Do you find that you have trouble accepting compliments? If someone praises you or tells you something nice about yourself, do you find yourself shying away or rebuffing it? Does the thought of thinking of yourself in a positive light make you feel uncomfortable, or even sick?
If so, then your self-esteem may have taken a beating once or multiple times in your life.
Self-esteem is an important part of our natures – it is based on how we perceive and value ourselves. Our environment, experiences, relationships, personal attributes and the way our mind works all play a big part in forming our self-esteem.
What is Low Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem is an important part of our natures – it is based on how we perceive and value ourselves. Our environment, experiences, relationships, personal attributes and the way our mind works all play a big part in forming our self-esteem.
Low self-esteem is often the result of negative experiences growing up, which could include being told negative things about oneself (“You’re not good enough!”) or being made to feel in one’s environment that you are a failure. It can also be the result of toxic relationships or major life events that knock down your sense of self-worth, abuse, bullying, being a victim of prejudice, physical and mental health problems, worries about body image, financial worries and anything that triggers a stressful life experience.
Self-esteem is important because our opinion of ourselves shapes who we are, and if our perceived self is one which is viewed as “worthless” or “not good enough” then it will create obstacles, blockages, emotional distress and, often, further toxic relationships in our lives. In its worse form, low self-esteem can lead to self-destructive behavior, including drug abuse and self-harm.
Low self-esteem naturally leads to an aversion of accepting compliments. After all, you may think, if your opinion of yourself is negative, how in the world can anyone else have a positive one of you?
Me vs. Reality
The reality we create is ultimately the reality that surrounds us. This is where the power of the mind comes in. Just because things have happened to you to make you feel worthless or just because others have told you that is what you are, it does not make it true. Ultimately, we are all sensitive beings one way or another – usually, when a negative experience happens to us, it goes something like this:
Experience: “You’re not good enough!”
Me: “It’s true, I’m not…”
Even if we don’t recognize at the time that we are viewing ourselves as a failure, ultimately that is what we have done if we struggle with self-esteem now. This is especially true when we are children and at our most impressionable and vulnerable.
But it is important to remember that, no matter what has happened to you, there is only one person who decides how much or how little value you are worth: you.
If you believe in yourself, if you refuse to see yourself as a failure, if you recognize everything about yourself that makes you a unique and wonderful person, your self-esteem will naturally start to build. It can be a hard process, especially if your self-esteem has been damaged over a period of years. But it can certainly be done.
When we rely on others to decide what our self-esteem is worth, we hand all our power over to them. But the power is ours, not theirs; when we decide to build our own self-esteem, we are taking back what rightfully belongs to us and making the choice to value who we are and the unique individual attributes we were blessed with. When we are able to do this, accepting compliments from others comes naturally.
How Can We Do This?
Below are some ways you can build your self-esteem and learn to accept compliments from others.
The way to accept compliments from others is to first believe we are worthy of such compliments – and what better way to do this than by complimenting yourself?
Every day when you wake up and look in the mirror, find something to compliment yourself about. Is it your eyes? Your hair? Your skin? An aspect of your body that you are particularly proud of? What about your character? Is it your kindness? Your giving nature? Your desire to put others first? Your intelligence? Your determination? These qualities and characteristics are all beautiful and they deserve your compliments.
Do this every day and, gradually, you will start to believe it.
Challenge Negative Thoughts About Yourself
When we have low self-esteem, we are very quick to put ourselves down. Next time a negative thought enters your mind, catch it and confront it. Ask yourself if you would treat a friend or loved one like this. It is unlikely – so why should you treat yourself like that?
One thing that very often does not even occur to our consciousness when we receive a compliment is how it makes the person complimenting us feel when we rebuff it or laugh it off. Someone has seen something good about us and has taken the time to let us know – when we reject this, the negativity we feel about ourselves naturally rebounds onto the other person. They approached us with positivity, we reacted with negativity, and this negativity then cancels out the positivity.
The person may feel confused or hurt; they may feel offended or even humiliated.
If we become mindful of the effects our own reactions have on others, we may feel more determined to change our perspective about ourselves so that we, too, can spread positive energy to others.
