Self-esteem is so vital in everything in this life.
When somebody is struggling and you want to lift them up, however, it’s easy to say the wrong thing and actually make the situation worse.
Here are things you should avoid saying somebody who’s feeling down about themselves.
1) “Everything happens for a reason”
This is something you may say with positive intentions to try to reassure somebody that their suffering has meaning.
Technically, it’s absolutely true.
If there’s gold buried in your backyard it’s because somebody buried it there!
But whether or not there’s a wider masterplan for life or meaning is an ongoing debate and somebody with low self-esteem may interpret this as condescending even if you didn’t mean it that way.
2) “You should be more grateful”
It’s great to be grateful.
But it doesn’t work to try to talk someone into being grateful and it’s not a very good idea to say this to a person struggling with self-esteem.
The thing is that even if this is true, it only increases the feelings of guilt and unworthiness that somebody is struggling with by making them aware of their lack of being grateful.
3) “It’s all in your head”
This is something you may feel called to say when somebody is down.
I’ve had this said to me when I was struggling.
The problem is that even if you don’t realize it, this can come across as trying to minimize somebody’s struggle.
Even if somebody’s self-esteem problems are only in their head, that doesn’t make them less impactful or upsetting.
4) “It’s not as bad as you think”
This may be true, but it’s also best to avoid saying it.
The idea of judging how “bad” something is or comparing it can seem like a good idea, but it’s likely to make the low self-esteem individual feel even worse.
People go into deep depression over one rejection while others lose everything they have and go on to great success and happiness.
There’s just no real way to judge someone’s suffering in this way based on your outer perception.
6) “You’ve got it good, trust me”
This is along the same lines as “it’s not as bad as you think.”
Quite simply, how do you know?
It could actually be worse than you think.
Even if you know this person well you have no way to be truly knowledgeable about how serious their self-esteem issues are or how deep they may go, especially considering how good some people are at hiding what they’re going through.
7) “Just snap out of it”
This can be a form of tough love.
To be honest, sometimes tough love and getting active can make a real difference.
But telling someone with low self-esteem to snap out of it is generally not recommended.
It’s highly unlikely to work and usually will just make them feel more pressured to be “better” or different, which is often the core feeling of low self-esteem to start with.
8) “It could be a lot worse”
Yes, it could.
It could also be a lot better.
When somebody is suffering with low self-esteem they absolutely know things could be worse.
That’s part of why they feel so awful about not being proud of themselves and happy about who they are.
That’s why it’s best not to say.
9) “Fake it ‘til you make it”
This would be a fine thing to say if it worked.
Been there, got the t-shirt. There are no shortcuts to self-esteem and no amount of pretending is going to make up for real self-esteem.
10) “You’re too focused on yourself”
This can sometimes be true! But it doesn’t help at all to say.
Self-esteem often gets worse the more time we spend focused on ourselves and our faults.
But telling someone this just makes them feel more guilty.
Trying to feel up about yourself doesn’t make you feel up! Fact!
11) “Have you tried therapy?”
This is best to avoid saying for several reasons.
First of all this is often used as an insult in the sense of “get some help!” or “you need help!”
Secondly, even if it’s meant well it can come off condescending.
Somebody who has struggled a lot with self-esteem or their mental health has definitely heard of therapy and considered it.
They have also likely tried it.
Asking if they’ve thought of therapy might come off as an insult whether or not it’s intended that way.
12) “Remember that one guy/girl who was really into you?”
Reminding people of past flames or of people who liked them isn’t helpful.
This is especially true if this was somebody who was into them where the person with low self-esteem didn’t feel the same way.
“Yes, but you could have had X person you weren’t interested in!” isn’t a very reassuring thing to say to somebody who’s feeling like shit, even if you undoubtedly mean very well by it.
13) “Maybe a night out will cheer you up!”
You can invite somebody out to try to cheer them up.
But don’t explicitly say it’s in order to cheer them up.
This is going to make them feel pressured and feel the opposite of cheered up.
14) “You’re so skinny though!”
Commenting on somebody’s weight is almost never a great idea, especially if they’re feeling poorly about themselves.
Anorexia affects both men and women, and is often accompanied by very low self-esteem.
Telling somebody they’re skinny is a bad move, even if you mean well.
15) “I’ve been through worse”
Listen, you may have legitimately been through worse.
Your brother may have been killed by drug dealers and you may be a refugee.
But this isn’t going to help a person with low self-esteem and will come across as comparing scars.
16) “Shake it off!”
Taylor Swift may have told people to just shake it off, but it’s not very good advice.
Self-esteem takes time to develop and is often best backed up by action.
Saying “screw it” and trying to forget how bad you feel rarely works.
17) “You should get a dog”
I’ve actually had this said to me at a time I was struggling with what to do in life and my own value.
It made me feel worse.
I do have a dog now and I love her, but no dog is going to rescue somebody’s self-esteem or fix their underlying issues.
18) “People would kill to have your looks”
Whether or not somebody is classically good-looking is not equivalent to their self-esteem.
There are people who everybody thinks are smoking hot who have absolutely subterranean self-esteem.
Reminding somebody they are hot is very unlikely to boost their self-esteem, although it’s fair to say “I find you very good-looking.”
19) “But you have a great life!”
This may be entirely true from your point of view.
But just remember that Robin Williams killed himself.
There is no outer metric of a “great life” by which you can tell somebody everything is fine.
Inner well-being can often be very disconnected from outer appearances.
20) “Everybody hurts sometimes”
Unless you’re trying to quote “November Rain” by Guns ‘n Roses this is unlikely to help out much.
It’s definitely true.
But it’s unlikely to make somebody with low self-esteem feel better.
21) “Other people have problems, too”
This is absolutely true.
But it doesn’t really change or reduce the pain that somebody with low self-esteem is having.
Somebody’s self-esteem problems are not made better because other people also have problems.
This is like telling somebody who is poor not to worry because other people are even more poor than them.
22) “Life’s a bitch and then we die.”
You know what, this might actually be a true statement.
I’m agnostic on this one!
But don’t say it to somebody struggling with self-esteem.
It won’t make them feel a sense of solidarity with all those who hate life, it’ll just bring them even further down.
23) “One day you’ll look back on this and laugh”
This could be true, but it can come across presumptuous to say it.
People don’t always get better or recover.
Some people give up.
It’s best to say you’re there for somebody without necessarily telling them what they will or won’t do down the road.
What to say instead
When somebody is struggling with low self-esteem and depression, the best thing you can say to them is: “I’m here for you.”
You can also tell them that you’re sorry to hear about what they’re going through and you’re here to help.
Most advice you give is only going to come off wrong.
If you do share advice about what’s worked for you in conquering challenges in life, make sure to only offer it as an example, not as a prescription.
Everybody has a different journey, and everybody’s self-esteem problems are different.
Lost Your Sense of Purpose?
In this age of information overload and pressure to meet others’ expectations, many struggle to connect with their core purpose and values. It’s easy to lose your inner compass.
Jeanette Brown created this free values discovery PDF to help clarify your deepest motivations and beliefs. As an experienced life coach and self-improvement teacher, Jeanette guides people through major transitions by realigning them with their principles.
Her uniquely insightful values exercises will illuminate what inspires you, what you stand for, and how you aim to operate. This serves as a refreshing filter to tune out societal noise so you can make choices rooted in what matters most to you.
With your values clearly anchored, you’ll gain direction, motivation and the compass to navigate decisions from your best self – rather than fleeting emotion or outside influences.
Stop drifting without purpose. Rediscover what makes you come alive with Jeanette Brown’s values clarity guide.