My friend called me late at night sobbing and expressing extreme anxiety and hopelessness. I’ve known her for about 7 years and knew she frequently struggled with the ability to love herself and to find reasons she was ‘worth it’. ‘Sara’ is a well meaning, attractive, intelligent person who I have loved since I met her.
Hearing her burdens and strained resources I heard echoes of my own internal struggles and started feeling shitty. I ignored this and tried to focus on her problems, accidentally creating a wall between her and I. I believe that everyone feels like this more than individuals would willing admit. If you or someone you know someone who [the second ‘someone who’ is redundant] struggles with low-self esteem I want to share what worked in this situation. Everyone suffers and its important to be able to honestly communicate this with someone.
Her parents enabled these feelings of inadequacy as some parents are prone to do. I appealed to her that her parents weren’t cutting her off, disowning her or anything. The love was there, she should be able to understand that people misspeak. Personal experience reminded me that her parents use criticism to pressure their children to perform better.
This really didn’t help at all. Sara continued crying, telling me through racked breaths that I didn’t understand her problem. Her problem, she clearly proclaimed quietly, was that she was a lost cause and she would never amount to anything. Her growing anxiety was noticeably infectious. I felt myself beginning to feel what she felt and my brain recoiled from the feeling claiming, ‘What good will it do if we are both depressed?’.
A different angle was needed. How could I convince my friend of my confidence in her all around awesomeness? I proceeded to remind her of past obstacles she had overcome and used them as precedent of continual success. ‘This is just a hard moment in your life, you will overcome this feeling. If you can’t have faith in yourself place your faith in me or someone you trust! We like and respect you for good reasons, have faith….” I tried reasoned. By now the climactic feeling had left the conversation and there was a lot of silence. In that space I could feel a storm of negativity in my friend who I love and care for.
She sounded so alone. I couldn’t reason with her feelings, I had to admit that this feeling we were dealing with was awful. I told her stories of my low esteem for myself and how that made me feel. I was crying a little bit too now. I hated these feelings but at least she started to feel that she wasn’t alone in this. At least we were two people who could love and understand each other. That fizzled out the issues to where we were both speaking normally again and feeling better.
Each problem facing the people we know is going to vary greatly from person to person. But here are some ways that I think we can help one another in these types of situations.
1-Actively listen to what is being said with no judgement
2-Be honest with your feelings as a listener and speaker
3-Talk about real experiences with honest content
4-Don’t try and rationalize and fix everything. Often people need to vent
5-Express your love