I recently befriended a woman with very low self-esteem. We met at a party, and though she was there with her boyfriend, she seemed all alone. He was talking with friends in another room while she sat by herself on a couch. She seemed shy and withdrawn. So I approached her to be friendly. She was quiet, as I expected, but when we really got to talking, she seemed to open up. We have a lot in common, and she seemed grateful for another woman to talk to.
Since we hit it off, we made plans to hang out again. And then again and again. That was several months ago, and now we’re close girlfriends. But after getting to know her better, I’ve realized that she really doesn’t think much of herself. I’m her only friend besides her boyfriend. He seems like a nice guy, but he doesn’t understand what’s driving her lack of self-confidence.
She’s smart, attractive, and really talented. She paints and writes music, and she’s funny when she opens up. Yet she’s constantly apologizing for her presence. Every other phrase is “I’m sorry.” But she has nothing to be sorry for. I want to help her understand her self-worth, but I don’t know where to start.
— Ego Booster
Dear Ego Booster,
You’ve already taken the first step in improving this woman’s self-confidence by befriending her. Often people with higher self-esteem are turned off by people who seem down on themselves or too eager to impress. They seem sad or desperate and most people don’t want that burden. But you’re the bigger person here. You’re willing to take some of your own time to help a fragile, broken spirit. That’s huge.
I’m no therapist, but it would seem likely that a person’s low self-esteem could be driven by past events. Maybe she was raised in a broken home with unloving parents. Maybe she suffered physical or verbal abuse from someone.
You don’t want to come out and say, “Hey, were you, like, abused or something?” That’s tacky. Hopefully, she’ll open up to you as you grow closer. Then again, she may have repressed those bad memories and never, ever want to speak of them. Let her make the decision to open up to you at her own pace.
Even if she never tells you how she got the way she is, you can still do a few simple things to help boost her self-confidence. Compliment her often but only when you mean it. Be sure to let know when you think she looks hot or when you like her artwork. Include her in group outings with your other friends. But if you have any mean friends (I know I have lots!), either ask them to stay at home or warn them to be nice. This way, she can feel like a part of a group and possibly make some friends.
Finally, when she apologizes for doing nothing, make sure you always point out that she doesn’t need to be sorry for anything. Emphasize that the only things to ever be sorry for are things you’ve done wrong, and just existing is not wrong … at least for most people (kidding!).
Got a problem? E-mail Bianca at firstname.lastname@example.org