Most of us have an internal monologue playing through our minds 24/7. Maybe yours reaches way back into childhood and pulls out the random theme song to that one obscure cartoon and plays it over and over again while you’re trying to work. Maybe you’re practicing conversations in your head, reliving the past or rehearsing for the future. Maybe you’re just thinking about what to eat for lunch. Hopefully, your internal monologue keeps you living in a neutral to positive mindset most of the time. But we’ve all had days when that inner voice turns against us… constantly reminding us of our mistakes, flaws, regrets, fears, etc. And sometimes we get stuck in that negative place. It can be really dangerous, and it can be extremely lonely.
How Do You Know If a Friend Is Struggling?
Some of us are very good at hiding when our minds and hearts are in that negative place, so it’s important to remember that it may not always be immediately obvious when someone is living in self-hatred. Maybe your friend is “the strong one,” the one who always seems to know what to do, who takes the lead and plans all the best hangouts, who never seems tired, and who always answers the phone when you need to talk. Or maybe your friend is “the funny one,” always joking, sometimes in a self-deprecating way, but as long as they’re laughing you figure they must be fine, right? Not always.
Check on your friends. Ask them, “How is your heart today?” Don’t assume they’re fine because there’s a smile on their face. Make sure they know you’re a safe person to share their true feelings with, because if you never know they’re struggling in the first place, it’s going to be tough to support them through that. Don’t pester them endlessly! Just make sure that, every once in a while, you’re checking in on a deeper level than “Hey, what time is movie night?”
If you have a friend who is outwardly struggling with their self-esteem, you’re ahead of the game. You know they’re in need, and you can take steps to support them.
What Would You Need?
Once you know a friend is hurting, it can be overwhelming to know what to do. A good place to start is to turn the situation around on yourself. Think back… on your very worst days when you felt defeated and worthless, what helped you? Maybe your mom took you to get ice cream. Maybe your brother sent you texts full of cute puppy GIFs. Maybe your best friend didn’t say anything, but she did sit just a little extra close to you on the bus, so you knew she was there.
Humans have a lot more in common than we sometimes like to admit, so chances are that what makes you feel better when you’re down on yourself will help someone else. At the very least, the needs you have when you’re struggling with self-esteem--what you need to hear from your peers--are closely related to the needs your friend has as they’re stuck in self-hatred. Start there. It may turn out that your friend is lactose intolerant, prefers cats, and doesn’t like touching… but most of the time, they’re probably going to appreciate that you’re trying to connect with them. Take their feedback and respect your differences but try to capture the spirit of those times when you felt loved and supported through a tough moment. Practice kindness, compassion, and empathy.
Find The Source.
Self-hatred goes much deeper than a single instance, so momentary support may not always be enough to solve the problem. Spend time with your friend. Listen to them. Pay attention to what they say or do that could clue you in on the real source of their self-hatred.
Are they always commenting on how great other people look? Are they always nervously glancing at their reflection in the mirror? Are they constantly talking about food, calories, exercise, clothes? Maybe the source of their self-hatred has to do with an unhealthy body image.
Are they having trouble at home, with a partner or a parent? Are they struggling financially or academically? Are they interviewing for new jobs all the time, or have they abruptly stopped talking about someone or something when they normally bend your ear about it? It could be the source of their self-hatred is that they’re feeling abandoned and blaming themselves. They could be feeling ineffective or useless if they’re struggling with work or grades. They could be feeling trapped or stuck in a situation and hate themselves for being unable to change their circumstances.
Wherever it is, identifying this source is the only way to truly address the problem of self-hate.
Remind Them How Wonderful They Are.
That said, temporary distractions can offer significant relief to someone who’s constantly hearing that inner voice shout about everything that’s wrong. Here are a few things you could try to show your friend that, however they feel about themselves, you do NOT hate them at all:
- Mail them a postcard. Even if they live in your house! Receiving mail that’s meant just for them may remind them that someone loves them enough to write a note, buy a stamp, and walk to the mailbox. That can mean everything!
- Bring them their favorite coffee (without asking). It’s not your job to anticipate all your friend’s needs, but it is nice to show them occasionally that you think about them when you’re not around, and that you know them well enough to remember their favorite things.
- Goofy socks. Seriously. Have you ever received a pair of goofy socks that didn’t make you chuckle? And the best part about this one is that, unless they’re a monster who doesn’t like socks (in which case you should reconsider your friendship), they’ll get to chuckle all over again every time they wash, fold, or wear their goofy socks. That can do a lot for the loneliness and isolation that comes with persistent self-hatred.
- Send “Remember that time…?” texts. Remember that time the two of you sat in the car for over an hour just screaming the lyrics to your new favorite musical? Wasn’t that great? Remind your friend how much you have enjoyed your time with them. They are VALUABLE to you. It’s a small gesture, but it can really chip away at the lies they’re starting to believe about their own worth.
Be Careful to Protect Your Own Energy.
It’s also important to remind you that your friend’s mental health is not solely your responsibility. Yes, you should love and support them as best you can, but you should not do so at the expense of your own well-being. For instance, if you have a friend who struggles mostly at night, it is not your job to lose sleep by staying up to talk on the phone with them every time. It’s okay to tell your friend that tonight you actually have to go to bed. Point them toward resources that can be there for them when you’re not available and try your best not to feel guilty when you decide to take time for yourself. You won’t be much help to them anymore if you too are feeling exhausted, defeated, drained, or worthless. Take care of yourself.
If you feel it’s time to bring in more support, that’s okay. If you’re still in school, talk to one of their teachers or the school counselor. If your parents are trustworthy and healthy, ask them to help. If you’re in therapy, share what’s going on with your counselor and ask for advice. By no means should you betray your friend’s trust or confidence by inappropriately sharing their problems with someone who has no business getting involved. Respect your friend’s privacy at the same time as you remember that there are professional and confidential resources available to support both you and your friend if you need them.
In the End, You Can’t Do It for Them…
Ultimately, you can’t actually make your friend love themselves. Only they can do the work necessary to heal from the source of their self-hatred. Do what you can to show that you love them. Then wait as patiently as you can for them to go through their healing process. You can take a page out of Jesus’ book on this part of friendship. He never gives up on us. He waits patiently, reminding us that He values us even when we don’t see value in ourselves, so that we know He’ll be there when we’re ready to accept His unconditional love. You’re not alone. Your friend is not alone. There is love and hope waiting on the other side of this struggle… and as always HopeCoaches are available 7 days a week if you need to chat.