Helping Others With Low Self-Esteem
August 14, 2023
For many of us, it is unfortunately much easier to think worse of ourselves than it is to have a positive self-image. The pressures on young people to look a certain way, to be constantly achieving excellent grades, to keep up with trends and to be on the way to a high-flying career are constant.
The prevalence of social media also becomes very confusing as we are given endless images of wealth, happiness, international travel and lives of perpetual excitement while, for the majority of us, this is simply unattainable. Further, according to The Guardian, last year “A record number of children sought help from the NHS for mental health problems”, without always being able to get the support they need. With all that in mind, it is understandable why many young people end up feeling inadequate and unable to think about themselves in a positive, confident way.
This is what self-esteem refers to. This Mindsum article on Self-Esteem and Mental Health contains more information as to what self-esteem is and what low self-esteem might look like. In short, self-esteem refers to the feelings, attitudes and images we have of ourselves. Self-esteem also interacts with and is influenced by many other mental health issues and conditions. For example, feelings of depression will make it much harder to think of yourself as competent, talented and worthy of good things.
Research by Imperial College London has shown that ‘increasing children's satisfaction with their appearance and self-esteem from early adolescence could help protect against the negative impact of having higher weight on their health’. This research explored the impact of having a higher weight on a person’s mental health because it’s much more likely for young people with a higher weight experience higher levels of depression and anxiety. Influences like beauty standards, social media and bullying impact whether a person has a poor body image, which we see impacting other feelings such as depression and anxiety.
Self-esteem is also individual, too. If we’re thinking of how to support people with low self-esteem it can be sometimes hard to understand why they feel this way. For example, someone with poor body image or an eating disorder might see themselves entirely differently and dislike themselves for that, even though you don’t see any of those things at all. Someone with low self-esteem might be an incredible artist but think the work that they make is awful, even though you think it’s incredible. Despite that, there are many ways that we can try to support people to build their self-confidence, their sense of worth and their self-esteem.
All of us have reasons to be distracted- whether it’s work, school or just feeling like there’s too much on your plate, it’s easy to get out of the habit of really being there for the people in our lives. For someone with low self-esteem, they might find it hard to ask for help or feel like they deserve your time and attention. A big way that we can support people, then, is to practice being present with them. Make sure that they feel really listened to and heard.
Encourage them to open up, and if they don’t want to then you can just practice active listening. Things like not checking phones during conversations, and not having background noise like the TV to distract you will help. In those conversations, repeating phrases, rephrasing what they say to show you understand and asking questions will help you make sure that people like you have your full attention and care.
Though it can be difficult to understand why someone feels bad about themselves when you don’t think that way at all, it can be really uplifting to feel positive feedback. Whether this is about the art someone makes the work someone has done, or even a person who feels like they're just not as important as other people, giving people reasons, why they should feel positively about themselves, will be a big help.
You can just remind them about the qualities that you like in them, celebrate their good work and celebrate their failures so that they don’t get discouraged and internalise the feeling of not doing as well as they wanted. Encourage them to continue with a hobby or project that they love, even if they think they’re bad at it.
Consider your language
As well as making sure to support and encourage others, the way that we speak about ourselves will also impact a person’s self-esteem, particularly when younger. We can find ourselves being encouraging towards others, trying to boost their confidence and sense of worth whilst at the same time speaking negatively about ourselves. These things can be easy to pick up on and internalise as messages.
For example, speaking positively about a person in your life, but constantly talking negatively about the way you look, complaining about your weight or the things that you eat can still have an effect. Despite the positive reinforcement that you offer, they might pick up the way that you think and speak about yourself just by copying your behaviour, or maybe imagining that they should worry about the same thing too.
Get them involved
If we don’t feel good about ourselves, if we feel like other people are more outgoing, adventurous and even more fun, it can be hard to want to get involved if we just can’t relate to those feelings. Whether this is on a family day out, in school activities or hanging out with friends, if you find someone in your life trying to step back from these things and avoid being around others, try to encourage them to take part. Find ways to show that they can and do make positive contributions, and help them get involved in conversations by asking them questions or getting them to share their opinions.
Building positive self-esteem will take time and work, both internally and through outside influences. All of these actions will allow us to challenge someone’s negative self-image, by providing positive feedback and encouragement, by showing them the qualities that you admire or love in them this can allow them to see that they are perceived much differently by other people. You can even remind a person that those negative thoughts are just their own thoughts and that other people see them entirely differently so that they can then challenge some of those thoughts.
Finally, finding someone to speak to will be a great help with challenging patterns of negative thoughts. Through Mindsum, you can book a free initial consultation with a qualified mental health professional.