Dig to the Heart of the Issue
Sometimes, our damaged self-esteem has been with us for so long that we no longer know the cause of it. It could be the result of one situation or many, but the emotions that exist because of it are now rooted deep within the subconscious.
A clean slate = a clean state of mind.
Having low or damaged self-esteem can be debilitating to many. It can prevent us from achieving our full potential or acquiring the love that we deserve. Self-care is vital to growing our own self-esteem. The methods above should help you on your journey towards building your self-esteem and recognizing that you are a unique being with your own set of individual talents and gifts, and this is something to be proud of. If someone you know struggles with low self-esteem, suggest the methods above to them and don’t take it personally if your compliments are rebuffed.
The journey to building healthy and strong self-esteem can be a long and difficult road, but with determination and an innate understanding that you are worth it, you will reach your destination and, in time, you will see compliments for what they truly are: confirmation of what you already know about yourself.
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Having worked as a teacher, a bartender, and even a private investigator, writing was something Sarah Brownlee just fell into, even though it had been her passion since she was a little girl. To date, she has written and published 3 Children and Young Adult fiction novels, ghostwritten for others, and. Read More
If you struggle with self-esteem, you almost certainly find it difficult to accept praise. And this goes the other way, too. If you’ve noticed that you deflect compliments or reject praise, the deeper reason for this is likely connected to low self-esteem.
Sometimes, we resist praise because we think it’s egotistical. But it’s important to remember that accepting praise is not selfish or arrogant. Compliments and encouraging remarks from friends and loved ones are meant to lift your spirits. They are beliefs other people have about the good things you do, your talents, and what gifts you bring to the world.
So why is it so hard for you to accept praise even when you love the person offering it to you? It’s likely because you believe the opposite about yourself, and that sense of tension makes you feel uncomfortable. So to ease or end the discomfort, you deflect or discount the compliment.
How to Get Better at Accepting Praise
I know it’s difficult to accept compliments for a lot of reasons, but if you have low self-esteem it can feel impossible. The good news is, there are simple things you can do to get better at accepting compliments and praise, like:
- Expressing gratitude: Simply saying thank you (no “buts…”!) is the easiest way to get comfortable with accepting compliments over time. It keeps you from dwelling on any discomfort with the topic, and avoids deflecting or disagreeing with compliments, which can strain your relationships and friendships.
- Note the compliment: If you have deep self-esteem issues, noting praise you receive in a journal may make it easier to remember, and may help you reshape your view of yourself to align better with what others see over time.
Acknowledging teamwork: If you are being complimented for something you did as a group, or with a partner,
- acknowledging that teamwork and sharing the credit can make accepting compliments a bit easier.
As with most efforts to change our mindset, getting better at accepting compliments (and the resulting improvement in self-esteem) takes time. But even making a small effort every day will go a long way toward helping you develop healthier habits.
Sometimes, it also helps me to remember how much God loves me, and how worthy He thinks I am of love. Since I trust in God, and that He is wise and understanding, trusting His love for me can be helpful when I am struggling to recognize the good things about myself.
Improving Self-Esteem: Extra Support
Sometimes you need extra support building your self-esteem. That is perfectly normal, and many people seek help with this every day. You can get a little extra support in this area from close friends, family, a faith leader, or a counselor.
Or you can talk to a mentor. Mentoring is a great way to feel heard, supported, and accepted by someone who can help guide you through some of the messier feelings that surface when working on your self-esteem.
Talk to a HopeCoach today to explore limiting beliefs you might have about yourself, and how to find freedom and joy in who you are. We are here to listen, and ready to help.
I recently stumbled upon a really relatable thread on the AskMen subreddit, where a woman is left wondering how to boost her partner’s confidence. The problem is, her partner has extremely low self-esteem, which means he rarely takes well to compliments ( sic ):
“Female here: My significant other and I have both had major confidence issues. Over the past few years, I’ve been working hard on it by getting into women’s groups and finding support to boost my own, and so far it’s made a profound difference in my life. I want the same for him, but my method seems like it wouldn’t fit him at all.”
The thread is headed by one main question: What boosts your confidence and feelings of masculinity? The comments are filled with all sorts of answers, from telling guys that you feel safe around them to simply telling men they look nice in a jacket .
