I’m dating someone who’s super insecure. How can I help them get to the point where they’re not always worried or insecure about everything?
- 17 year old male
The very first thing I’d like to tell you is that it is NOT your responsibility. That sounds harsh, I know, but I want you to understand that you are in no way obligated to “fix” this problem. And the truth is, you probably can’t. Not by yourself anyway. Anything you do to help you Significant Other (SO) needs to come from a place of love and not from obligation or the idea this is a project you must complete. I’m not saying you feel that way, but it’s important for you and your mental well-being to understand your motivations and your limits.
You might already know this, but I feel like it has to be said: your SO didn’t develop low self-esteem and insecurity overnight, and they certainly won’t increase their self-esteem quickly either. There are many reasons they might be insecure that can range from mental/emotional abuse at home, being bullied at school, and even mental illness. One person alone isn’t equipped to combat those overwhelming factors, so please be realistic in your expectations of what you can do.
One thing you should NOT do is get frustrated with your SO about their insecurity. This will only make their concerns more valid. It can be frustrating to feel like you’re constantly validating someone else, but if you want to help them you’ll keep that to yourself. If it really becomes a problem, talk to them calmly and rationally about your concerns, but once again, do it from a place of love. Anger, frustration, disgust will only be a confirmation of the voices in their head telling them they aren’t good enough and never will be.
This goes along with the last bit, but DON’T point out all the times they’re displaying low self-esteem. They don’t need reinforcement of the fact they have low self-esteem. They are brutally aware of it every waking second of their life. (I’m speaking from experience here.)
So what can you do? First and foremost, offer compliments and reassurance when the time is appropriate. You certainly don’t need to spend every minute of your time together telling them how wonderful they are, but these little things can go a long way in helping them to see the value in themselves. Let them know you’re happy to see them, value their input, find them attractive, enjoy your conversations together. Show up at their events if they play sports or joined the chess club. Let them know through your actions that you value them, what they do, and are there to support them.
If there are problems at home, especially those that are contributing to their insecurity, listen to what they tell you about that situation and offer words of support. Let them know you believe the opposite of what is being said about their worth, or that you support them through whatever family troubles they are dealing with. Just having someone there to listen to them and be there can mean a lot to a person who feels like they have no one to lean on.
If the school atmosphere is compounding these feelings of insecurity, once again, all you can do is be there for them. Visibly being by their side, being proud of your relationship, and standing by them when the world wants to beat them down will help them see that not everyone is against them.
If possible, encourage them to develop friendships that also support and validate them. This one is tricky because it isn’t your job, nor your place, to decide who they should and shouldn’t be friends with. Becoming a controlling partner will NOT help them develop healthy self-esteem. In fact, the opposite will happen. But if you can do so respectfully, taking into consideration your SO’s feelings and needs, then I’d say gentle encouragement is okay. And if they don’t agree with it, let it go. They choose their friends, not you.
And if they already have friends that validate them in healthy relationships, be sure not to impede that with your own. Yes, a romantic relationship is important in many people’s lives, but friendships are just as necessary.
I hope some of this helps. And I hope you understand you can’t fix everything overnight. I had low self-esteem as a teen and it took years for me to feel comfortable and proud in my own skin. I still battle the voices in my head saying I’m not enough. It’s a process, but if you can be one positive step in that process for your SO then I send you my love and positivity.
About The Author: Jennifer Austin is a YA author, mother of 5, and failing housewife. (I'll get to those dishes, I swear it!) When she's not raising kids and writing badass females in space she's . . . well, she's reading about badass females wherever they can be found. Check her out on Twitter (@jlaustin13) where she tweets about writing, politics, YA books, and random thoughts that pop in her head.
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A final note: We are strong believers in the power of therapy. We know that this isn't a realistic option for every teenager, since some of you might not have the parental support or extra income necessary to make this happen. But, if possible, please consider therapy. Many of the adults you respect most have benefited from therapy, and it's likely that you will too. There's no shame in getting support. You deserve it.