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Friend problem

OK, so I have this friend. He's smart, talented, good-looking, funny, witty, charming, and fun to hang around with and talk to. I like him. A lot.

Problem is, he has a serious self-esteem problem. Every time someone compliments him - and I do mean every single time - he cannot accept the compliment; instead, he blows off the complimenter with, "No I'm not, I'm fat, ugly and obviously untalented."

I find this very, very annoying, insulting, and, IMHO, extremely rude. I've talked to him about it before, but he continues to do it. Things got heated yesterday, and now he's unfriended me.

Now I realize I may have been more than a little blunt, but I can't honestly say I'm sorry for doing it. Who else to tell you you're being rude than your friends? But I understand he found my tone insulting, so I accept his decision.

However, I'm wondering if he understands, beyond what Miss Manners would say about accepting compliments, what, as Paul Harvey would say, "the rest of the story" is.

See, every time I see him dismiss a compliment, I see it feeding his low self-esteem, and that worries me. He really is smart, talented, good-looking, funny, witty, charming, and fun to hang around with and talk to. Unfortunately, he seems to have it in his head that he's fat, ugly, loathesome, untalented, miserable, and no one wants to be friends with him unless he makes himself into something he's not, because what he is is so horrible.

Furthermore, what he seems to think makes people like him is how thin he is, which has lead to dangerous eating behaviors - namely, crash starvation diets. He's done this more than once in the short time I've known him.

Needless to say, this worries me. I've gone so far as to tell him I feel he has an eating disorder, but even when I give him researched information on the subject, he finds ways to justify his behavior.

So we've got two things going on - an unhealthy obsession over being thin, and a refusal to accept people's praise, both of which are feeding his low self-esteem. Now of course if he reads this (which he may or may not do, but I hope he does), I'm sure he'll demure and say, "Oh, no, you've got it all wrong, I know I'm not that bad," but I'm not so sure if that's really how he feels about himself - his actions speak very clearly and loudly about how he feels about himself, and, as his friend, I continue to worry about him.

I just wish I could get him to really listen to himself, to hear the things his friends hear (and I'm certainly not the only one who hears it), and to really stop and understand what he's doing to himself.

Because unfriended or not, he's still my friend.


( 46 comments — Comment )
Jul. 15th, 2005 07:04 pm (UTC)
I have a friend who is like that, too, but not with an eating problem. She is constantly telling herself that she's not worth anything, that she's a lost cause, etc. And it's not true. But it's really hard to be her friend because her self esteem is so low, so we've definitely drifted apart in the past few months.
Jul. 15th, 2005 07:33 pm (UTC)
For the moment I don't find it hard to be his friend, but the constant self-beratement just frustrates me from time to time, and I'm not one to stand by and let bullshit slide. :)
Jul. 15th, 2005 07:11 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately, there is only so much you can do with someone who is not ready to look at themselves introspectively. It sounds like you pushed him beyond his comfort zone and he responded by breaking off contact rather than actually examining his actions. Unfortunately many people do this as a defense mechanism. However, take a hard look at your own motivations here - what it sounds like you are saying is that you cannot be friends with him without being judgmental about his hang ups. If that's really the case, then he may be somewhat justified in pushing you away, regardless of how accurate your observations are.
Jul. 15th, 2005 07:28 pm (UTC)
I love it when my friends help me talk through issues like this. :)

You have a good point, and I know he views these things as "hang ups" and not as serious issues. But I find it all so frustrating because his self-image is so skewed and untrue, and as his friend I care about his well-being. Furthermore a "hang up" that brings about a self-destructive eating disorder cannot, IMHO, be simply ignored.

Now, granted, if he's stubborn and continues down this self-destructive road and there's nothing I can do about it, then yes, the frustration of seeing him hurt himself may eventually force me to walk away and hope for the best, but I'm nowhere near that point; in the meantime, I plan on being a right bastard, because he needs a good slap across the face and Cher telling him to snap out of it. :)
Jul. 15th, 2005 07:12 pm (UTC)
Gee, wonder who that would be? [checks another LJ] Yep. Thought so. I just tried to stay out of that one. :)
Jul. 15th, 2005 07:29 pm (UTC)
Smart cricket. :P It all happened in a locked LJ entry in another person's LJ, so I don't know who can and can't see it.
[no subject] - jsciv - Jul. 15th, 2005 07:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
[no subject] - esprix - Jul. 15th, 2005 07:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 15th, 2005 07:25 pm (UTC)
I have a close friend who has this issue as well. The problem here is two-fold.

1. The person that has this issue absolutely hates being lied to in general. Far more than your average person, who can tolerate lies a little better. This little personality quirk will extend outward, and manifest whenever another person lies about objective facts, whether accidently or on purpose.

2. The person has, as a very closely held objective fact, a personal body image that is quite negative.

Combine these two, and you get a person who will have no problem jumping down your throat when you, the well meaning complimenter, say something positive about that person's image, which in the person's mind is an outrageous lie.

