How to Help Someone with Low Self-Esteem

How to Help Someone With Low Self-Esteem – Empathy & Support Guide

"Self-esteem is the way that we all feel good about ourselves and is an integral part of being human."

Am I good enough? This is a question that everyone asks themselves at some point. Whether it be in regards to a particular area of life or simply about being good enough in general. For those who struggle with self-esteem, the answer will likely be ‘no’. Those who do not struggle with self-esteem and are fairly confident in their self-worth may find it difficult to talk to friends, family, or loved ones who are not. Although there is no single way to fix a loved one’s self-esteem, you can offer support and create an environment in which they are able to grow on their own with time, validation, and encouragement [1]. If you or someone you love is struggling with low self-esteem, you may find the tips in this blog post useful to help you move forward.

Helping Someone with Low Self-Esteem

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read)

In this guide we explore how to support someone with low self-esteem through understanding the signs, offering empathy, and promoting self-care without being patronising or dismissive. It emphasises the importance of positive reinforcement, active listening, and setting boundaries to encourage positive change in behaviour. Recognising the role of early life experiences and messages in shaping self-esteem, the guide encourages creating a nurturing environment for growth. Practical advice is offered on what to say and what to avoid, as well as tips for building self-esteem, including the suggestion of therapy when needed.

Introduction

Self-esteem is the way that we all feel good about ourselves and is an integral part of being human [2]. Watching someone we love struggle with low self-esteem is incredibly difficult and can leave you feeling helpless regarding what to do or say to improve their life. Luckily, there are ways in which you can play your part in aiding the process of boosting their self-worth. In addition to creating the optimal conditions for this to take place, you can also develop skills in understanding your loved one’s point of view surrounding their low self-esteem. In this blog post, we’ll be taking a look at some of the signs that someone may have low self-esteem, what to say and not to say, as well as some practical tips on how to help someone build their self-esteem.

Signs that someone may have low self-esteem

Although low self-esteem is not considered a mental illness like depression, it can have a significant impact on your thoughts, behaviour, and emotions. In turn, this lack of self-worth and value can have a deeply negative effect on your relationships and your overall quality of life and well-being. Here are some signs and symptoms that you or your loved one might be struggling with low self-esteem [3].

  • Poor confidence. Low self-esteem is usually closely linked with low self-confidence. Lacking confidence in your day-to-day life may hinder or challenge you when navigating new situations, people, or places. This can lead to increased feelings of anxiety or stress, often reinforced by a critical inner voice.
  • Negative social comparison. Someone with lower self-esteem is more likely to engage in upward social comparison, a tendency to compare themselves with people they think are ‘better’ than them. Although this type of social comparison is not always negative, as it can also be inspiring, if you are left with feelings of inadequacy or worthlessness, this can greatly impact one’s self-esteem.
  • Difficulty asking for what you need. Someone with low self-esteem may struggle to ask for things they need out of fear or embarrassment. In some instances, they may feel as though they don’t deserve help and don’t prioritise their own needs/desires.
  • Trouble accepting positive feedback. Because they don’t view themselves positively, people with low self-esteem are often also unable to accept or benefit from compliments given by others. Positive feedback is usually met with distrust or feelings of anxiety or suspicion, and this skepticism can be compounded by negative things they believe about themselves.
  • Negative self-talk. When something goes wrong, those with low self-esteem tend to blame themselves entirely. Instead of building themselves up with positive self-talk and affirmations, they engage in self-criticism, focusing on their flaws and failures.
  • Negative Thinking. Those with low self-esteem might often expect to fail and think things like “I can’t do anything right” or “Nobody likes me.” This constant negative beliefs and self-doubt can make them miss out on trying new things or trusting their own abilities, as they’re convinced they’ll mess up or be rejected. These negative thoughts can keep them from seeing their own worth and potential.
  • Lack of boundaries. People with low self-esteem often neglect setting clear boundaries out of fear of rejection or abandonment. However, if we don’t set boundaries, and healthy ones, we leave our time and space open for others to take advantage of.

Signs that someone may have low self-esteemSigns of Healthy Self-Esteem

These include having a balanced view of oneself, with an understanding of personal strengths as well as room for growth. A person with healthy self-esteem faces challenges with resilience, and sees struggles as part of an opportunity to learn and improve. They are able to take in compliments graciously but don’t define their self-worth by the praise of others. They’re self-assured in their abilities, and have a healthy sense of self-esteem which allows them to build meaningful relationships with empathy, confidence and care for others:

  • Robust confidence. Those with high self-esteem exhibit a firm belief in their abilities and self-acceptance. They approach life’s challenges with assurance and are often undeterred by new situations, people, or places, facing them with a calm and composed demeanour. Their confidence is also a sign of strong mental health.
  • Balanced social comparisons. While comparisons with others are natural, individuals with healthy self-esteem engage with with without diminishing their own worth, their inner voice is encouraging and affirmative. They are likely to draw inspiration from others without feeling inadequate, recognising their own unique qualities and contributions.
  • Effective communication of needs. A person without self-esteem issues can express what they need and desires without hesitation. They appreciate their own value and understand the importance of addressing their requirements and pursuing personal goals. This is also conducive to more positive relationships
  • Acceptance of positive regard. Receiving and internalising compliments is a trait of those with a positive self-image. They are able to accept someone’s praise without suspicion, seeing it as a reflection of their capabilities and achievements, further protecting them from negative feelings and other people’s expectations.
  • Positive self-perception. Rather than indulging in self-criticism, a person with a healthy self-image engage in affirming self-talk. They maintain a constructive perspective on their experiences. For example, when a challenge presents itself, they are able to focus on lessons learned, and their strengths rather than dwelling on failures.
  • Well-defined boundaries. A clear sense of personal boundaries is a sign of self-respect. People with healthy self-esteem will not neglect setting limits that protect their time, energy, and well-being, ensuring that they are treated with the respect they deserve.

Signs of Healthy Self-Esteem

The Interplay of Self-Esteem and Relationships

Personal relationships often acts as a mirror, reflecting our self-image. For instance, if you have little self-esteem, you might constantly seek validation from a partner and a casual observation from a friend could unexpectedly deepen your anxiety. These scenarios are telling signs that that person’s self-belief may be fragile.

Instead people with strong self-esteem are more likely to approach relationships from a place of respect and assurance. They tend to cultivate supportive bonds that affirm their worth, like a family member who offers unconditional support, or a colleague who appreciates their contributions, reinforcing a positive view of who they are.

Generally speaking, how we feel about ourselves is really key in our relationships. If you’re not feeling great about who you are, it can really throw you off when you’re with others, make you feel anxious and under pressure. You might end up chasing their approval to feel good, and that’s a difficult and vulnerable spot to be in. On the flip side, if you’ve got a stronger grip on your self-esteem, you’re more likely to tune in with people who lift you up and appreciate you for just being you, which can be truly liberating. Let’s now have a look at where the issue might stem from.

Understanding the Origins of Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem often takes root early in life, influenced by the messages we receive from family, friends, and other important people (e.g., teachers). For example, a child might be frequently discouraged by their parent’s remarks like ‘Why can’t you be more like your brother?’, or a teacher’s constant focus on the negative could lead to a sense that your best efforts are simply never enough.

Although these messages are likely to be a mix of positive affirmations and negative evaluations, the reality is that they can create a lasting impact. For some of us, it may be really tough when overly critical parents or teachers undermine our belief in ourselves, while for others, continuous stress from events like relationship breakdowns or financial troubles can erode self-assurance. A person’s innate personality can also be a factor here, leading to a predisposition towards negative thinking, anxiety or unrealistically high personal standards.

Getting to the root of where all starts can be a game-changer. It may be the first step in building up self-love, which is often lacking in people with low self-esteem. When we’re able to finally flip that switch, we’re laying down a whole new foundation of self-respect.

Understanding the Origins of Low Self-Esteem

Does Self-Esteem Influence Personal Achievement?

The impact of self-esteem on achievement is powerful. For example, a student with self-esteem issues may shy away from participating in discussions, affecting their educational progress. In contrast, someone with healthy self-esteem often embraces new challenges with enthusiasm, taking action that are helpful in enhancing their job performance and career trajectory. The relationship between self-perception and accomplishment shows the difficulty that one with low-self esteem may experience in various life spheres. As if running a sprint with a ball and chain attached to their ankle, a person with low self-esteem might see every opportunity not as a chance to leap forward but as another daunting difficulty to trip over.

Does Self-Esteem Influence Personal Achievement?

Maya’s Struggle to Emerge from Her Sister’s Shadow

The story of Maya (a pseudonym) is a testament to the harsh effects of low self-esteem. As the eldest in a family revered for scientific achievement, she was often seen only in the light of her younger sister’s accomplishments—the sibling who excelled effortlessly in academia and was the apple of her teachers’ eyes. Maya, with her less conventional joys and talents, felt invisible. “Why can’t you be like her?” was a question that haunted her, diminishing her own achievements and interests. It led her to second-guess her every step, her self-belief eroded by the constant comparisons. Even though she worked diligently in her job as a local councillor, the spectre of her sister’s success loomed large, preventing Maya from fully recognising and celebrating her own worth and capabilities. Maya’s journey is really about the struggle of many people with low self-esteem who are held back not by a lack of talent, but by the fear of not having talent, of never being enough.

What do you say to someone with very low self-esteem?

