When a loved one is struggling with low self-esteem, it can sometimes be hard to know what to say. Naturally, you want them to see themselves as you see them. You want them to feel joyful about the reality of who they are, not be mired down in the falsities they insist are truths.
In the past, you may have tried showering them with compliments, only to wonder why they never believed a word you said.
If this resonates, please read on.
People with low self-esteem often have strong beliefs about themselves. While your compliment may be factually based (“You absolutely deserved that promotion — you worked so hard.”), your loved one’s beliefs will have them instantly dismissing it (“I just got lucky.”).
No matter what you say, and no matter how true it is, they will bat away every compliment you throw at them. There’s a very good reason why they do this. They don’t just have beliefs about themselves; they have emotionally-driven beliefs about themselves.
Any ideas offered that contradict, even well-intentioned, and factual compliments will be met with strong resistance. It’s simply too hard to “argue” with someone with an emotionally-driven belief.
3 Ways to Communicate with Someone with Low Self-Esteem
There are certain techniques therapists have found helpful when speaking with someone with low self-esteem. You may find these useful when trying to communicate with your own loved one.
1. Agree — Then Disagree
Find something in their statement you can agree with, then put a more positive spin on the rest.
Loved one: “Why do I act like the biggest loser most of the time?”
You: “Well, nobody is perfect (agreement) and I happen to know for a fact you’ve accomplished a lot in your life — more than many people.”
The idea here is to be subtle with positivity, so there is no outright contradiction of their belief. You don’t want to turn off your loved one, so they never listen to you again. You just want to gently coax them into considering that what you say might just possibly be true.
2. Use Metaphors
Using metaphors is a great way to present a positive possibility to your loved one without directly contradicting their belief.
Loved one: “At this point in my life, I’m pretty worthless.”
You: “Yeah, it can be really hard knowing your own worth, can’t it? I mean, a beautiful painting can’t possibly know how beautiful it really is, and a ruby doesn’t know how valuable it is.”
Try and change the subject right after offering this counterpoint, so it has time to sink in.
3. Reframe Negatives into Positives
This one can be tricky, but the idea is to reframe negatives into positives gently. As they say, a knife in the hands of a surgeon is very different from a knife in the hands of a robber.
Loved one: “My wife says I’m stubborn.”
You: “That’s interesting. In what other ways do you show such determination?”
See what just happened there?
Bottom line: When interacting with a loved one struggling with low self-esteem, you might be more successful if you can refrain from blatant compliments and instead try using one or more of the techniques laid out. You may also suggest to your loved ones that they speak with a therapist who can help them discover the cause of their self-esteem issues and offer tools to boost them.
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