My friend is sad a lot because she is alone and doesn’t have a boyfriend. She always belittles herself and says she isn’t good enough. At first, I told her to be patient and focus on bettering herself and she would find someone soon. I now see that she is looking for someone else to be her main source of happiness. After pointing out to her what she was doing, I then told her that she can’t love anyone else until she learns to love herself. To which she responded, “I can’t love myself. I don’t know how to.” How can I help her?
Based on the information presented in your letter, she may be someone who is struggling with self-esteem and needs professional guidance. Her inability to “love herself” may be an expression of depression or of her overall unhappiness in life. It’s common for people with depression to believe that they’re unlovable.
It’s also possible that these problems may have originated, at least in part, with her family. Often, people who feel like she does, don’t feel loved or supported by their families, specifically their parents. Poor familial relationships may lead some to feel lost, unloved and depressed.
You might have a better understanding of your friend and what she’s experiencing by studying Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. These needs must be fulfilled in order for an individual to be psychologically healthy and satisfied with life. Broadly speaking, it’s a psychological theory that explains what motivates human behavior.
At the bottom of the hierarchy are physiological and safety needs. These involve food, water and shelter. These need to be met every day. It would be very difficult to function daily without satisfying these fundamental needs.
The next two involve love and belonging, and self-esteem. Love and belonging refers to the idea of needing to feel that someone loves you. Often, this validation comes from one’s parents but it can also come from friends, family or a relationship with a higher power. Once someone knows that they are loved, they feel worthy of being loved. Perhaps if your friend felt loved, she’d find it easier to love herself.
A similar thing is true regarding self-esteem. Self-esteem involves the idea of feeling “good enough to be accepted by others.” It’s common for young people to struggle with self-esteem issues often because of their age. Developmentally, young people are largely reliant on others. Self-esteem tends to come with age and independence but it mainly develops as a result of proving competence and doing things that you’re proud of. For instance, earning a college degree, getting a job, being a good parent, and so forth. At some point in one’s life, it will be important to feel validation about one’s abilities. Once that occurs, an individual is no longer driven to fulfill this need. This is not to say that they would stop attempting to accomplish things in life; it’s that they will no longer be driven by the need to prove that they are “good enough.”
According to the theory, once all of the aforementioned needs are met, an individual is now ready for self-actualization. Self-actualization is a process of becoming fully who you are, your true self. I don’t have enough column space to describe all of the characteristics of self-actualizing people so I would recommend reading Abraham Maslow’s book about the subject. You should encourage your friend to read it as well.
If depression is at the root of her problem, then she should consult a mental health professional. That type of help is beyond what you can provide as a friend. The main job of a caring friend is support and encouragement. Beyond that, there may be little else you can do. Psychological health, growth and development is a very personal matter. Hopefully, she will be open to treatment, should it be necessary. Good luck and please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle