Stop it with the platitudes! Your friend doesn’t want to hear, “You can take a frown and turn it upside down.” Nor do they want to hear, “Think of all the people who are struggling in the world,” and please don’t say, “Let’s go out and you’ll cheer up.” The simple fact is it’s likely your friend doesn’t want to cheer up. A recent study shows that typically people with low self-esteem don’t want to feel better. There’s comfort in the state they’re in according to researchers, from the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University
Think about it this way. Have you ever told your friend that “tomorrow will be a better day?” If you have, did it do any good? Has it ever helped to tell them their cloud has a silver lining? Most likely not. You weren’t successful to get them out of their funk and with good reason – from their perspective you are invalidating how they feel. The car broke down, the dog ran away and the toilet is overflowing and they want to feel bad about it, dammit. And they have every right to.
“Those with low self-esteem actually reject the so-called ‘positive reframing,’ or expressions of optimism and encouragement, most of us offer to them,” says lead author Dr. Denise Marigold, an assistant professor at Renison University College at Waterloo. People with low self-esteem “are simply more comfortable wallowing” in their misery, she adds. “What we think is well-intentioned support is really alienating for them. They feel as if people don’t understand their issues and don’t accept their feelings. It almost demonstrates a lack of caring.” She further states, “If your attempt to point out the silver lining is met with a sullen reminder of the prevailing dark cloud, you might do best to just acknowledge the dark cloud and sympathize,” Marigold said.
In their study, the researchers found no evidence that positive reframing helps participants with low self-esteem. And in fact, the people providing support to friends with low self-esteem often felt worse about themselves when they attempted to cheer up their friend. These individuals usually prefer negative validation, which conveys that the feelings, actions or responses of the recipient are normal, reasonable, and appropriate to the situation. “So a friend could express understanding about the predicament or for the difficulty of a situation, and suggest that expressing negative emotions is appropriate and understandable,” researchers explained in their study.
Based on this study, the next time a friend tells you that life sucks, it would be best to acknowledge that yes, sometimes it does suck. Because sometimes things in life do and it’s okay to acknowledge that.
6 comments on Those With Low Self-Esteem Want You To Stop Trying to Cheer Them
And when one is depressed it is very likely that low self esteem and self doubt are manifested as part of the condition. The after effects of mania, after we’ve come down, can leave us feeling this way for awhile too, quite possibly along with shame. What you’ve shared is so true. Sometimes we just need to be acknowledged and be allowed to figure out how to sort out our feelings, then climb out as best we can when we’re ready. Thanks Bradley.
You’re right, There is no lower period than after I’ve been running manic and the last thing I want is for someone to try and cheer me up.
Excellent post! Thank you for pointing out this facet of depression. I do not think I can count on my toes and fingers the number of times that I have been in a deep blue funk, and heard many of the things you mentioned. When I am in one of my nearly indigo funks, the absolute last thing I want to hear is “It will get better,” or “tomorrow is a different day.” No, it’s not going to get better and tomorrow is likely to be just the same as today, My personal favorite is “Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get over it”; yeah, that’s helpful. If I could just “snap out of it”, don’t people realize if that were realistic, I would do it?
It is very invalidating of a person’s feelings and emotions regarding a situation (or if they are Bipolar and simply in a depressive episode). Because as you put it, life does sometimes suck, and it can suck for no reason known except to the depressed person. Going out isn’t going to do any good, you’ll just end up drunk and miserable or, if you do not drink, you’ll just be miserable in public.
I had an experience with a very good friend of mine yesterday. He reads my blog and has for the 2+ years it has been up, and he wrote to tell me he was sorry that he missed my birthday, that not to worry he still loves me and thinks about me a lot, and worries about me a lot, and then he dropped the bomb. He had been in the hospital for a week recently because his lungs collapsed. He has asthma, and had been operating on about one lung since I have known him (about 26 years). Well, he’s down to about 1/4 of a lung, and his teeth had become infected. The infection spread to his lungs and they collapsed. A friend found him unconscious and called for an ambulance. He is now on oxygen, and is set to see a pulmonary specialist. The one thing he did express was how much it all just sucked which I agreed with.
He mentioned that his sister was always telling him that he had survived worse. That shows a complete lack empathy for his situation. He hasn’t been able to work for months, is behind on his rent, nearly died, is worried that he will be evicted before he can get his disability benefits. In other words, it doesn’t get much worse. He has some very depressing issues that he is dealing with, and he is a chronic depressive.
So, no, there really isn’t anything another person can say or do except listen and try to empathize with whatever is causing the other party to struggle. Definitely do not try to cheer someone who’s down about everything by, as you put it, using platitudes. That really does just make it worse. The best thing a person can do is listen and agree that, yeah, sometimes everything just sucks. The last thing a person who is depressed needs is someone telling them to “just get over it,” because that is not likely to happen.I know I don’t like hearing it.
Thank you, Jennifer. I think as a society we need to come to terms with the fact that sometimes life does suck, and that’s okay. Telling someone to pull themselves up by their bootstraps is almost cruel. I’m sorry to hear about your friend, I hope things change for the better soon and I’m glad you acknowledge that you can’t “fix” how he feels.
When things are really tough for me mentally I always tell myself that tomorrow is another day. It may not be a better day, but at least try and make it through the night without wanting to commit suicide. Then I try to look at the new day with new eyes. Some people may be this way but I need to hear positive things as I’m negative enough without someone agreeing with me. Actually to be honest I hide from the world when my world is caving. When this happens I stay right away from anyone negative as it only brings me down. Interesting post, Bradley.Hugs from Oz, Paula xxx
I see your point if view. For me, I will sometimes look out the window to remind myself that the world is still spinning and for the most part everything is ok. I don’t like it as well when others try to cheer me up, even though I know their heart is in the right place. When I’m in that state it just comes across to me as condescending even though that is not their intent.