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What Not to Say to Someone With Low Self-Esteem

July 17, 2019 Sam Woolfe

If you know someone who is struggling with low self-esteem, you may have many instinctive reactions about how best to help him or her. Also, when that person is someone you deeply care about, you may think that you have to go to a lot of extra effort to boost his or her self-esteem; which is understandable – it just shows you’re trying to be supportive. However, for someone who has low self-esteem, there are certain things you might say which – although said with positive intentions – can be quite unhelpful. In fact, certain comments can make that person feel worse about themselves. Here are some examples of things to avoid saying to someone with low self-esteem.

If Someone Has Low Self-Esteem, Don’t Shower Them with Praise

In your mind, you may think highly of your loved one, whoever that may be: your best friend, partner, sibling, parent, son, or daughter. So, when you hear them being self-critical or thinking unkind things about themselves, you may be perplexed and try to resolve their unrealistic thoughts by showering them with praise.

For example, you might say to them, “You’re an amazing person,” “You’re so intelligent,” “You’re incredibly talented,” “You’re the kindest person I know,” and so on. If the person you’re telling this to has low self-esteem, he or she might not believe you. That person might think you’re just saying it to be nice, to make him or her feel better, or because you feel sorry for him or her. When you shower others with praise, it can sometimes be infantilizing – it can make the person with low self-esteem feel like a child who needs to be coddled.

'Don’t Be Ridiculous'

Variations of this response might include “Don’t be stupid” or “That’s a silly thing to say.” When you have low self-esteem, you might have irrational or overly negative opinions about yourself. If you express these beliefs about yourself to someone else, they may be puzzled and say, “Don’t be stupid, you’re so smart,” without giving it much thought. But, for the person with low self-esteem, what they may take from this is that they are, in fact, stupid and that the other person is just confirming it, as well as lying to them about being smart. Although said in an innocuous way, these kinds of comments can bolster the negative beliefs that a person with low self-esteem has about himself or herself, such as being stupid and pathetic.

Don’t Give Unsolicited Advice

Other people’s advice often rubs the wrong way when you’re struggling with low self-esteem. If a loved one sees that you’re being hard on yourself, they might give you all sorts of advice you didn’t ask for, such as how you should be kinder towards yourself (as if you didn’t know this already) or about how you should seek out a certain type of treatment or self-help book. If you have low self-esteem, unsolicited advice can make you feel like others know how to take care of themselves and be well-adjusted individuals but you, apparently, are failing in this respect. Also, when everyone is giving you advice, it can feel like you’re a child who depends on more mature people who know how to properly navigate life.

There are many more helpful things you could say to someone with low self-esteem. A more effective way to support a person struggling with self-critical thoughts is to recognize what they’re experiencing without judgment and to listen to them in an empathetic way. Simply saying, “It must be really tough to have those thoughts,” can have a much more positive impact than saying, “Stop thinking that way.” Also, try to instill a sense of hope and optimism about the process of building self-esteem, as this will allow the other person to see that they’re not stuck in their way of thinking.

APA Reference
Woolfe, S. (2019, July 17). What Not to Say to Someone With Low Self-Esteem, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/buildingselfesteem/2019/7/what-not-to-say-to-someone-with-low-self-esteem



Author: Sam Woolfe

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