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Friends with Low Self-Esteem

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Time for another question!

"How can I best deal with friends or even romantic partners with low self-esteem who are still a positive value? The type of low self-esteem I'm talking about is where the person has periods of reclusiveness and are difficult for me to talk to, and express reasons that look like low self-esteem." -- Louie


So, if I'm understanding this correctly, you're talking about someone who talks down about themselves or is excessively self-deprecating, and that annoys you and otherwise undermines what would be a positive relationship?


Well, like the previous question, there are a couple of things to consider here.  So, let's make a list:


Firstly, in order to deal with other people the very first thing it's necessary to realize is what does and doesn't fall under your, I guess, sphere of authority.  Self-esteem issues are emotional issues, and it's not anybody's place to even attempt to dictate to their friends or romantic partners what they should feel about ANYTHING, much less something as complex as how they should feel about THEMSELVES.  I reinforce this point not because I think you're trying to be a dictator, but because the only way for YOU to deal rationally and kindly with this problem is for YOU to understand, all the way down to your bones, that it is NOT your business or responsibility in ANY way.   You may love them to pieces and wish them all the happiness in the world; it may drive you absolutely friggin' insane to watch them churning over this nonsense, but that means SQUAT.  You are not the authority here.  I've found that this is a problem for a lot of people, particularly for those of the young and male persuasions, who also have a tendency to declare "I can't fix it, huh?  So I should just give up and dump them as a hopeless sad sack not worth my time?"  NO.  You should just realize that it's not ON you to fix it.  Think of it like visiting a friend with lower standards of tidiness than yours.  You wouldn't go on some kind of holier-than-thou crusade and try to force them to wash their dishes--that would be both disrespectful and unkind.  If someone genuinely has low self-esteem, you can't guilt them or argue them out of it, anyway.  It'll just be that much more fuel on the fire.  So focus on being respectful and kind and don't worry about the rest.


Number Two (heh), it's possible that this person or persons is/are simply of an introverted personality type.  Goodness knows I may as well be an expert on that (and it's probably the only thing I AM an expert on).  Social burnout is a very real problem and it's not uncommon for people to experience it as a kind of anxiety and depression that leads them to sound extremely low on themselves when they simply need some alone time.  In that case, giving them some space is all you really need to do.  That doesn't mean you have to stop inviting them to be part of your life, by all means, invite away--you never know when they'll suddenly decide that Social Butterfly sounds like a great activity.  I'm well aware that it gets annoying as heck for people to invite and invite and invite and hear nothing but no no no or (also typical) yes followed by a last-minute cancellation.  You start to feel like you're the only one doing any dang work in this relationship, grumble grumble.  And you're not wrong--if you're the more extroverted one, you will probably wind up doing the lion's share of the work/planning toward the goal of actually spending time with your more introverted friend.  Is that fair?  Not really.  All you can really do is just decide not to let it bother you and just keep on periodically announcing "hey, I'm over here, ready for social interaction!" at periodic intervals.


And Third, here's the bit where you can actually DO something.  Hope it was worth the wait.  If someone GENUINELY does have a real self-esteem problem, one thing you CAN do to help them out without trying to launch some version of a mental takeover is to simply be scrupulously honest with them at all times.  This is a great habit to get into because it's good for you, as well.  If they do something praiseworthy, praise them.  If they do something that annoys or upset you, just tell them "I'm annoyed/upset".  Don't try to overwhelm them with the evidence of your emotions--trust me, just saying "I'm annoyed" in a calm, level way is MORE than enough.  One of the biggest issues with low self-esteem is that most of us are surrounded by people who are always desperate to fix us so we lose all ability to even guess at our legitimate claims to worth/worthlessness.  We can't judge ourselves properly, and the people around us are always LYING and either telling us (falsely) that we are awesome or loading us down with guilt until we can barely stand, because they think that this "tough love" is going to make us get off our butts and do something productive.  Just BE HONEST.  Be secure in yourself, focus on yourself, judge them with calm rationality, don't treat praise and blame like the tools you use to reform a poor sinner.  They may surprise you. 

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