You probably know people with low self-esteem. It can be frustrating and sad to see someone you care about struggle in how they see themselves, and you might wish you could fix their self-esteem for them. But you can be a voice of support that helps them keep going. So, here are five ways you can help someone with low self-esteem!
1. Treat them like they matter.
As children, we learn that we are important, and that our feelings are important, based on how adults react to us. If our feelings or needs are ignored, we may start to think they don’t matter, that we don’t matter. Even as adults we still need that validation from others sometimes.
So, one way you can help someone with low self-esteem is by acting like they’re important to you. Make time for them. Show interest in their life. Celebrate what makes them happy and listen if they need to vent. It sounds simple, but it can have a profound effect.
2. Point out their strengths.
People with low self-esteem tend to have brains that are very good at noticing their flaws, but not so good at noticing their strengths. Over time, this adds up to a lot of negative information that becomes a poor self-image. You can help counter this by reminding them of things they have done right, things they are good at, and other traits that you appreciate about them.
3. Don’t encourage self-deprecation.
Many people with low self-esteem make disparaging comments about themselves. Sometimes it’s presented as a joke: “Ha ha, I’m such an idiot.” Not all self-deprecation is bad, but if you think your friend has low self-esteem and they make a lot of these comments, self-deprecation might make their negative feelings worse.
So, you can help someone with low self-esteem by disagreeing: “No, you’re not an idiot. Anyone could make that mistake.” Or you could tell them those comments make you concerned: “Hey, when you say stuff like that, do you really mean it? Because it seems like a mean thing to say about yourself.”
Thank them for taking care of themselves.
When a person with low self-esteem does treat themselves well, ask for what they want, or set a boundary, praise them for it. Taking care of yourself helps you believe you’re a person who’s worth taking care of, and positive feedback encourages that. This can feel odd at first, so here are some examples:
“Thanks for telling me you weren’t comfortable doing that activity. I’m glad I didn’t put you in a bad situation.”
“It’s awesome you finally took a day off. You deserve some chill time.”
“Nice job speaking up back there – it’s good to hear what you wanted, too.”
And the final way to help someone with low self-esteem is…trust in them.
One of the trickiest, but most important things you can do is to stop helping, and trust that they can handle challenges themselves. More precisely, stop doing things for them that the person could do for themselves. This goes double if they’re an adult who should be able to express what they want and solve problems on their own.
This can be hard! You may want to step in and take their problems away, and they may struggle for a while. But people build confidence through the experience of doing things for themselves. They learn that they can get through the struggle without getting crushed by it.
Think of it like ordering food at a restaurant. Instead of ordering for the person, you tell them, “You can do it!” and high-five them when they order for themselves. You aren’t abandoning them, you’re building them up so they can do it on their own.
Helping someone with low self-esteem can take a long time, and they may need more help than you can give them on your own. If you think your loved one would benefit from professional support, encourage them to reach out to a therapist. Psychology Today and Good Therapy are great places to start, and I see clients virtually as well.