Dear Miss U,
I’ve been in a pretty solid LDR with someone for about 1.5 months, and I couldn’t be happier. We have a lot in common and we’ve also been intimate on a few occasions when he visited me at my university. The only thing is, (besides living an hour from my university and 3+ hours from my hometown) he has very poor self-esteem. I basically tell him he is perfect, sweet and amazing all the time. Recently, when he got down on himself, he said, “Truthfully, nothing will probably happen between us because I’m a scumbag loser who won’t get a career in anything.” He’s stressed about going back to school and this is just how he reacts sometimes. I said he wasn’t (like I always do) and I can help him out and talk to him in any way I can. He said it’s hard when you’re not here (I live in NY and he lives in MA). He said he doesn’t know where this relationship is going because he can’t deal with LDR’s for multiple reasons. But we still talk constantly and we both love each other very much and want nothing more than our relationship to work out.
How can I make him feel more comfortable with the concept of LDR’s and strengthen our LDR overall?
Also, what should I say/do during breaks when we’re far apart when he gets so down on himself and questions our relationship?
It takes a very long time to build self-esteem, and before you can truly begin you must first build trust. Think of it this way, if I walked into your life and said, “Meat and dairy are actually really bad for you bro,” you’re not going to believe me because your whole life your mum’s been saying, “Three glasses of milk a day for healthy bones!” and your dad’s been there with his steak saying, “We need meat to be strong son,” and I’m just some random stranger on the internet with zero credibility. Whether I’m right or wrong, you’re not prepared to believe me. You probably decided I was wrong before you finished this paragraph.
Likewise, when you tell your boyfriend he’s smart, capable, fantastic, perfect etc. he has no reason to believe you because you don’t have the history for his brain to rifle through to show him all the times you’ve been right. Instead, you’re up against all the people who have brought him down in his entire life, his memories of every stuff-up he’s ever been involved in, and if that’s not enough you’re fighting what he believes about and tells himself.
So to begin you need to prove, through your actions, that you are a reliable judge of character. Beyond that, to build his self-esteem you need to show him – not just tell him! – all the wonderful qualities he has. The easiest way to do this is to pay attention to the things he talks about and does. Take note of his random acts of kindness, or when one of his letters is particularly well written, or when he’s applied himself to reaching a goal and then praise his effort.
“I’ve noticed you’ve been sticking it out at the gym fifteen minutes longer this week, it’s really hot how you push yourself like that.”
“It was super sweet of you to remember I have that exam today, the words of encouragement you texted gave me a real boost!”
“Your mum might think you’re lazy, but you’re perfect for me because I too would rather blast zombies in the face all night and then sleep in ‘til midday on Saturday.”
“I really admire the way you clean up after yourself at fast food joints, it shows a lot about your respectful nature.”
These are some examples of things you can praise that can help build a person up that are more believable than the standard “you’re hot” and “I know you don’t agree but I think you are perfect.” Aim for compliments that you can back up with examples. Remember that confidence is sexy too; if you catch him in a rare moment of confidence or positive self-talk positively reinforce the hell out of him.
When he does start talking himself down, use some examples you took note of earlier to disprove the things he says.
Him: “I’m a scumbag loser who won’t get a career in anything”
You: “I’ve seen your letter-writing skills. With a cover-letter like the one you’ll write you’ll be employed in no time.”
Or “with that attitude, you won’t”
Personally, I’m not sympathetic by nature. I have to work hard to be nice, but luckily I do find calling people out on their bullshit to be really effective if the timing is right. The fact is we all have to take charge of our lives and make them into the lives we want to live and I can’t stand it when people sit around and complain without taking action.
If you don’t think you’re smart enough, you have the power to get an education.
If you don’t think you’re talented enough, you have the power to practice.
If you don’t think you’re attractive enough you have the power to throw that trashy magazine in the bin or unfollow those people on Facebook who make you think you’re not good enough.
If you tell yourself you’re a scumbag, that’s all you’re ever going to be because you’re not directing your energy towards being a better version of yourself.
You decide when he needs you to reassure him and when he needs a good (figurative) shake.
