Helping Girlfriend Regain Intellectual Confidence

Please forgive the incoming long intro.

To start with, I’m not sure Intellectual was the right word for the title but I’m coming up short on better alternatives. Also my TLDR version of my question is at the very end. Please start your response with TLDR if you respond to just that so I know and can gauge the response accordingly.

I am your average guy. Called attractive by some, not by others, called smart by some and not by others. Overall my life is progressing towards a job I’d like to have with some hiccups along the way. I had to drop out of university and go into college instead (I’m bad at applying myself and my laziness trashed my university gpa). So as far as smarts go I’m capable but not the brightest of the bright.

Even considering all this, the girl I am dating, who I love dearly, looks up to me as a very intelligent person, she sees me as more than I see myself. And at first when we were just friends she would let me help her with assignments and felt more confident in herself with it all. But recently as we started dating, spending more time together, and moved into the final year in college her life got far more stressful.

She experienced significant family stress (I won’t go into detail out of respect for her privacy but just imagine a very serious situation) and because of this she, and to some extent I, missed out on a week of school. And as the hardest semester we ever had to work through thus far even under perfect conditions, we struggled to catch up, understand, and finish. I barely pulled through, but she didn’t do so well. Even with a slightly reduced course load which may be part of the problem I will refer to later.

Instead of being reasonable with herself considering what she was going through she became very toxic about it. Constantly demeaning herself, calling herself, stupid and worthless and a failure. I tried to talk to her and help her through it and although I do manage to cheer her up and help her in those moments I feel like I’m not helping her heal and move forward again overall. She had a string of academic defeats that may be partially my fault. I pushed her to continue trying each time she would do poorly and she would get shut down time after time. It was understandably demoralizing. But at the same time knowing her goal is to graduate with us (rest of the classmates) I couldn’t find it in me to tell her to take time off or give up on some of the harder courses which would have set her back a year.

She ended up failing some of the classes anyways so perhaps I made the wrong decision, but I chose to believe in her and I don’t know if sometimes that’s not the best thing going forward. What I’m here to ask for is advice on how to help her build her self confidence back up. Should I be offering my help as much as I am or is that subconsciously making her doubt herself more as she starts relying on me. Her happiness is really important to me, and so I’m looking for any perspectives I can get on this. I don’t know how much this matters but she is also just under 2 years older than I am.


What recommendations would you all have for me to help her believe in herself, and view her successes with as much or more importance than her shortcomings? One thing to keep in mind is that at this point in time she thinks I’m better than her in most things. Which I’m sure isn’t true because her long term memory is naturally better than mine, but unfortunately I don’t know all the things she’s really good at that involve a form of competition where she could see her strength and feed good about it. If you think participating in something she’s better than me at will help, do you have any ideas on how would I go about finding something that fits her strengths?

Girlfriend is struggling with self confidence because of school. How can I help her believe in herself again.
** Please begin your answer with TLDR if you’re responding based on this. Thanks :).

I think this sort of question would go better on the TwoXChromosomes subreddit. I’m sure you’ll get answers here, too, but the way you’ve written it sounds more like you’d prefer the types of answers you’d get there.

My only bit of advice is that graduating at the same time as everyone else is not all that big a deal, and you should always take the time you need, assuming you can afford it. Well, that and seeing you might could talk to a campus councilor, and ideally get her to go, too. She kinda sounds depressed.

Thank you for the direction. I wasn’t sure what forum or site this type of post was best suited to. But seeing as her issue was mainly to do with feeling more intelligent I thought this forum would have more insight to offer. Perhaps I should ask a different kind of question for you all to help me answer.

One of the big secrets to building up someone’s confidence is to praise them for their efforts, rather than their results or their innate capabilities. This article from New York Magazine is about praising children, but will probably give you some insight into helping your girlfriend.

But more importantly, I think with the best intentions, you are probably putting way too much attention on her academic pursuits, which will only make her feel more pressure. Try just being there for her as a boyfriend, doing the fun things with her that you like to do together, and listening to her vent about her school issues without trying to solve them. I’m not a big fan of theories that ascribe specific psychological approaches to one gender, but you may want to try to step back from the “Someone I care about has a problem and now I need to fix it” mode, and into the “Someone I care about needs me to listen and be supportive, without taking definitive action” mode. I know it’s difficult, but it will actually make her feel better if you just let her work through her problems on her own, without giving her the sense that you are more capable of solving them than she is.

Shouldn’t she be asking these questions? I’ve no doubt you have more insight than she does, right now, and so I doubt your directions from others, via you, will help her. You’d be giving her an ever larger gap in her understanding which won’t help her confidence, at all.

Maybe thinking abstractly, rather than linearly, about her confidence could help? Go do something you’re both new at, so you can learn together (don’t learn too quickly, though), such as rock climbing, painting, or a charitable activity. She may just be experiencing a temporary low so be aware, once she recovers, she might catch up and overtake you.

I think you’re right. I wont say I don’t ever bring it up but most of the time it’s indirectly, as in I discuss my own experience with school or something someone’s shared with me that day and then she feels low and we discuss how she feels. Sometimes the chat group we are in will complain and reading it may make her feel this way as well. So would being supportive in this case be not bringing up school related topics, or to not question her and drag out why she is feeling low. I admit it’s stronger than me sometimes to know what’s troubling her but if you think me shutting up will help her then I’ll try my best to do so.