Here are four small favors that those who don't hate themselves can do for those of us who do.
When two people with low self-esteem are together, many things are mutually, intuitively understood, even if we've never openly discussed our self-esteem. For instance, if anything goes even slightly wrong, we both know we're instantly, viciously blaming ourselves.
And we'll probably try to soothe each other — because, sensing our shared insecurities, we want to ease each other's pain: Admittedly, this is partly because we each think we deserve to suffer most, but partly also because we are uniquely hyper-aware of pain.
And we who tend to hate ourselves will help each other out with tiny, mutually understood favors such as not asking Why do you always order the same ice-cream flavor? or offering reality checks such as This lesson is really confusing or The server with the ponytail seems mean.
But when we are with people who don't hate themselves, we do things they don't understand. This is because we think and feel things they don't.
Those of us who are on the healing path know what a long, hard, landmine-larded road it is. So while we're on it, here are four small favors that those who don't hate themselves can do for us. I'm not asking you to work magic or act like saints. Nor am I asking you to be our therapists — unless by chance you are, and that's your job, for which we're paying you. I know we can be big pains in the butt. But bit by bit we can get better — with your help.
1. Forgive us. Not for having low self-esteem, which is no more our fault than having freckles or asthma, but for all those countless things we're constantly apologizing about. Reflexive apology — bleating I'm sorry! as often as other people blink — is yet another side effect of self-loathing, because some of us were told too often and/or too terrifyingly that every bad thing from earthquakes to spilled milk to Mommy's illness was our fault. Now we apologize when rain falls on parades or strangers trample on our toes. When you hear us do this, tell us "No problem" or "That's OK" or even "It's not your fault."
2. Take us where we need to go. Most of us with low self-esteem have at least one activity, location, situation, person or object that makes us hate ourselves less. Setting aside perilous options such as self-harm, anorexia or drugs, which "raise" our self-esteem synthetically and/or addictively, does playing music make us feel more powerful? Are we fully relaxed in forests, doing math, and/or around our cousin Ed?
If you can find out without feeling (or being) intrusive — because, hey, we have boundary issues — ask us what these things might be and why. Then, refusing to let us talk ourselves out of another good thing, take us there.
3. Choose for us. Harsh and heartless as this sounds, every now and then we need you to just make certain simple decisions for us — which sweater to wear, which sandwich to order — and be done with it. That's because being asked to choose from a range of options, especially in public or when our choice might affect others, triggers some of us into mute paralysis. That's because we were told somewhere back there that we always spoiled everything, that we were stupid, selfish or incompetent.
Our actions were constantly questioned, penalized or mocked. So now, asked to choose between egg salad and pastrami, we panic: not just because thanks to our past history we are afraid to choose but also because we are so ashamed of being seen this way, appearing (we think) infantile and helpless. Yes, we need to learn decision-making skills: at least, at first, in private and alone. Until then, lend us some relief: Either flat-out decide for us or gently help us choose.
4. Tell us that everything will be OK, because we strongly suspect it will not. We might be right. But so might you.