How to help someone with no self confidence?

I recently started dating this wonderful woman, who I’m already head over heels in love with.

Her one problem is she has no self confidence. Her previous boyfriends left her an emotional wreck, to the point where she’s constantly asking if I’m sure I want to be with her. (The answer is a resounding yes!)

She’s been abused sexually, mentally, physically, and her soon to be ex-husband even tried to sell her for drugs.

Aside from convincing her to see a shrink (neither of us can afford that yet) what can I do to help her regain her self confidence?

You can constantly reassure her, but ultimately she has to come to it on her own.

In the meantime, be as awesome to her as you believe she deserves. Maybe all she needs is to be around someone that respects her.

Cap’n Obvious - When I opened this thread, I actually thought it was a recent thread on almost the identical subject to which I had responded. You might want to check out that thread to see if any of the suggestions are helpful.

I will repeat my suggestion that there are some good cognitive therapy self-help books, including Feeling Good and Learned Optimism that are specifically designed to help people combat the “I’m worthless” mindset.

Xanax worked so well for me that I had the confidence to get myself fired. I was a lousy job and Xanax worked so well I got a better one.

Hey Cap’n Obvious. I think it’s great that you care so much and want to help her. I don’t want to know where I’d be without the support I’ve gotten from friends/relationships. I do think she has more than one problem, though, and so you might have to look at them separately:

  1. No self confidence. This isn’t always tied to bigger problems. Maybe she just doesn’t feel proud of herself/see her good qualities/set herself up for success. Everyone eventually gets tired of someone telling you how worthless they are, but hopefully if you (and her own actions, and other people) build her up, it’ll improve. It’s mostly on her to find things she does/says/is to feel good about herself, though: there may always be a hole in her compliment bucket and you can’t ever fill it yourself. (Got that from some self-esteem book but I think it’s pretty true).

  2. Sexual abuse: I’m not at all qualified to help you with this and neither are most people. I guess just go at her pace and watch out for any known “land mines,” as Dan Savage says (don’t recreate scenarios that are the least bit like what happened to her unless it’s her idea - and still be cautious, and be aware if something seemingly innocent sets her off).

  3. Physical/mental abuse: goes with 1 but in a stronger way. She has to believe she deserves someone who won’t hurt her, and she also has to learn not to (unknowingly) provoke you in a way that make a lesser person snap. She needs to accept your love and support but also not take over your life, and you can’t let her emotionally hurt you over and over again either.

  4. Soon-to-be ex-husband? Careful there! Hope they don’t have kids. Hope both of you can avoid him as much as possible. Hope you can help her stick up for herself in getting back her things/pets/whatever she might not have with her without getting in a fight with this guy.

Good luck to you both and just be prepared to take it very slowly emotionally/physically if she wants to. Also - progress isn’t always linear. Expect some backsliding hours/days/weeks sometimes, but she can get to a healthy place.

Get her to go to her clergy. They may be able to work with her directly or refer her to someone, and the clergy’s consultations are most likely included with membership.

Do we know that she’s been acting like that, though? I couldn’t find anything in the OP that said that. It does say she asks the OP a lot if he really wants to be with her but that doesn’t really seem like something that could make someone snap.

It can be a real burden, though. It can put a serious strain on the relationship.

True. The reference to him not letting her emotionally hurt her again and again seemed to suggest she was doing something seriously manipulative/emotionally harmful, though…

And true, we don’t know that that’s the case. I sort of doubt that it is.

And if she doesn’t have “clergy”?

How old is she?

I’m not trying to stereotype here, at all. I have WAY more self confidence now in my 30s than I did in my 20s. I’m not a towering beacon of self-esteem now, but it was so much worse when I was younger.

See if your area has mental health clinics; they usually work on a sliding fee scale. If she’s married to an abuser, local women’s shelters may be a point of contact for assistance with therapy.

Do not let yourself be sucked down into a black hole of need. Help her learn confidence, but she must learn it. It can’t come from the outside.

Thanks for wanting to help her.

Start with small little things that can engender confidence at those specific tasks. Being able to excel at a task can be a good boost – maybe your friend knows how to throw down at music, or reading complicated books, or run 15 miles, or bake a killer cake, or fill a bong properly.

