How Self-Esteem Affects Friendship

When You Think You Don't Deserve Good Friends

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Ideally, in a friendship, you and your pal both know your value and will treat each other with respect. If you have self-esteem issues, however, your friendship will be unbalanced. Low self-esteem can cause you to choose the wrong type of friends, avoid confrontation, or even to act clingy with new friends.

To get a better idea of how a lack of self-esteem can affect friendship, it's a good idea to define exactly what self-esteem is. In society, discussions about self-esteem can be very confusing. Some look down on others who talk about self-esteem and chalk it up to "whining" about their lives. Others think poor self-esteem comes from normal childhood discipline and being told "no."

Lack of Self-Esteem and Relationships

Self-esteem and the lack of it is a bit more complicated than that. For our purposes, the definition that provides is the most helpful: a realistic respect for or favorable impression of oneself; self-respect."

Realistic is the operative word here. Too little and you suffer from low self-esteem, and too much and you've probably got a few ego problems.

While self-esteem issues can originate from a variety of places (anything from the effects of a bad romantic relationship, an overbearing boss, or abusive parents), it typically works on you over time to make you believe that you don't deserve good things or people in your life.

Signs of Low Self-Esteem in Friendships

Do you suspect that your self-esteem needs a boost? Here are some indicators of low self-esteem specifically related to friendship.

  • Choosing friends who put you down, take advantage of you, or make you feel bad about your accomplishments.
  • Apologizing frequently as a way to explain yourself. ("I'm sorry, I always like to order water at lunch." "I'm sorry, I'd like to take my own car to the concert.")
  • A belief that you don't deserve good friends or will always have bad friends in your life.
  • An inability to take compliments from people.
  • Difficulty looking people in the eye when talking to them.
  • Assuming that everything said in a conversation is an attack on you.
  • Giving up on friendship in general, or losing enthusiasm about making new friends.
  • A negative attitude toward life, or making constant negative statements to people. ("There aren't any good people left in the world." "If you make friends they will only hurt your feelings.")

If this you? The good news is that you can change your self-esteem and improve your relationships. It takes determination and an ability to look at yourself objectively. It also won't be easy, so go slow and be patient with yourself.

Clingy Behavior

Low self-esteem can also affect how you interact with people. Each friendship has a natural rhythm to how fast it progresses. Some people click instantly, while with other friendships it takes a while.

If your self-esteem is low, you may rush the pacing of a friendship, and scare your new pal away. Another sign of clinginess is panic at the thought of being alone, even for a short time, or a refusal to make new friends.

Difficulty Making New Friends

Self-esteem can make it very hard for you to forge new relationships. If you don't believe you're worthy of good friends, you might turn down offers from new people for parties or even just to meet for coffee. You might assume that once someone gets to know you, they won't like you anyway. As a result, you stop trying.

This is a vicious cycle that feeds upon itself. The best bet is to stop listening to that inner voice that tells you no one wants to be your friend. 

Low Self-Esteem and Toxic Friendships

Be cautious of the types of friendships you form. You may have surrounded yourself with people who are not good for you because this is what has felt "comfortable" to you in the past. If you believe deep down that you don't deserve good friends, you may be with people who belittle you or treat you poorly.

The first thing you need to do is stop and objectively look at your friendships. Do your friends make you feel bad? Some of the things toxic friends do include:

  • Act in a verbally abusive manner. They put you down or call you names.
  • Criticize you constantly.
  • Make it all about them. You aren't allowed to voice an opinion on what to do or where to go. When you try to get them to listen to an issue of yours, they shrug you off.
  • Call you only when they need something. When you need something, they aren't around.

To combat this, try distancing yourself from these people and seek out others instead. Don't isolate yourself. It will take a while, but in a short time, you will see that being around positive people will change your outlook and lift your self-esteem.

Building self-esteem takes time, and you may find that you slip back into negative behaviors from time to time. Don't let these deter you from continually building your self-esteem, however. You deserve good friends. Learn how to find them, and be one, and your self-esteem will benefit.