Hey everyone! I need a little bit of advice...my boyfriend has terrible self esteem and depressive tendencies, and I don't know what else I can do to help. Long post, sorry....
Me and my boyfriend have been together for just over 3 years. I feel like one of the major stumbling blocks for me is his complete and utter lack of self-esteem. It hurts him because he can't feel good about himself, and it hurts me because I can't constantly be validating and reassuring him about everything.
My boyfriend was hurt by other girls in the past (though this was years ago). More recently, his mother uses him as an emotional punching bag and constantly takes her anger out on him. Her treatment of him has taught him to relieve his anger in unhealthy ways as well. His parents constantly insult him and call him things like worthless, stupid, lazy, etc. He is none of those things.
Because of all of this, his self-esteem is in the toilet and it has been for a long time. Outwardly he seems ok, but as you get to know him better the insecurities start to become much more visible. He is defensive, quick to anger, easily hurt, and self-hating.
One of the ways that it's manifested is in his body. He used to be extremely fit and physically healthy, but he's put on a ton of weight and is often feeling tired and sickly. He's not very active anymore, which sucks because I'm a very active person.
He's also letting his appearance slip, and sometimes he looks really unkempt and sloppy. I feel guilty about feeling that way, because I still love him and am physically attracted to him...just less so than when he's trying to look his best for me, and I'm also worried that he's making a bad impression on others. My parents were very shocked with his appearance when they met him because he looked so messy.
I've tried talking with him in a supportive way about his health, because he completely stopped exercising and started to eat really badly (as in eating 1 meal a day at a fast food restaurant) and he was starting to have all sorts of worrying symptoms (chest pain, no energy, etc.) He's also very unhappy with his current weight and often makes self-deprecating jokes about it, but I know he's really hurting abot it inside. I offer him my help (I'm training to become a dietician) and support if he needs it, and he promises to take better care of himself physically, but he never keeps the promise.
Even if I'm only mildly irritated or upset with him, which normally happens between people sometimes, he instantly becomes defensive, saying things like "I'm a good boyfriend, I've always been good to you, I treat you well," and such. Or, if he's feeling more anxious, he'll follow that up by asking me please not to leave him.
It also shows up in the way that he approaches relationships with some people. I know that some people genuinely enjoy teaching and helping people, and there's nothing wrong with that. But in my boyfriend's case, he seems to derive all of his self-worth from 'fixing' people who have serious problems, and he gets very depressed when he can't help someone. I feel like it's almost a strange kind of codependence? At the same time, he'll neglect his own emotional needs entirely for the sake of others, which is unhealthy no matter how good your intentions are. He tends to interact with a lot of people who are hurt or unstable in some way and try to heal them, and so when he found out that I didn't have a major emotional crisis to 'fix' he got depressed, saying he was useless to me.
I'm as supportive as I can possibly be to him, but at the end of the day only he can heal himself. I can be a helper to him, but it's ultimately up to him. The constant need for approval, comfort, and reassurance can be really emotionally draining, as callous and terrible as that sounds...but it's true. I am ok with supporting him emotionally, that's what a significant other is for. But being able to take care of your own emotional well being is important, too, and I don't want him to depend on me for validation. That isn't fair to either of us.
I don't really know what to do for him, aside from the usual - show my love to him in multiple different ways, compliment him, cheer him up when he's sad, and try to show him his personal strengths and good points. I asked him about seeing a therapist, and he reacted pretty angrily and shot it down. Does anyone have any suggestions? It's wearing both of us out. :/
Posts: 7 | From: Canada | Registered: Mar 2010
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I agree with your assessment of the situation: while you can be supportive of him, it can't (and should not be) your job to be his sole source of support and validation.
It sounds like he has a generally hard time with seeing these boundaries, given that he tries to take on that role for himself in his other relationships. Have you ever discussed that with him? Does he understand why and how that's not a good basis for a relationship?
I also think that, ultimately, he would be best helped by counseling. Did he give you any specific reasons why he was opposed to that?
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"The question is not who will let me, but who is going to stop me." -Ayn Rand Posts: 9192 | From: Cologne, Germany | Registered: Sep 2005
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We've had a lot of discussions about his relationships. I've told him many times that while it's good to help other people when they need you, he's surrounding himself in relationships that are completely one-sided and it's damaging his emotional health. I told him that he can't truly be a good mentor figure if he doesn't take care of himself first. I think that he understands that, because he often comes to me telling me about how tired he is of taking care of everyone else. But that hasn't really stopped him from feeling the need to rush in and try to save everyone from everything.
About counselling, he didn't really give me a straight reason. He just got very defensive and angry, telling me that he wasn't 'broken' or a mental case and things like that (I'd suggested it to him because I was worried that maybe he was slipping into depression) and that he didn't need any help.
Posts: 7 | From: Canada | Registered: Mar 2010
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It also sounds to me that aside from trying to support and steer him towards what may be beneficial and helpful for him, it may be also very helpful for you to pay attention to what you need and would best for you right now w.t.r to your personal life. Often time, someeone with self-esteem issues isn't someone that's best for anyone else to be in a relationship with either. I understand that you may care deeply about this person but it's also equally important to take care of our selves and our need to be in healthy balance relationships with similar minded people.
So, I'll leave you with this question to reflect and think about.
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