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Often when talking to many of my friends, they often try to put themselves down by commenting that they are not "amazing" and that they are not good enough. Often persuading them otherwise is a futile attempt, sometimes even causing an argument and making them feel worse (and potentially damaging their relationship). It's also worth noting that these conversations take place over a messaging service, and physically visiting them isn't exactly a viable option.

Is there any way I could approach this issue to help them feel more self important, or feel better about themselves, or is it better (and easier) to simply not discuss the matter further to prevent an argument.

To help you better understand I'll provide 2 examples of this, please bear in mind I am trying to get a general response to the question, rather than a solution that just fits these 2 examples (however feel free to use these 2 examples to show how I should reply).

Example 1:
Friend: Nuuuu I look ugly
Me: No you don't what do you mean you look amazing!
Friend: No I don't
Me: Yes you do!

etc... (this goes on for however long)

Example 2:
Friend: I'm actually pretty weak, useless like I am at most things
Me: No you're not, you're great!
Friend: No I'm not (inserts generic excuse about how they have a negative impact on those around them)

and then the conversation goes downhill from there...

It's worth noting that these are not "humble brags", they do genuinely mean this.

  • Are they judging themselves in relation to you in particular? I know that that can be a pretty awkward place to find yourself in. – HDE 226868 Jul 30 '17 at 18:45
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    Are you sure it's not "humble brag"? an ostensibly modest or self-deprecating statement whose actual purpose is to draw attention to something of which one is proud. - Oxford Dictionaries // Example: ‘she humblebragged about how ‘awful’ she looks without any make-up’ – NVZ Jul 30 '17 at 18:48
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    @NVZ it isn't a humble brag, those examples are only parts of the conversation but rest assured these are genuine. – Crafter0800 Jul 30 '17 at 19:17
12

Actually, you can't, on your own, counter their lack of self-esteem. Self-esteem is the perceived value of yourself, and as such, the only thing you can do is to try to talk them out of the mood that keeps them in such manner. You can try to understand what is the root of the problem if it's isolated but if it's a constant, continuous, "I suck at everything" then it's bigger than a wrong attitude toward oneself.

Constant self-bashing is a common sign of depression and is usually one of most unrecognized way of asking for help to others. Ask them how they're feeling, if they have any issues or if they need to talk. Try to change their mind and something that will distract them. And if you feel that they might require more help that you are able to give, ask them to see their doctor or a psychiatrist. Depression is a serious illness that shouldn't be overlooked and a lot of people are suffering without even knowing they have it.

Lastly, do not try to carry the person's burden yourself. Even if it's your friend, if he or she needs more help than you can give, do not commit to making them feel better. That person will likely end up having to depend on you for cheering her and will most likely bring you down at the same time, crashing both of you.

5

I see two approaches here. Living as we are in a world where the amazing seems ubiquitous and competitiveness is set as the standard.

One approach is to ask why they feel so down. It may be nothing to do with the remarks made, but with having a hard period in life or even just a (series of) bad night(s). Or that time of the month. When addressed and given room to vent the air may clear. But that room to vent is essential. Once the negative emotions are all out in the open there may be room to turn the mood around, or not, but in any case you have to give them the opportunity to get rid of it. And that is worth gold in itself.

Then there is the campaign where you point out in great detail why you appreciate the person, and what you see as their qualities. This is your opinion so nothing they say can upend the argument! What is important here is to build it on fact so it cannot be denied, debunked, trivialized. Be prepared to be ignored during the conversation anyway, but concrete arguments do have power and hopefully will help long after the conversation has ended.

Finally, that you are trusted to be the recipient of rather uncensored remarks is a great compliment. Not many people are good listeners, but you seem to be one of them. Kudos for that.

3

The only thing you can do is give them proof that they are wrong in that subject. If you insists it is perceived like you are only being polite or just want to cheer him up.

I don't have any kind of self-confidence and really very poor self-valuation, it causes that when someone compliments me I don't belive them, it is not humble brag.

You have to tell them why they are good looking or good at something, giving them some evidence.

Using your examples:

Example 1:
Friend: Nuuuu I look ugly
Me: No you don't what do you mean you look amazing!
Friend: No I don't
Me: Yes you do!

You: Don't you remember that cute man/woman who was smiling you at the bar the other day or that classmate that was hitting on you?

Example 2:
Friend: I'm actually pretty weak, useless like I am at most things
Me: No you're not, you're great!
Friend: No I'm not (inserts generic excuse about how they have a negative impact on those around them)

You: Hey, you are very good at math, your grades are pretty awesome and you helped me with my study.

Or

You: You are brilliant telling us jokes, you alway make us laught.

Obviously it only works if you give them real evidence.

  • building on this: if they are saying they are ugly, tell them something specific you like about them ("You may think that but I love your curly hair"). – BunnyKnitter Aug 2 '17 at 18:09
  • (tried to edit my above comment but it timed out) If they say they are bad at something/everything, counter with something concrete that they have done well recently and if they really aren't good at something, it is important to not lie and say they are (sure, you aren't great at ___ yet, but you are AWESOME at ___".) I don't really think the OP can actually do much other than encourage and point out good things. They will need time to internalize it and start to believe it about themselves. – BunnyKnitter Aug 2 '17 at 18:15
3

I suggest two further approaches that can help (and be combined). The first one is related to Bradley Wilson's answer, but, as I hope, deviates enough from it to warrant its own introduction:

Approach 1: "Show them"

Being able to help others does make people feel good. So show them their positive skills/traits by asking for help or their opinion. The main goal is to highlight, that they are good at something others aren't, so be cautious:

  1. Don't ask questions that are too trivial ("what is 1 + 1 again?").

This may have the opposite effect (they can only be trusted with the easiest, most menial tasks) or create a feeling of being exploited or they may see through your scheme.