Now, as my colleague Miles Klee once wrote , men (especially straight men) have a strange relationship with compliments — they rarely give them, and as a result, they also struggle to receive them without getting all awkward and weird. Add in low self-esteem, like the dude in the thread mentioned above, and he’ll likely reject almost any form of appreciation as dubious or downright wrong.
“Someone with low self-esteem isn’t likely to believe compliments no matter how genuine,” psychologist Jeanette Raymond reiterates. “That’s the basis of their low self-esteem — not having a history of genuine experiences that they can take in and create a sense of self-worth.” That being the case, complimenting a person with little confidence can actually make them feel even worse about themselves. “Reassurance is the worst thing to do, because it comes across as not taking the person seriously and reducing their self-esteem even further,” Raymond warns.
This obviously puts you, a person who just wants to help a friend, between a rock and a hard place: You want to make them feel better about themselves, but telling them how great they really are only makes matters worse. So what the hell are you supposed to do?
The best course of action, according to Raymond, is simply to hear them out. “The best way to help them feel better is to make them feel understood,” she explains. “We call this reflecting or mirroring, such as repeating back what you’ve heard or seen in regards to how bad they feel about their appearance.”
Once you have some insight into where exactly their low morale comes from, you can share some of your own negative thoughts about yourself (c’mon, we all have them). “Next up is empathizing and identifying — sharing your own experiences of feeling bad about some part of you or your experience,” Raymond says. “That makes the person feel more normal and less alone or freaky. Knowing that someone gets you and isn’t trying to cheer you up because they can’t tolerate your low sense of self is the most potent way of helping them.”
So next time you hear your sad friend talk about how terrible they are, let them know that you don’t always feel great about yourself, either. Because in this case at least, commiserating trumps complimenting every time.
Ian Lecklitner is a staff writer at MEL Magazine. He mostly writes about everyone’s favorite things: Sex, drugs and food.
Self-esteem is the way you value yourself. In essence, your self-esteem implies the opinion you hold regarding your abilities and your sense of self-worth. Self-esteem can be low, high, or somehow in the middle. It encompasses beliefs and opinions about oneself. A person is likely to have healthy self-esteem if they have an appreciative and realistic judgment of themselves, their strengths, and weaknesses. Read the article to the end and you will find out how to improve your self-esteem.
In regards to how you view or value your worth, there are a lot of factors in play, including your mental status, your previous life experiences, as well as your financial position, and your education. You should understand that, in regards to your feeling of self-confidence, there is only one view that matters — your own opinion. However, even your own perspective of self-importance needs to be regularly evaluated as people tend to be their own harsh critics.
Self-esteem influences every aspect of life and people’s motivation to succeed, so in this article, we offer some effective tips on how to enhance your sense of self-worth and live a happier life.
Tips To Improve Your Self-Esteem
Although self-esteem is a complex construct influenced by multiple factors, there are proven strategies that can help you improve your sense of self-worth. Here are some of them.
Identify the Situations and Conditions That Trouble You
If you are grappling with a low sense of self-worth, start by looking at possible causes. What could be deflating your esteem?
Some notable triggers to look out for include:
- A crisis in the family environment
- Pressure from work
- Conflicts with loved ones or partners
- Changing life situations like loss of a job
Recognize Your Beliefs and Thoughts
If you have already identified scenarios that trouble you, focus on how you think about them. Include self-talk and how you interpret the significance of the scenario. Consider the truthfulness of your thoughts and confront negative or inaccurate opinions.
Create a Plan and Work on Your Goals
Once you identify what could be deflating your esteem, make it a point to work on them. You should create time to work on your values and priorities. You should understand that having high esteem will be the outcome of aligning how you live your life with your values. If you keep lowering your values, you are likely to struggle with a low self-regard. If, for instance, you have made a goal to work on your physical activity or exercise routine, make time for it. Every time you work towards your goals, you build your feeling of self-worth.
It is not possible to make changes if you do not recognize the need for change. By recognizing the negative self-talk that affects your feelings of self-worth, you can start to work on the resulting feelings. Be mindful of your thoughts, try to challenge them, and avoid the negative self-talks. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
Focus on Growth Rather Than Outcomes
Instead of criticizing yourself incessantly when you don’t achieve certain goals, appreciate the progress made, even if little. Goals are there to motivate you, but you shouldn’t feel bad when you fall short. Be process-oriented rather than outcome-oriented. What matters is that you are moving in the right direction.
