What to say when someone says they hate themselves?
For almost as long as I've known my best friend, she's swung between two extremes: one week talking as though she's the most amazing person on the planet, and the next, as though she's the worst. At the moment, she's going through a bit of a rough time with long-standing family issues and pressure from university, and her down-moods are much more predominant. She's a very expressive person who couldn't keep anything bottled up if she tried, so I spend as much time as I can listening to her when she wants to talk about stuff and cheering her up when I sense it's possible. Anyway, every now and then she'll tell me that she hates herself, and sometimes she'll drop it into a conversation that had previously been relatively jokey. I can deal with most things, but this sentence always leaves me gawping at her like a goldfish. I don't know what to say.
Part of the reason for my confusion is that I've been there. Hell, I am there. And I know that if I tell her that she's great and that she has no reason to hate herself, at best she'll think I'm just being nice and won't believe me, and at worst she'll feel completely invalidated. I want to make her feel better about herself but I don't know how, and I worry that if I do say anything in response it'll just come out as a useless cliche that will only make her feel worse.
Tl;dr: What is the best thing to say to someone who tells you that they hate themselves, without it sounding hackneyed or making things worse?
Firstly, you can make your responses less direct. When she makes those comments then of course you tell her all of the things that you like about her, that she has absolutely no reason to hate herself so much. In addition to this, you make an effort to boost her confidence over other things. It might seem a little patronising at first but congratulate her when she has done something good, praise her when she makes you laugh - just make more of a big deal of all her good qualities, e.g. when she makes you laugh, "you're so funny", when she gets a high grade or does well at university, "you're so intelligent/clever" or when she does something for someone else "you're such a good person/you're so nice/lovely/thoughtful". This isn't going to change her perception of herself over night but slowly these positive comments will creep into her thoughts and will, hopefully, make her feel better about herself. The self-hatred and negative self-perception stem from something, and perhaps because someone else has told her these things in the past and it has just stuck, so bombarding her with positive comments will hopefully help to counter-act these over time; all of your love will help to replace the hurt inside.
Alternatively, you can try a more direct approach. When she says that she hates herself, don't fall into the "you don't need to"/"you're perfect" responses but ask her: why? what have you done to hate yourself so much? what makes you such a bad person? She will respond with an answer, which you can help to dissect and prove her wrong, or she will not be able to respond and this in itself will give her something to think about. When someone says these things to me, this is what I will say to them because 9 times out of 10, it will help them reach a different conclusion. You will help prove to them that the reasons they have for hating themselves isn't their fault, or isn't even a reason to feel angry at themselves, or you will help the realise that they've spent so much energy disliking themselves and putting themselves down but can't think of one plausible reason for doing this. As with everything, it is not an overnight fix but persevere and you'll be amazed at the results. Just be confident enough to question your friend and not tip-toe around her because it will help her in the long run if you can get to the root of the comments she's making.
I hope this helps, good luck! :)
Last edited by inconditus : 28-09-2011 at 10:22 AM.
Tell her to focus on things she likes about herself instead. If she says there is nothing to like about her, tell her to try to come up with something anyway. It doesn't matter how many things she come up with, but try for a small number, like 3, and go from there.
hmm... if you have a habit of putting yourself down as well, you could make a pact to both try and avoid it, and let each other know when you're getting down on yourselves. sometimes people are more open to changing if someone else is doing it with them....
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