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I'm a part of a friend group where somehow anytime we do anything, there's one friend that somehow twists it to a way to belitter herself.

As an example, let's say we are sharing our artworks in a chatroom, she'll respond something like "Wow that's so good, I should just give up drawing now since everything I make is crap"

Or if we are picking a movie to watch, she'll go "Oh that's a better choice than any trashy movie I'd pick"

Lately she came back into the chatroom to talk about how she just had been cut off from being friends with for being too emotionally draining, and I can understand why but she isn't 100% of the time like that. And I suspect she is self aware of what she is doing sometimes but can't change how she feels.

Nothing we say can or do can make her feel like we love her as a friend and want her to do well. When we post art, we aren't trying to say "You suck at drawing" when we pick a movie we aren't trying to say "You suck at picking movies" and I just don't know how she gets those ideas in her mind

When people are depressed and constantly belittling themselves like this, what is something we can say or do to help them know that we are friends, and we care? I'm not good at making jokes, and "I hope you feel better" never works. Inviting them to do stuff with us doesn't seem to work, because she says no a lot. Saying "No your art is pretty good, I love how you draw x and y" works maybe the first time but after the 30th time... I don't have a lot of new things to say.

What can I say in situations when she belittles herself that will

1.) Not confirm her negative thoughts.
2.) Steer the conversation to something positive.
3.) Help her not see everything we do as a personal attack on her. (IE: showing her art = "My art sucks", Making dinner for her = "My cooking sucks")

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    Are there any more examples of your friend routinely doing anything that could be described as attention-seeking or venting? Just to rule out certain behaviours. – user8671 Aug 9 '18 at 15:00
  • I think she is pretty self aware, and she closed herself off from us for 3-4 months without contact before because she was afraid she was being too "clingy" and "needy." and she has apologized and did an ok job of keeping in touch and participating but then that attitude resurfaces again where she thinks we hate her?? I know you can't fully be cured of depression, but I honestly do not want to give her even an excuse to believe any of the self depreciating things she says? – arsarc Aug 9 '18 at 15:09
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First of all, depression is a serious mental condition and should be treated by professionals. Don't expect anything you say to make her depression dissappear. But you can help her see herself in a better light and strengthen her self-confidence.


Wow that's so good, I should just give up drawing now since everything I make is crap

Don't confirm her negative remark, instead, reply something positive. As a rule of thumb, expect her to think about your reply as long as you thought about it. A platitude like "Your art isn't that bad" doesn't need any thought from you and will be forgotten by her in a second. Instead, think about her art and her recent artwork and reply

That's not true. I really liked the picture of the dog you did last time. The eyes were amazingly beautiful.


Oh that's a better choice than any trashy movie I'd pick

Again, don't comment on anything negative. You can reply with a positive past experience again, like

Hey, you picked [past movie] and it was really good / hilarious.

You could put her negative remark into a different perspective

That's why we want to watch that movie with you, to show you how good it is. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

Or you could steer the topic away from the negative aspect (her choice in movies) and reply

It doesn't matter who chooses which movie, they are always better if you watch them with some friends.


Always remember, platitudes and empty phrases are not credible, especially for someone with depression. They are so insignificant that it doesn't matter whether you say them or not.

Take your time, think about the person you are replying to and always reply something positive, never mention or repeat their negative remark.

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    As someone who has struggled with depression before, I highly support the examples here that pick out specific scenarios in the past that contradict what the person is being negative about (i.e. 'That one drawing of the dog was really good', 'I enjoyed the last movie you picked'). Being depressed is often a cycle of seeing everything as a giant pool of negativity and not being able to hone in on the instances of positivity in our lives.Reminding them of specific examples that contradict their statements is a great way to remind them they are doing great even when they necessarily feel it. – Jess K. Aug 9 '18 at 15:32
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It sounds like your friend may be dealing with a psychological issue, something like depression or low self-esteem. If this is the case, then she is not trying to prompt a reaction from you. There isn't anything in particular that she "wants to hear", but rather you are experiencing an expression of the underlying issue.

These kinds of issues aren't necessarily ones that you are going to be equipped to tackle in arbitrary social settings. They are more in line with what a professional therapist or psychiatrist can provide. Even if your friend is fully aware that your are her friend and you care that won't necessarily move the needle on her thoughts or behavior-- she may not believe those things in the moment (even if she does at other times or rationally understands that they are true).

What you can do:

Please note that these are suggestions from my personal experience and are definitely not a comprehensive list, nor are they things that I would expect to work for every person every time. And, importantly, they shouldn't be expected to fix things so much as maybe improve them.

1. Reassure, but don't participate in wallowing

It's great to say that you like her art, and that's a valuable contribution in that it does not feed smoothly into spiraling thoughts of low self-worth. There is some risk in your responses becoming mechanical, especially if the negativity is common for your friend, and mechanical responses will be less reassuring to your friend and easier for her to dismiss. I can't tell you where the right balance is, but I would say it's best to be clear and decisive: "well, I can't speak for you, but I really like your artwork [and maybe something specific that you like, some technique or a good piece]".

But try to avoid getting sucked into intricate details, which may be loosely connected (at best) to her feelings and more justifications for them instead. Your consistent message is that you do not share the negative opinion that she is expressing. You might not have new things to say, but she's not feeling a new thing. You are not building a rational case to convince her (which probably won't work), you are countering her non-rational sentiments.