Improve Your Physical Health
Many people find it easy to feel good about themselves when their physical wellbeing has been catered for. Eating healthy food and exercising regularly are important ways of taking care of yourself. Also, research shows that people with low self-esteem tend to neglect themselves. That may be because they feel that they don’t deserve to be cared for.
To improve your esteem, consider improving your physical activity and eating right. Also, make time to relax and do something that you really enjoy. Often, people find that simple changes to their schedules can have serious effects on how they look at the world and themselves.
Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
Everyone is unique, with their own abilities. In the same respect, everyone faces a different set of challenges and has varying defense mechanisms. The most important thing to remember is to value yourself and stop comparing yourself to others, especially on social media. Just because someone else seems happy does not mean that they are. People can be experts at masking their true feelings. Constantly comparing yourself to others can only result in stress and anxiety.
Identify and Build Your Competencies
One of the causes of low self-esteem is a lack of faith in one’s abilities. You can improve it by learning new skills and showing achievements in various aspects of your life. If you are a good cook, for instance, consider organizing more parties where you can showcase your skills. Identify your talents and work on them to improve your feeling of self-worth.
Learn to Accept Compliments
One way to improve your self-esteem is to accept when you are being complimented by those around you. When people feel bad about themselves, they tend to be hesitant when it comes to accepting compliments. Make a conscious decision to be more tolerant to receiving compliments, even in situations where they make you feel uncomfortable.
Be More Assertive
Assertiveness implies acknowledging and respecting the needs and opinions of others, and expecting the same from them. Understand that this does not mean that you pretend to be someone you are not. Rather, you can learn to be more assertive by taking hints and tips from others.
How to improve your self-esteem? Learn to Say No
Also, you need to understand that it is okay to say no whenever you feel overwhelmed. You shouldn’t always say yes to people even if you are not okay with it. Those around you will understand the respect your decision. Remember, your interests should always remain a priority.
Building good self-esteem takes time and effort. However, with the simple steps highlighted here and by cultivating a habit of gratitude, this goal is attainable. Also, learn to manage expectations and adjust your beliefs and thoughts. Feel free to seek help from a counselor to help with enhancing your self-regard or working on underlying issues.
When you are struggling with low self-esteem, practicing self-love may seem like an impossible feat. Fortunately, there is a way out of this dead-end.
As someone dedicated to helping people improve their wellbeing and catalyze their growth, a question often on my mind is: how do you encourage someone to change? The short answer is that people only change when they’re ready. But this leads to another question: when are people ready to change?
Within all self-help guidance there’s a potential trap. To make genuine, lasting change, you have to feel worthy of the benefits. But when you have low self-esteem, the only way to build worth is through direct action. This paradox illustrates one of the greatest struggles in development — how do you practice self-love when you have low self-esteem?
Fortunately, there is a way out of this seeming dead-end. In this article, I’ll guide you through a few ways to navigate the journey of self-love. I’ll highlight a few ways you might get stuck, and the best way to improve self-esteem, worthiness, and the most important relationship in your life… the relationship with you.
What is self-esteem?
What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem is associated with the way you view yourself. Our self-image is molded through life experiences and often heavily shaped during childhood. If we develop healthy self-esteem, we feel content in our own skin, confident in our abilities, and are able to meet life’s challenges in a resourceful way. Too high self-esteem can be damaging, though, leading to overconfidence in our abilities and a lack of willingness to explore our flaws.
Self-esteem is a spectrum. Signs of low self-esteem include a lack of confidence, harsh judgments about your ability, and a poor sense of self-worth. It can be a struggle to accept any compliments or comments on your finer qualities. Although we all feel a little insecure at times, self-esteem becomes an issue when it interferes with day-to-day life.
In Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, esteem is near the top of the pyramid, just below self-actualization. In Maslow’s theory, esteem plays an important role in thriving as a human. He separated esteem into two categories — esteem for oneself and the desire for respect from others.
Because of the link between our self-image and our perception of others, self-esteem is usually a product of comparison. People with low self-esteem are more likely to compare themselves poorly to others, leading to a spiral of low self-worth.
