-esteem is worsened when an individual does not succeed at a given task. If this is the case, help show your loved one that their self-worth has absolutely nothing to do with their number of successes, or “wins,” in life, by helping them celebrate their incredible efforts. Help them learn to be proud of their attempts, no matter the outcome, by letting them know that you are proud of what they did and that their efforts were meaningful.

Low self-esteem can’t be fixed overnight. Learning to accept one’s insecurities and discover one’s strengths is a journey that takes time. It is important to remember that it is not your job to fix their insecurities—that is up to them. As a parent, friend, or partner of someone who deals with low self-esteem, being there to listen, support, and love them, is the most important thing you can do, and they will ever be grateful for your acceptance and affirmation. Finally, it is also important to recognise that it is okay for your loved one to feel negative thoughts at times, especially after upsetting or disappointing events, and to not overstep by shutting down their negative feelings in these situations. Allow them to speak their mind and confide their emotions in you, and after, tell them that you accept and love them unconditionally.