I highly recommend support groups and feel that he’d be well taken care of in the LFAD community forum.
This isn’t something that can be fixed overnight. There isn’t one thing you can say that will make him feel secure from now until forever. But if you nurture him without letting him wallow in his own misery too much, eventually he will begin to see in himself all the qualities you already see in him.
If you think this might go beyond poor self-esteem and into the realms of depression, the letter below may also be of value to you; please read on.
Dear Miss U,
I met Jess about three years ago on an anonymous site. She sounded so sweet and lovely, so we started talking. We found out we were about the same age, liked the same things, and we both thought the other was cute. We also found out we were on opposite sides of the Atlantic. It’s been harsh, dealing with time zones, and at times we just stopped talking to each other. Around New Year’s, she talked to me again, and we’re back together.
All of a sudden, she started speaking in a very depressed manner, and she told me she was drunk and was feeling miserable. I asked her if it happened often, and she told me she tried to kill herself twice last year. I knew she struggled with depression before, but this is just a whole new level.
What should I do? I want to make her happy, but there’s barely anything I can do from over here. I feel I should contact someone so that she gets all the support she needs, but maybe she doesn’t want that or already tried it.
Any advice would be heaven-sent, thank you so much!
It’s hard to ask for help, and when all the demons* are inside your own mind the opportunities to reach out and get help are few and far between. I remember, in some of my darkest times, I would finally reach out, and then by the time the clinic opened and someone called me back I would have lost my ability to talk about it, or had convinced myself I was actually fine, and so I’d tell them I’d made a mistake, sorry for bothering you etc. or I’d just outright avoid the call until they stopped trying to reach me. The window during which I could advocate for myself and speak of what I was going through or what I needed seemed to pass, and then I’d be sucked down the hole again. So my advice to you is to take this seriously, you might be the only person she’s been able to speak to, and even if she tells you not to worry there’s a huge chance she’s not “fine”. You’ve probably heard that “those who talk about suicide never do it,” but this is absolutely not true.
I can’t tell you whether or not calling someone near her would help or hinder, unfortunately. If you think she’s going to hurt herself at the end of a call, by all means contact someone who can get to her house (emergency services, best friend, family,) and do your best to keep her on the phone, but beyond that I feel it would be better for her to seek help than for you to have it thrust upon her. Let her know you will support her every step of the way and that she does not have to suffer.
Make a list of all the community resources available to her. Groups in her area. Phone numbers. Youth support centers. Suicide hotline. Make sure she puts them in a place where she will access them before trying to hurt herself.
Watch your language too (You probably already do but I have to say it anyway). Depression is an illness, like heart disease, it’s not just ‘feeling sad.’ Even if she’s laughing, she still has depression; it doesn’t magically disappear if she has a good day or even a good week, so make sure the way you speak reflects that. There’s also no shame in having an illness, and you might need to remind her of that frequently.
It would be good for you to have a conversation with her (when she’s not deep in the hole) about her needs and the best way to support her as well as independently researching how to be a good support person.
Talk to her about warning signs, triggers or what events seem to proceed any episodes she’s had so that you both know what to watch out for and you know when she’s likely to need extra support.
Beyond that, make positive life changes with her. Do some yoga or meditation together each day over Skype (or snapchat if you’re hard up). Take part in a green smoothie challenge and encourage her to eat more fiber. Seriously! there’s loads of evidence linking constipation to depression. The more you poop the happier you are. Encourage her to get outside, even if you need to get her hooked on Geocaching or Pokemon Go to achieve it. And encourage her to get more sleep even if that cuts into your talk time. Sleep deprivation is used as a torture for a reason; we are all more stable when we are well rested. These things won’t cure a mental illness but they are things we all can do to nurture our well-being and if she keeps up with it, she will see results.
Lastly, don’t think you are powerless. Listening without trying to fix her problems is a huge help. Listening without belittling her or making it about you is priceless. Setting a good example, being a sounding board, remaining positive and just giving a shit are all within your power. Don’t let being far away stop you, the mind – even when ill – is limitless and so too is love.
* This is figurative! I don’t actually believe people with mental illness are inhabited by evil spirits, because I’m not a crack-pot.