How to improve your self-esteem
There is a catch — self-esteem is linked to our achievements, abilities, and often our life situation. Studies have shown negative life experiences can have a knock-on effect on how someone views themselves, with self-esteem fluctuating throughout the course of a single day. Combine this with the understanding self-esteem can be too high, it appears improving self-esteem might not be the most efficient course of action.
That’s not to say healthy levels of self-esteem aren’t desirable. But the lengths people go to boost their self-esteem is a slippery slope. You might end up on a treadmill of self-improvement, always looking for ways to “improve.” Your subconscious motivation can be the belief that once you become a certain way, then you become lovable.
Having been involved in self-development for over a decade, I see this is a lot. People push themselves to improve, learning new skills, reading all the books, taking courses. Without realizing it, they’re running away from themselves. The underpinning belief is “I am not worthy.” This is where self-love comes in.
What is self-love?
What is self-love?
A key distinction between self-esteem and self-love also highlights why improving self-esteem isn’t necessarily going to get the best results. Self-esteem is a perception — you witness yourself and perceive yourself to be good or bad, worthy or not worthy, for example. It’s a judgment of value. Self-love, on the other hand, is a relationship. It defines how you relate to yourself. This is a crucial difference.
Naturally, if you are relating to yourself in a loving way, your view of yourself will improve as a byproduct. But there’s another potential trap (these are everywhere!) when you explore how to practice self-love. How do you go from feeling unworthy and potentially unlovable to developing a loving relationship with yourself? Isn’t this impossible?
To a degree, yes. That’s why in my courses I advocate self-acceptance as a starting point. Remember the image of someone learning all the new self-improvement tips under the sun, in order to become lovable? What if this same person were to accept themselves, embrace all of their flaws, weaknesses, and finer qualities? Well, then the magic happens. Self-acceptance is the bridge to self-love.
How to practice self-love
How to practice self-love?
Imagine you are in a room with someone you don’t like. This is a person you’ve had a poor relationship with over a long period of time. If I asked you to love this person, do you think it’d be effective? Compare that to another approach. What if I said to you: “I’d like you to try your best to find compassion for this person — to see them fully, acknowledge they have flaws as we all do as imperfect beings. Over time, I’d like you to try to become more accepting of this person.
“There’s no pressure to love them. But I’d still like you to be kind to this person. I would like you to be more tolerant, more caring. To take little steps to build a bridge between you. To see that they aren’t all bad or all good, and they, like everyone else, deserve forgiveness.”
How does that feel? This summarizes the path of self-love. It begins with acceptance. It’s enacted through compassion and acts of kindness. And over time, self-love slowly builds. All the while, due to this nurturing relationship, your self-esteem reaches a healthy level, without any direct work.
To return to my opening question, perhaps we have an answer. How do you get someone to change? Begin by encouraging them to accept who they are, in this very moment, right here, right now.
Low self-esteem is something that no one should ever have to deal with. Not only can it prohibit you from enjoying life in all its glory, but it can also harm your mental health and lead to problems like depression and anxiety, according to experts.
Since many people struggle with this, we have written an article on some signs that indicate that you suffer from low self-esteem, so that you can be more aware of it.
Sign of Low Self-Esteem
6. You Don’t Accept Compliments
Modesty is a really good thing, however, it is about having the right amount. If you act too modest, it may mean that you don’t believe in yourself enough.
Try to distinguish when it is more appropriate to be humble than when to accept that you have done a great job.
Plus, new research has shown that pride has evolutionary meaning, and our ancestors needed their fellow band members to value them enough during tough times to get through them.
5. You Consider Yourself To Be An Ordinary Person
The typical behavior of a person who does not value themselves enough is not believing they’re worth a lot.
Such a person thinks they are not capable of much and prefers to think that doing an excellent job at something is because it was easy, even if they really did it well.
4. You Think Others Notice Only Your Flaws And Judge You
A person with low self-esteem treats themselves with great criticism and often projects this internal criticism as a real criticism of others.
They tend to think that others only see their bad side and laugh at them, even if it has absolutely no connection with reality.
3. You Never “spoil” Yourself
People who don’t value themselves enough rarely do anything purely for pleasure. They prefer to think of a million reasons not to do something they really want, even if it makes them a little happier.
