It can be painful to see someone with low self-esteem suffer in conversation, as he constantly puts himself down or refuses to accept positive feedback. Talking to such a person may leave you with the feeling that you can’t give him enough reassurance. While you can certainly recommend that your friend get counseling to help him overcome this issue, you can also support him in conversation by continuing to compliment him sincerely, not allowing him to compare himself with others, and directing the conversation toward mutually interesting topics.
Act With Compassion
Poor self-esteem begins at a young age, notes clinical psychologist Celeste Gertsen.This man may have had experiences in early childhood that led him to create unrealistic standards for himself, to base his self-worth on social interactions with others, or to feel ashamed and internalize mistakes instead of assessing them and moving on, says Gertsen. Try to understand that low self-esteem is a matter of distorted perspective, and empathize with this man as much as possible. He has a daily struggle to feel “good enough” by standards he likely doesn’t apply to other people.
One of the most common ways to boost someone’s self-esteem is to let them know that their actions are positive with a sincere compliment. The Counseling and Mental Health Center at the University of Texas at Austin recommends that people with poor self-esteem seek support from their friends in this way. Stay honest, and make a point to compliment this man’s actions, intelligence, loyalty, or sense of humor in a sincere way. Your small compliment will give him a reason to think better of himself.
On top of contributing to anxiety and depression, low self-esteem can also cause problems in friendships and romantic relationships, because the person who struggles with self-esteem seeks constant reassurance from others. While you can help this person with positive talk, draw the line at comparisons. A person with low self-esteem might say, “I’m not really smart; not as smart as you are,” to which you can respond, “Thank you for the compliment, but I’m trying not to compare myself to others and I would appreciate it if you’d do the same. We’re both smart.” These kinds of comparisons can wear on a relationship.
Discuss Other Topics
People who suffer from poor self-esteem, whether they mean to be or not, are fairly self-centered because they are so concerned about what they are doing and how they measure up at all times. When talking to someone with low self-esteem, try to direct the conversation away from personal matters and on to world events or common interests. This person might be a lot more fun to talk to if you’re discussing last night’s game or the latest news. He might even forget about his problems for a minute, and boost his self-concept through a thoughtful or funny comment.
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Emma Wells has been writing professionally since 2004. She is also a writing instructor, editor and former elementary school teacher. She has a Master's degree in writing and a Bachelor of Arts in English and anthropology. Her creative work has been published in several small literary magazines.