  • Tell them you love them and why. A person struggling with low self-esteem usually finds it difficult to love themselves very much, so they’re likely to benefit when hearing it from others. To be a good friend, partner or family member, tell them that you love and value them and explain why – this will let them know that you appreciate them and that they matter to you [4]. Doing this, you’ll bring more fulfilment in their life.
  • Encourage self-care. Whether it be taking a short walk in the park, taking a warm bath, putting on a face mask, or hanging out with friends – try to encourage your loved one to take care of themselves and spend time doing small things that make them feel good [5].
  • Share positive things with them. If you happen to come across a nice idea, funny video, inspirational poem, or heartwarming movie or post on social media, share it! Personal gifts or letters are also a great way to show you care about your loved one, even if they can’t care for themselves [4].
  • Be caring but firm. When your loved one is struggling with low self-esteem, you may try your best to avoid upsetting them. This can make you feel like you’re walking on eggshells. However, being direct with them can be a productive step forward. Maintain a caring but firm attitude, so that they may take your words into consideration when working on their self-esteem. A change in perspective does not come overnight, and you certainly can’t do the work for them.

What do you say to someone with very low self-esteem?

What not to say to someone with low self-esteem [6]

  1.  Don’t shower them with praise

    When we hear someone we love talk badly of themselves, it’s likely our reaction will be to resolve their unrealistic thoughts and negative beliefs and shower them with praise. For instance, you might say; “you’re so talented”, “you’re such an amazing person” etc. Despite your good intentions, this isn’t likely to be accepted by them and might make them feel like a child who needs to be tended to, having a negative impact on their mental health.

  2. Don’t give unsolicited advice

    Giving advice to someone struggling with low self-esteem, especially when it’s not asked for, can have a much more negative effect than intended. It may leave your loved one with the impression that others are able to take care of themselves and that they, as a person, are failing. Again, this sets up a dynamic of ‘adult’ and ‘child’, leaving the metaphorical ‘parents’ of the person with low self-esteem feeling even worse.

  3. Don’t dismiss their emotions

    Comments like “don’t be silly” or “that’s a stupid thing to say” might be a knee-jerk response to someone we loves talking negatively about themselves. However, this is definitely something to avoid, as it can further strengthen the negative thoughts and emotions in someone with low self-esteem. Instead of seeing your intention, they might take your words literally – that they are silly or stupid.

  4. Avoid making comparisons

    Drawing parallels between the person with low self-esteem and others can make them feel even more inadequate. Remarks such as “Why can’t you to your job more like your colleague?” or “Your sister never had these issues” can deepen their belief of being flawed or not measuring up to perceived standards.

  5. Steer clear of over-simplifying their struggles

    Saying things like “Just cheer up” or “Everyone feels this way sometimes” can trivialize the complex emotions and challenges they’re facing. It can come across as if their struggles are easy to overcome, which can make them feel misunderstood and isolated.

What not to say to someone with low self-esteem

6 Tips to Help Someone Build Self-esteem

  1. Involve them. Whether it’s a party, event, or day at the beach – try involving the person who struggles with low self-esteem or depression to let them know they are wanted [7].
  2. Encourage them. Let your friend or loved one know that their efforts are not unnoticed. This includes successes, failures, and any kind of attempt to boost their low self-esteem.
  3. Actively listen. Although you may want to give advice or take action, sometimes simply listening is the best thing you can do. It’s important that your loved one feels heard, without having to compete for attention. Maintain eye contact and engage your body language to show you really care.
  4. Problem-solve when possible. A person with low self-esteem usually internalises and personalises the issue. This means that they will attribute their failures to themselves, disregarding any other factors that may play a role. Blaming oneself can lead to deepened isolation, feeling low and believing they must tackle the problem alone. With this in mind, providing a fresh angle can be helpful. For example, if your loved one is worried about attending an event alone, let them know that although some people are taking a partner, there are others that will also be attending alone [2].
  5. Volunteer together. Helping others has been proven to boost self-confidence, which could be very helpful to someone with low self-esteem. Suggest volunteering in your community or allow your loved one to help you with something.
  6. When needed, suggest therapy. Despite your best efforts, sometimes your loved one will require professional help. Approach the idea carefully, making sure to normalise asking for help and encourage them to attend therapy if necessary. You can also be extra helpful and further empathise and identify with their experience by letting them know that you have benefitted from therapy if you have ever been yourself. Let them know that they have your support if they decide to ask for professional help.

6 Tips to Help Someone Build Self-esteem

What to do if You’re Struggling

Supporting a loved one dealing with low self-esteem can be an incredibly difficult time for both you and them. Although your sole focus may be on helping your loved one, it’s important to check in with yourself too. If you’ve noticed that you or your loved one is depressed, anxious, or that low self-esteem is impairing their day-to-day life, consider reaching out to a a mental health professional who can offer talking therapies.

At Therapy Central we provide counselling for low self esteem and lack of confidence in London and everywhere else online. We use evidence-based interventions such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and other talking therapies to help you cope with low self-esteem and get you life back on track. In this way, you’ll be able to talk about your experience with professionals who are equipped to provide you with the help and support you need.

Consider contacting one of our qualified therapists today.

You can contact us and request a free 15 min consultation to see whether our help will suit your needs.

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