However, a great way to combat low self-esteem is to do things that you really enjoy.
2. You Compare Yourself To Others, Thinking They’re Better
If you can’t go for a minute without thinking that someone could do better than you, you should definitely work on your self-esteem.
Psychologists suggest that you stop comparing yourself to others; These comparisons are not only destructive, they are also based on false assumptions.
1. You Never Try New Things Because You’re Afraid Of Failing
A person with low self-esteem is very afraid of failure, which is why they prefer to follow proven paths rather than try something new.
Such people are very sensitive, and a failure that seems absolutely harmless further reduces their self-confidence.
I was all set to write about self-confidence. Then I got into the definitions, and realized self-esteem was actually what I had in mind.
Self-confidence: a feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgment.
Self-esteem: confidence in one’s own worth or abilities; self-respect.
See, I want to talk about self-esteem. I want you to know deep down that you are worthy of love and respect. Since self-esteem develops over time, it isn’t something you can just read a multi-step list or “one mega secret” article about and fix. Self-esteem is a long-term goal. Still, I included a few things at the end of the post that you can do to start building yours up.
So, how can you tell if you have low self-esteem? Here are a few possible signs.
Indicators of low self-esteem
Inability to accept compliments: Do you find it hard to just say, “thank you” when someone offers you a compliment? Are you suspicious of their intentions? Is the idea of deserving praise foreign to you?
Accentuating the negative: When asked about yourself, can you list your strengths, or is it only your weaknesses that jump to mind? If you think of how life is right now, do you think of positives and wins or only struggles?
Being overly concerned about the opinions of others: Do you make choices based on what other people might like? Does the idea of other people judging you cause daily stress?
Self neglect: Are you good at self-care, or do you let it slide? Do you make sure you get the sleep, food, etc you need? Do you see the doctor?
Reluctance to take on challenges: Do you try new things? Are you challenging yourself at work or in your personal life? Would your friends and family say you play it safe?
Backing down during a disagreement to appease others: If you quit an argument, is it to keep the peace, or because you have changed your mind. Do you ever win an argument? Can you stand firm in your thoughts on a subject?
Reluctance to put yourself first: Are your needs ever first priority? Someone with low self-esteem doesn’t think they are important enough, and so is always taking care of everyone else before themselves.
You give up too soon: Do you work for what you want or give in without a fight? This can apply to arguments, fights, or goals in life among other things. If something you want is hard do you keep trying?
Being indecisive over simple decisions: If you can’t decide what to wear each morning, and lunch seems like a life or death choice, you may be suffering from low self-esteem. It shouldn’t be so hard to make uncomplicated decisions. Do you worry any choice you make is wrong?
You compare yourself with others: Is your focus on yourself and your path in life, or do you always focus on how you compare to other people? Can you see your successes on their own, or is it always in measure to how someone else did?
Taking constructive criticism too personally: If someone suggests a way you can improve at your job (or in some other way), does it trigger tears or anger? Can you listen to criticism and see it as something helpful?
Reluctance to trust your own opinion or contribute it in conversation: Do you speak up, or hang back not sure your thoughts are worth sharing? Is it common for you to second guess yourself?
Do you recognize more than one or two of these? If so, it’s a good indication you have low self-esteem. Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. (I recognize more than a couple of them myself.) The good news is that, knowing this, you can start working toward improving how you see yourself! You may not believe it right now, but you are seeing yourself through a distorted lens.
Simple Activities That Help Raise Self-Esteem
Accept Compliments: Trust people are being sincere when they offer you a compliment. Take this a step further, and write these compliments down! Keep them in a notebook to review on days you are being extra hard on yourself, at the end of the week, or even go over them daily!
Find what you are good at and do it: Having confidence in your abilities, and allowing yourself pride in those skills, will contribute to your self-esteem over time. If you don’t already have a hobby or something that you enjoy, explore your options until you find one. Then, keep at it, and watch those skills improve.
Stop comparing yourself to others: I said simple, not easy. *wink* This may take time, but it is very important to start working on. The only person you should ever compare yourself to is you, and there are exceptions even to that.
I hope this gives you a good idea where you stand with your self-esteem, and a start on improving if needed. Everyone deserves to know, and feel, they are enough in this world and worthy of love and respect.
