Last time we looked at what the term self esteem actually means and some of the behaviours and emotions that can accompany low self esteem. Suffering from low self esteem can be crippling, however living with, or spending a lot of time with someone with low self esteem can be extremely exhausting.
It is wise to remember that, whilst you may want to do all you can to help, you cannot take responsibility for the way the other person feels. Often how people deal with the things that are happening to them has a much greater effect upon their emotional well being than the things that actually happened. It is not possible to help anyone who is not ready or able to be helped.
Change takes time, helping someone overcome emotional challenges takes time and effort, if you exhaust yourself you will not be resourced enough to look after yourself, let alone be there for your loved one.
In their book ‘A Helping Hand – How to Build Self Esteem in Others’ therapists Mark Tyrrell and Roger Elliot offer a great deal of practical advice on how to help those experiencing low self esteem. What follows is a few of their ideas, the complete book can be found on their website Uncommon Knowledge. Take what you can from this article, however if you feel out of your depth or need some support please feel free to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tyrrell and Rogers suggest that when setting out to help someone with low self esteem, you start by noticing the areas in which the person does shine. It is likely that they have been through some tough times, how have they managed to overcome their difficulties and remain on this physical plain?
What unique quality of staying power do they have which has enabled them to survive so much? What are their talents? Do they have a good sense of humour? Are they kind, caring, compassionate and considerate to others? Do they have an area in which they excel, perhaps cooking, DIY skills, gardening? Do they have interesting or desirable physical qualities or prowess? Do they have an eye for detail, a great memory, amazing staying power, great tidying skills?
When scouting for talents bear in mind that the person may excel in areas that you do not find interesting, keep an open mind, keep looking, there will be something there to appreciate. I find endless things in my son and daughter to appreciate, one of them being the ability to memorize the lyrics for hundreds of popular songs and sing them faultlessly years later!
People who have low self esteem will be quick to tell you all about their negative qualities, often turning a positive into a negative. Don’t let this fool you, someone very dear to me who creates amazing works of art from driftwood dismisses his work as too much time spent wasting time at the beach! Keep listening and be prepared to look at things differently.
Once you have begun to identify the qualities of the person you want to help it is not necessary to bombard them with them. Keep them logged in your memory; this will enhance the empathy and respect you feel for the person, ultimately lifting them without them knowing why. When a genuine opportunity arises for you to point out or compliment the person on the quality, your memory will prompt you to do so. People love to feel recognised for their unique talents, whatever their mood, even if they don’t express this appreciation at the time.
Often people with low self esteem find it difficult to accept compliments, this can be combated by giving what Tyrrell and Rogers call ‘unbeatable compliments’. This begins with the finding something to admire about the person strategy. Take this quality and feed it back to the person using the following structure.
• Start with an ‘I’ statement: If you start with ‘you’ it can be received as very threatening and immediately put the person on the defensive. If you start with ‘I always find that’ or ‘In my experience’ you are putting across a personal opinion and you are much more likely to be listened to.
• Begin by talking in general terms: By speaking generally, not about the person in question directly, there is less opportunity for the person to argue with you about the validity of the ‘unarguable truism’.
• Deliver the compliment unexpectedly: By the time you get to the compliment part of the statement the person is listening to you talk in ‘I feel’ terms, they are unlikely to argue with you about the way you perceive things.
This process is easier to understand with an example. Recently I was working with a lady (let’s call her Mary) who has an acquired brain injury that has resulted in her being confined to a wheelchair. I have been working on helping Mary to raise her self esteem in general. On this occasion she was berating herself about her inability to walk, calling herself stupid and generally feeling depressed about the slow progress she is making in regaining control of her legs.
Mary is a remarkable lady, instantly likeable; helpful, determined, considerate and always ready to please. She was obviously used to being very down on herself, so I found a way of phrasing a compliment in a way that she could not help but accept it.
I used the subject of Mary’s instant likeability as the focus of my ‘unbeatable compliment’. I began in general terms saying, ‘I find, you know, that there are people you just can’t help liking, straight away, without even knowing them….. other people you just can’t take to straight away’. Then, speaking directly to Mary’s Support Worker I said ‘The minute I saw Mary I just felt that there was a real warmth to her, a really likeable quality, don’t you think?’. Mary’s Support Worker reinforced my opinion with a glowing outburst of compliments about Mary’s likeable qualities. With this Mary appeared to grow several inches taller in her chair and responded with a slight smile.
Take a moment now to think of an event from the recent past when you would have liked to say something to the ‘someone’ that you want to help, to facilitate their feeling better. Put together an example of an unexpected, general, ‘I’ statement that is ‘unbeatable’.
This is an incredibly useful and effective tool to develop. Practice until this technique becomes second nature and you will be amazed at the results it has on those around you.