I saw Xanax above – I think of that as a useful tool if you want to expand the range of activities you can perform while remaining relaxed, with the goal of performing those tasks unaided, but I don’t know that it really resolves the confidence issue. IMHO and experience – doing more and more regularly will build confidence in situations. I wouldn’t bother with Xanax unless anxiety is cutting short the things one can achieve, and it can build confidence by repetition and familiarity with formerly “strange” or upsetting situations. Not indicated for long-term use, I believe, but responsible use can and does help many. I’d hazard that it’s not really the thing for building confidence, though – one could become psychologically dependent on “needing a little something to do this,” like an alcoholic having a few liters of wine in the morning to get ready for a grinding day.

That, or your friend could imagine he or she is a supercool fictional object – Steve McQueen in some role, or Ripley from Aliens.


I’m sure she’s nice and all, but she sounds like a mess. Unless there is maybe a “need to feel needed” component to all this.

No, he didn’t say that. It’s from what I’ve seen and heard in friends’/family’s relationships. Sometimes someone who has been a victim for a long time - even if it’s not their fault at all - might adopt that as their identity a little bit, and lash out at people who care about them. It’s possible she’s never done this, and that’d be great. If she does, though, even somebody who wants to help might not be helping much by taking it. Again - hope that’s never happened to them.

First of all, thank everyone for their advice, it’s greatly appreciated. There’s a lot to respond to, so this will be a long post, bear with me.

SpoilerVirgin, thank you for the book suggestions and the links. Out of the two you mentioned, which one would you suggest the most? No nearby library has them, and I’m a bit strapped for cash, so I can only get one.

No kids. She wanted them, but it never happened. Avoiding him should be easy, as we’re both in GA and he’s 4 hours away in another state. They’ve been seperated for a couple of years now. The only reason they’re not divorced is he won’t pay for it, and she can’t afford to right now.

Freudian Slit, you’re right, there’s no evidence of what Tress is talking about in #1, but she’s right to warn me. I have seen it happen in other relationships, and it’s nice to be reminded of it.

Good question. Luckily in this case, she does have clergy. Her preacher happens to be the husband of my cousin who set us up to begin with. I’ll see if she’s comfortable with going to him with some of her problems. I don’t normally think about clergy.

She’s 28.

Jaledin that’s excellent advice, especially the last bit. Maybe I could get her to picture herself as the hero in Halo. (Halo has heroes right? It’s one of her favorite games, but I’ve never played.)

This is a very good question. Part of it is my nature. I love to help people. Always have, probably always will. Part of it is I think she’s a wonderful person, who just needs someone to show her that. A big part of it is that I love her, plain and simple. If she changes and gains the self confidence I think she deserves, that’ll be fine. If she doesn’t and stays the person she is now, that’ll be fine too. I’ll be there either way.

Once again, thank you all for the help. I appreciate it very much, and it’s stuff like this that keeps me coming back to this board. (That and the threads that make me laugh until my sides hurt.)

Can’t help you re Halo – don’t know the game. A cognitive behavioral technique is to imagine maybe a dozen scenarios with the subject as the main actor, all of them different, and all of them spinning off the theme of somehow handling an issue that causes anxiety IRL. Again, I know it’s not anxiety that’s her problem (maybe), but seems like it could work for confidence.

Things that give me confidence are simple things – dressing in a way that makes me feel externally the way I want to feel inside, speaking well, knowing that I can do things very few other people can do in the larger community, and, strange as it sounds, walking like I’m someone worth taking up space on the sidewalk – no slouching/shuffling around. Not necessarily ramrod-straight military, but just an outgrowth of the attitude that “Hey, I’m walking here, don’t even think about fucking with me.” Maybe that’s a tad aggro, but it’s kind of part of the idea.

I wouldn’t give up a good relationship just because she has normal, regular insecurities that most people have. She can grow and develop even if she is old (kidding!), and being a good friend and having other good friends can be a wonderful thing to put under your hat if ever feelings of low self-worth crop up.

Maybe she’s a bit clinically depressed? If her GP is the sort who spends time and talks to his or her patients, that could be worth exploring – my internist still treats my anxiety, as well as keeping my fleshy bits in order when they need tending to. There could be something going on neurochemically that might be worth exploring with some professional help.

Wait, you think 28 is “old” and you don’t know what Halo is? WTF dude.

OP, it sounds like you’re doing a lot of things right already. Just love her, make her feel special.
These thinks sink in after awhile.

The only other suggestion I made add, is finding a hobby that she (or the two of you together) might enjoy. Like cooking or something. I always get an ego boost out of creating something that another person enjoys.

Good Luck. I wish you a happy romance.