Be sure to share this on your favorite social media. We all know someone who can use a self-esteem boost.
What can you do when the person you love, doesn’t love themselves? It can be quite a challenge, but here are some tips to help you provide the words of comfort and support they need
If you’ve ever looked in the mirror and disliked the person looking back at you, then you’ve experienced low self-esteem. It isn’t necessarily related to your physical self — although having poor body image can cause negative thoughts — but it’s intrinsically linked to how you value yourself as a person.
People with self-esteem issues often neglect to take care of themselves. They may refuse to go shopping for new clothes, or fail to maintain good personal hygiene. They could be unknowingly sabotaging relationships, or other aspects of their life, because they feel undeserving of happiness.
Being in a relationship with someone who has low self-esteem can be tough. Here are some suggestions on how to talk to them, to try to support them:
1. Remain autonomous
First of all, accept that you are not there to ‘fix’ your partner. Their self-esteem has to come from doing things that make them happy. Relying on an external source for that happiness means that the self-esteem created is very fragile, and that doesn’t really solve the problem. Independent self-esteem is strong, and won’t crumble under pressure.
Encourage your partner to take care of themselves by doing the things that truly make them happy
2. Avoid flippant compliments
According to trainee counselling psychologist Sanjivan Parhar, there are two versions of self-esteem. There is an external version, that may appear happy and confident. Then there’s the internal, more authentic version. Compliments often feed the external version but fail to address deeper concerns.
For example, if your partner says they want to lose weight, your gut reaction might be to compliment their appearance, but this can feel dismissive.
“Ask your partner what it is that they’re unhappy with at this moment,” says Sanjivan. “Validate these negative feelings and let them feel heard. Then you can move on to offer a positive opinion about how they look.”
Try not to say things like ‘You’re fine the way you are’, or ‘Don’t worry about it’, as this doesn’t give them space to express how they feel.
3. Help them to see a new perspective
Most of us live with an internal dialogue. You may not even notice it, but it can form the basis about how you feel about yourself. For example, someone who struggles to be good at football might internalise the idea that they are terrible at all sports – so much so that they begin to believe it. The reality of the situation might be that they are still learning, recovering from a physical injury, or maybe just better suited to another sport entirely.
It’s very easy to take what your inner critic says as fact instead of opinion. What’s helpful in this situation is to acknowledge another perspective. For example, if you have an inner voice saying that you’re unattractive, acknowledge this, but then look at yourself from an outsider’s perspective. What would a friend say?
Encourage your partner to stop comparing themselves to others (whether it’s in real life or on social media) as this can reinforce the negative voice that says they’re not good enough.
4. Encourage practising self-love
It can be heartbreaking to be deeply in love with someone who you know to be a wonderful person, only to watch them constantly hate themselves. Try to encourage your partner to take care of themselves by doing the things that truly make them happy. It could be going out for a meal, meeting up with friends, or picking up a hobby that has fallen by the wayside. Sanjivan says that true self-love emanates from “developing your own authentic, true self, outside of a relationship, friends, or family”.
5. Don’t walk on eggshells
It can be tempting to filter what you say, to ensure you never offend a sensitive partner. While you don’t want to antagonise them, avoiding certain issues could do more harm than good.
Finding someone who you can share your vulnerability with is something to strive for, not avoid
People with low self-esteem are hyper-vigilant to anything that will confirm the negative thoughts they’re already having, so censoring yourself can lead to tension when difficult topics arise.
“Instead of getting defensive or disengaging, try to explore what it is you’ve said that caused upset,” suggests Sanjivan. “Give them a chance to explain the meaning they have inferred. Then you can explain what you actually meant.”
Instead of avoiding tricky conversations, this actually encourages a more open line of communication, and should help them to find a new perspective.
“It’s a way of facilitating an environment where people are comfortable in relationships to show their vulnerability. Finding someone who you can share your vulnerability with is something to strive for, not avoid,” says Sanjivan.
Everyone is in favor of high self-esteem — but cultivating it can be surprisingly tough. Psychologist Guy Winch explains why — and describes smart ways we can help build ourselves up.