2. Provide opportunities to do something other than wallow

This one can be hard, but sitting around and not interacting (like at a movie) gives a lot of opportunity to close of and focus only on negative thoughts, which can build on one another. I'm not saying that movies are bad, just that they are not necessarily ideal for addressing these issues. Activities where there are things to do and see and, importantly, interact with external things, might help her focus on other things.

3. Engage her

She sounds like she's having trouble reaching out to you, especially when feeling as you describe. You can help by contacting her yourself (planning things to do and inviting her, following up and encouraging her to attend), and then interacting with her when you're together. A good goal is to get her out of her own head, and external activities and conversations are good for that.

4. Don't force things for no reason

If she doesn't want to pick the movie, don't make her, and don't dwell on it. It's probably better for her to come along and engage socially with you all instead of having her do that plus adding the pressure of pleasing everyone else with a (to her) high-stakes decision.

5. Give examples of reasonable self-criticism

She might feel that she is uniquely unworthy, and so anything she picks will be bad while anything anyone else picks would at worst be OK. If you pick a movie, and it's terrible, a passing comment like "wow, that really wasn't great. I should have chosen the other one!" without dwelling on it can reinforce that that sort of decision is not very important and that anyone can make a non-ideal selection. It's probably not as good to point those things out about each other, as that suggests that people might judge her choices. But if you pick a bad movie you can show that it's a pretty minor issue.

You might even be able to encourage her to be more assertive. If you're getting something to eat afterwards, something like "well, I'm not lucky at picking things today, so someone else should choose the restaurant. [Friend], where should we go?" can indicate that even choices that aren't huge successes are OK, and that she would not be alone in making such a choice. But, as above, if she really doesn't want to, there's no real reason to make her.

6. Professional assistance

Like I suggested above, there are a lot of situations that would match what you are describing that are not suitable for social friends to address on an event-by-event basis. A professional can be very valuable in those cases, if she's open to help.

----Background----

I go through depressive cycles myself, and have for my whole life. Some of what you describe in your friend resonates with me (though that in no way means that the situations are the same; I do not know your friend). These are largely drawn from my personal experiences, particularly my reflections during non-depressed periods.

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I'm a part of a friend group where somehow anytime we do anything, there's one friend that somehow twists it to a way to belitter herself.

As an example, let's say we are sharing our artworks in a chatroom, she'll respond something like "Wow that's so good, I should just give up drawing now since everything I make is crap"

Or if we are picking a movie to watch, she'll go "Oh that's a better choice than any trashy movie I'd pick"

To best deal with this you need to carefully try to assess what it is that she is trying to accomplish.

Is she saying something negative about herself:

  • because she genuinely feels underappreciated or unworthy.

  • hoping to get a compliment.

  • wanting her decision (or artwork) to be chosen over the others.

  • just making conversation, and forcing the response to be positive towards her.

  • trying to put out negativity, and since you're not targeted your reply won't be aggressive.

What can I say in situations when she belittles herself that will:

  1. Not confirm her negative thoughts.

  2. Steer the conversation to something positive.

  3. Help her not see everything we do as a personal attack on her. (IE: showing her art = "My art sucks", Making dinner for her = "My cooking sucks")

Before you get into that situation try to avoid it in the first place, but also try to avoid going down one of the other 'wrong roads' listed above.

Example: If there's just the two of you sitting around and you are both at the junction of picking a movie ask if she would like to choose what you watch:

  • If she says OK just like the choice and next time say "she chose last time, it's your turn to choose". - no blaming, or right or wrong.

  • If she says her choice will be bad then you can:

    • the first few times assure her that you think her choice will be OK - then it's no longer her choice that is bad but your opinion that is invalid; why would she insult you when you are being polite.

    • subsequent times explain that previously she decided she would let you choose, you are open to letting her choose too but you don't want to argue about whether she should decide if she can decide - that's just circular and non-productive; if she would prefer to chat over watching a movie there's little point in trying to be argumentative about her own decisions.

  • For artwork let her show hers or not. Say you don't want to show yours because it's unfinished. If it is finished say it's good because you spent enough time on it. If ultimately her artwork is to be no good why not suggest she: spend more time on it, let you help or offer a tip, quit art and doing things that entitle her to be negative.

Lately she came back into the chatroom to talk about how she just had been cut off from being friends with; for being too emotionally draining, and I can understand why - but she isn't 100% of the time like that.

And I suspect she is self aware of what she is doing sometimes but can't change how she feels.

  • True depression can come and go - the condition isn't necessarily continuous.

    You can go to a community help center and explain this, see if they have someone whom can join you for dinner and put out an insightful and winning comment that will save everything or provide you with better targeted advice.

    Perhaps you can ask if she would like to go to one of these places to discuss what is troubling her - that can very easily go bad, sound blaming or suggestive that she has a problem - ask them first how you would cautiously proceed with this.

  • If you are sure she is not ill you need to assess if she is a nuisance and like the other group said "emotionally draining". Decide how much time and effort it is worth to you to fix the annoying aspects of her behaviour. It's up to you to decide for yourself what investment you will make. If she's a really great person it will be worth it, perhaps you would be better off with her other friends she mentioned.

Myself: I have a budget for such activity, a smaller one for new friends and more patience with older friends - you don't want to be an enabler for things to continue this way, and end up with an old friend that really is no friend at all.

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