  1. Don't do it too frequently.

Again, this may look like exploitation and also simply annoy them. Also, it shouldn't be too one-sided.

  1. Something you could have found out with a little digging yourself.

Same drawbacks as Nr. 2, but there are special circumstances:

a) It could be used in situations, where Google etc. are not available.

b) Even if you can find it out on your own, you could still ask them for their assessment, because they know much more about it ("Hey, I researched X and found answers Y and Z that seemingly contradict each other. What is your opinion on this?")

  1. Nothing too hard for them.

If they don't know the answer, they will hardly feel better. Even worse, if they give the wrong answer / their approach doesn't work (you'd probably have to point it out)

This approach is a bit more direct, and it needs some balancing and good knowledge about your friends. It shouldn't be overdone, but maybe you come across a problem that you may solve, but am sure that they can, so you may give it a try. And the relationship should not be too one-sided, like you asking them for help all the time.

Approach 2: Tell them

Here I defer a bit from the previous answers and your question, as I agree with the other posters, that in the situation you describe, it is hard to help.

The fact that you just react to them putting themselves down, weakens your arguments. But there is certainly a reason, why you are friends or on good terms. So why not sometimes mention their good sides "out of the blue"? Surprise them, instead of just doing crisis intervention.

Situations:

  1. You vent your anger, so mention that they compare favorably to whomever ("It was so boring with X. Wished, I would have been with you instead.").

  2. Mention their good traits, if the situation is suitable (e. g. after a good talk, tell them that, well, you can have a good talk with them. Or that they are clever/funny or that they are one of the few persons you really trust).

  3. Pay them deserved compliments. This should be a bit more specific than something like "you look amazing", though. But be cautious, depending on the relationship you have and the expressions you use, especially comments on someone's look can be problematic (e. g. a man telling a woman that she had a "great rack").

This, again, shouldn't be overdone. And when attempting this, reflect upon yourself and how they may view you (deservedly or not), else you may appear insincere or even manipulative.

2

I've dealt with this quite a few times. Both with others and myself.

I sometimes use logic to break whatever fallacy makes them think they're unappealing. It won't cheer them up long term, but might help them stop obsessing over that quality. After that, follow-up with supportive comments. Also, be honest. Trying to convince them without being sincere won't help much.

  1. Ask them for concrete reasons why they think what they think. Something like having a pimple, being overweight, being shy, etc.
  2. Point out why that one quality doesn't define a person. A pimple is only .1% of your face. Being overweight doesn't take away from other positive physical or personal qualities.
  3. Ask them if they'd feel that way about another person who is like them. They most likely will say no. Would you make fun of someone for being quiet? Having a pimple? etc
  4. Give a positive comment contradicting their statement. They may have a pimple, but they have beautiful eyes and smile. They have a very elegant long legs. Make great jokes.

I know this helps me. Sad people sometimes sink into negative thoughts which might not reflect reality. You get focused entirely on a bad quality and miss the good ones. This sort of thing can help your mind escape.

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    You could also change the angle of the conversation by insisting they provide something else they think is positive about themselves; sort of a request from you to clarify that they're arguing/discussing objective facts. Or if it's about how they feel, you can ask more about their feelings. – user117529 Aug 2 '17 at 22:00
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In general following up a positive statement or compliment with a question about it helps the recipient accept it without deflecting.

No you're not you're amazing! How long did it take you to learn X?

Gives them a way of following up the compliment with an answer rather than a denial and in doing so having to accept the compliment as true.

So, tell them they are amazing/beautiful/intelligent. Give an example and then follow up with a question about that example.

1

Don't help them yourself

If they get their 'validity' from the outside this will only make the situation worse, they will keep needing to make remarks like this to have others confirm to them that they are pretty or clever or talented.

Negative self-talk works its way into your perception: The more a person uses it the worse they will feel.

Get them to build their own self esteem

The link above has a few useful points.

Putting anyone down, including yourself, is emotional bullying. Most of us consider bullying from others as a bad thing, so why bully yourself? It seems like we have a double standard and treat others better than we treat ourselves. It’s not okay to put anyone down and that includes yourself.

Is a good starter, pointing out that they're just bullying themselves and you wouldn't stand for it if they spoke about any of your other friends that way.

It’s important to pay attention to your negative talk — catch your negative thoughts or words early. Awareness is very important and it empowers you to make changes. Stop your negative thoughts or words and correct them as much as you can. This may be a challenge to start with and it’s important to be kind to yourself. It’s okay if you don’t get it right straight away. Change will take effort and habits won’t change overnight. Keep on practicing and you’ll see improvements. Change your talk and you will build your self-esteem.

This is hard, often people perceive some strength in beating themselves up - perhaps stemming from wanting to be humble to an extreme but still have others think nicely of you. In reality this is just manipulative (though don't tell them that) and much healthier for all involved if the person builds their self-esteem.

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