Many of us recognize the value of improving our feelings of self-worth. When our self-esteem is higher, we not only feel better about ourselves, we are more resilient as well. Brain scan studies demonstrate that when our self-esteem is higher, we are likely to experience common emotional wounds such as rejection and failure as less painful, and bounce back from them more quickly. When our self-esteem is higher, we are also less vulnerable to anxiety; we release less cortisol into our bloodstream when under stress, and it is less likely to linger in our system.
But as wonderful as it is to have higher self-esteem, it turns out that improving it is no easy task. Despite the endless array of articles, programs and products promising to enhance our self-esteem, the reality is that many of them do not work and some are even likely to make us feel worse.
Part of the problem is that our self-esteem is rather unstable to begin with, as it can fluctuate daily, if not hourly. Further complicating matters, our self-esteem comprises both our global feelings about ourselves as well as how we feel about ourselves in the specific domains of our lives (e.g., as a father, a nurse, an athlete, etc.). The more meaningful a specific domain of self-esteem, the greater the impact it has on our global self-esteem. Having someone wince when they taste the not-so-delicious dinner you prepared will hurt a chef’s self-esteem much more than someone for whom cooking is not a significant aspect of their identity.
Lastly, having high self-esteem is indeed a good thing, but only in moderation. Very high self-esteem — like that of narcissists — is often quite brittle. Such people might feel great about themselves much of the time but they also tend to be extremely vulnerable to criticism and negative feedback and respond to it in ways that stunts their psychological self-growth.
That said, it is certainly possible to improve our self-esteem if we go about it the right way. Here are five ways to nourish your self-esteem when it is low:
1. Use positive affirmations correctly
Positive affirmations such as “I am going to be a great success!” are extremely popular, but they have one critical problem — they tend to make people with low self-worth feel worse about themselves. Why? Because when our self-esteem is low, such declarations are simply too contrary to our existing beliefs. Ironically, positive affirmations do work for one subset of people — those whose self-esteem is already high. For affirmations to work when your self-esteem is lagging, tweak them to make them more believable. For example, change “I’m going to be a great success!” to “I’m going to persevere until I succeed!”
2. Identify your competencies and develop them
Self-esteem is built by demonstrating real ability and achievement in areas of our lives that matter to us. If you pride yourself on being a good cook, throw more dinner parties. If you’re a good runner, sign up for races and train for them. In short, figure out your core competencies and find opportunities and careers that accentuate them.
3. Learn to accept compliments
One of the trickiest aspects of improving self-esteem is that when we feel bad about ourselves we tend to be more resistant to compliments — even though that is when we most need them. So, set yourself the goal to tolerate compliments when you receive them, even if they make you uncomfortable (and they will). The best way to avoid the reflexive reactions of batting away compliments is to prepare simple set responses and train yourself to use them automatically whenever you get good feedback (e.g., “Thank you” or “How kind of you to say”). In time, the impulse to deny or rebuff compliments will fade — which will also be a nice indication your self-esteem is getting stronger.
4. Eliminate self-criticism and introduce self-compassion
Unfortunately, when our self-esteem is low, we are likely to damage it even further by being self-critical. Since our goal is to enhance our self-esteem, we need to substitute self-criticism (which is almost always entirely useless, even if it feels compelling) with self-compassion. Specifically, whenever your self-critical inner monologue kicks in, ask yourself what you would say to a dear friend if they were in your situation (we tend to be much more compassionate to friends than we are to ourselves) and direct those comments to yourself. Doing so will avoid damaging your self-esteem further with critical thoughts, and help build it up instead.
5. Affirm your real worth
The following exercise has been demonstrated to help revive your self-esteem after it sustained a blow: Make a list of qualities you have that are meaningful in the specific context. For example, if you got rejected by your date, list qualities that make you a good relationship prospect (for example, being loyal or emotionally available); if you failed to get a work promotion, list qualities that make you a valuable employee (you have a strong work ethic or are responsible). Then choose one of the items on your list and write a brief essay (one to two paragraphs) about why the quality is valuable and likely to be appreciated by other people in the future. Do the exercise every day for a week or whenever you need a self-esteem boost.
The bottom line is improving self-esteem requires a bit of work, as it involves developing and maintaining healthier emotional habits but doing so, and especially doing so correctly, will provide a great emotional and psychological return on your investment.