How to Support a Partner with Low Self-Esteem
As a counsellor, I have two areas that I specialise in, these being relationships, and depression/self-esteem. Often when couples present for help with a relationship issue, there is one partner who is suffering from either depression or has low self-esteem. In order to help the relationship, we also need to address these individual issues in order to create a healthy, strong relationship.
While you can’t fix your partners self-esteem, you can go a long way to supporting them as they heal themselves and this ultimately benefits everyone. Some people are aware that they have low self-esteem and their partner is also aware. At other times, the behaviour of the partner with low self-esteem is put down to other things and they are ‘blamed’ for these behaviours.
What are the signs of low self-esteem?
- Struggles to accept compliments, often deny or push the compliment away
- Seems very needy in some ways. Perhaps affection or always looking for validation
- Not comfortable in some social situations
- Doesn’t achieve career wise as you would expect them to, based on their capability
- Not willing to try new things
- Reacts angrily to any possible negative comment about themselves
- For women, often wearing a lot of makeup to leave the house or even within the home
- A real focus on how they look and needing validation around this
- For men (some women), talking a lot of assets they have
- Rarely initiate intimate affection
- Need to check on you when you are out
- A lot of questions about what you are doing when you are not with them
These are just some signs, and not all of these on their own indicate low self-esteem. But, chances are, if your partner ticks a few of these, then they may have low self-esteem. Supporting them to get to a healthy place for themselves, will ultimately help the relationship too and make your life easier.
How to support a partner with low self-esteem
Offer your partner real compliments whenever you can. It must be sincere or they will see through it. If your partner is often negative about how they look, then this is a good area to focus. Frequent small compliments around how they look, can have a big impact of their self-view. They may push them back at you, but offer them anyway.
Look for anything you like in them or any small achievements they have made and tell them about it. Lots of small compliments often have a way of starting to take hold on someone until they may start to believe them.
Don’t be angry
It is hard work sometimes living with someone with low self-esteem. You see a great individual (or you wouldn’t be with them) but this is not what they see. It can be frustrating at times to live with the negative side of low self-esteem, but getting angry at them for what is ‘survival behaviour’ for them only makes it worse.
For example, you may think your girlfriend is gorgeous and get sick of hearing her say how she looks awful. You think she is fishing for compliments because she surely must see that she is gorgeous. You get frustrated and tell her ‘Fine, then you do look awful in that outfit’. This small outburst can have a huge effect on crushing her self-esteem and cements her view that she does look awful and that you have finally told the truth she believed already.
So, not saying you can’t ever get angry, but be slow to react when you can.
Accept their feelings as real for them
Your view of your partner with low self-esteem is very different than the view they have of themselves. It can be hard to understand and accept when the evidence is often obvious to you. But, be aware that their thinking of themselves is faulty. You may think that they are attractive, fun, successful, kind, intelligent etc. They may believe some of these things too, but often there are areas where they have a completely distorted view of these things, and for them their view is real.
Accepting that their feelings and thoughts are real and valid for them is important. If you accept this, then you can be more patient and better help support them to change their thinking. Telling them they are stupid for thinking how they think, does not help, it just makes them try to hide their thinking and not be able to get help to fix it.
Listen to them
If your partner is telling you how they feel about themselves, then listen. You may not understand, but giving them the support by simply listening is valuable and makes them feel validated and supported. You don’t need to agree with them, simply provide a sounding board for them to talk freely. You can then offer to get some help with them or tell them that is not how you see it, but you accept that is how they feel.
Make an effort to include your partner in activities with you and with friends. If they are reluctant to participate, it may be that they want to but are unsure of themselves. Be supportive and encouraging and try and get them involved.
There can be a tendency to do your own thing because your partner says no to participating. You have to have your own time, but be sure to include them often so they feel they are important to you and have a sense of belonging.
Watch what you say
People with low self-esteem can be very fragile and often hear a negative when there is none intended. Making a joke which seems perfectly harmless to you, can have big consequences for them. Be aware that small things you say can take on a much bigger meaning for them. This is not to suggest that you need to weigh every word before you speak, just be aware that anything negative may hold a greater meaning to them than you intended.
Your partner may seem to be overly sensitive and defensive. This is normal for someone with low self- esteem. They can be quick to react if they feel you are putting them down or attacking them in some way. Try and be aware that they are fragile and accept that the defensiveness is a protection for them when they are feeling vulnerable.
In summary, you can’t fix your partners self-esteem and you are not responsible for it, but as their partner, you can have a big impact in helping to support them while they work on repairing it. You are not expected to be perfect and always say the right thing, but having an awareness of how you express a negative can help. Also, putting in lots of positives can really help both your partner and your relationship.
Low self-esteem can be changed, but it takes work and often some outside help to get real change. If you have any questions on this article, or about low self-esteem, please feel free to contact me.
You can read more about self-esteem in this article, Self-Esteem and Healthy Relationships.
I work with people all over the world to help support them and their partners through their journey to healthy self-esteem, book an online session to start feeling supported today.