I hope that gives you a little bit of insight on what's happening in your friend's head. I've learned to always keep compliments directed to these kinds of individuals as pragmatic and objective as possible. Flatter at your own peril.
Jul. 15th, 2005 07:32 pm (UTC)
That's pretty much on the money, but I hate being called a lair when the compliment we give is sincere. It's not my issue that he thinks he's fat, ugly and untalented, it's his, and when I and quite a few other people sincerely compliment him on his talent or looks and he spits back at us and tells us, in essence, that we're wrong, well, gee, I find that insulting.

And don't think I don't understand - I was a music major and have performed probably hundreds of times in front of an audience, and I totally know every single flub I make in each of those, but when people say, "Wow, you were great!" it does no good to say, "Are you MAD? I was flat/late/off-tempo/missed my line/etc.!" Instead, as other professionals have told me, the acceptable response is always, "I'm glad you enjoyed the performance." It's polite, nice, and doesn't make you look like you're either being falsely modest or overly self-critical.
[no subject] - justplainbryan - Jul. 15th, 2005 07:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
[no subject] - esprix - Jul. 15th, 2005 07:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 15th, 2005 07:27 pm (UTC)
Ah, just saw your friends list...
I have an inkling about who your friend could be.
Jul. 15th, 2005 07:32 pm (UTC)
Re: Ah, just saw your friends list...
I'm sure most will.
Jul. 15th, 2005 07:39 pm (UTC)
Having been in his shoes, without the eating disorder, I can tell you that the tragic truth is that he probably won't hear you until he hits a dangerous low. (It's still hard for me to graciously accept a compliment, for example, though I can do it these days). He may have a problem with depression or another undiagnosed illness.

He needs counseling, and he needs someone to kick him in the butt. Unfortunately, until he's ready to change, he's going to resent the buttkicking. Even if it's offered in love.
Jul. 15th, 2005 07:46 pm (UTC)
Counseling, definitely, even if it's just for his self-image, but definitely because of his unhealthy body image and destructive relationship to food.

In the meantime, but butt-kicking will continue until morale improves. :) (And of course it's offered in love!)
[no subject] - sa_am - Jul. 15th, 2005 08:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
[no subject] - esprix - Jul. 15th, 2005 08:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 15th, 2005 08:14 pm (UTC)
Unless you're willing to stage an actual, physical intervention, there's only so much you can do. People can't be fixed from the outside, they have to be ready to fix themselves. And at a certain point, which you seem to have reached, trying to help just becomes counter-productive. You may have to let go - no matter how much you like him, if he's not able to be rational on the subject, there's no way you can make him.
Jul. 15th, 2005 08:16 pm (UTC)
*sigh* I know. It's just so frustrating.
[no subject] - jsciv - Jul. 15th, 2005 09:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
[no subject] - esprix - Jul. 15th, 2005 10:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 15th, 2005 08:20 pm (UTC)
If he's somone you deal with personally...

Get a foam boffer.
Label it "clue-bat"
Whack him whenever he dismisses a compliment.
Jul. 15th, 2005 10:08 pm (UTC)
Oh if only I could hang out with him more often! We'd have a blast. Unfortunately, for the moment it's just over LJ.
Jul. 15th, 2005 09:08 pm (UTC)
This is indeed a tough situation. I don't know this individual but he reminds me of... well me, except for the eating problem (though I have purposefully stopped grooming and healthful living as a form of debasement to punish myself on many occasion). So I understand him.

But then you know that. You've given me a lot of tough love advice and on occasion I've honestly been offended but then the anger fades and I am shocked you still seem to want to be friends with me after all. I know I'm frustrating to deal with an offend a lot of people without ever meaning to.

But back to your situation. I guess what I am saying is that I hope you friend's anger will subside. Self-esteem is this terrible boogeyman riding the backside. It's hard to escape the pattern, even when it is only reinforced with demanded ire and attention.

I know this may sound like the stupidest thing in the world, but if you think it would help him to talk to someone who understands where he is right now, I would be more than happy to say hello and listen to whatever he wants to talk about.
Jul. 15th, 2005 10:10 pm (UTC)
Honey, we're all assholes from time to time - friends get over it, and like you in spite of it. You've never given me a reason to not like you, bumps along the way notwithstanding.

In due time he'll stop being angry, but what I really want for him isn't to not be angry at me, but rather to realize he needs help to get better.

Hopefully he'll read this and drop you a line if needs to, but frankly he's still in denial so he wouldn't think he needs to talk to anyone about anything.

Now you know why I worry so.
Jul. 15th, 2005 09:50 pm (UTC)
I used to get so annoyed at college profs who always accepted any and all your ideas. It's one thing to be eternally open-minded, but I definitely welcome the times when people say, "You're wrong, I'm right. And that's just the way it is, deal with it."

I guess I'm just getting less patient as time goes by. On one hand, you have the folks who are falsely humble and just secretly want you to keep reassuring them that they are special by constantly putting themselves down, and then there are those who are just weak, lack self-confidence, and have no lifeforce.

A year ago, I would have been open-minded and reassured either of these people that they are worthy, and they may want to consider developing a better self-image through soul-searching.

But these days, I'm finding it less easy to refrain from saying, "You're wrong, I'm right. Get over yourself already."

As an etiquette question, yeah, it's rude. But when a compliment is met with "I'm fat, I'm ugly, I'm untalented," that's basically a variation of "Your compliment is wrong, My opinion is right, no thank you." Has the person on the receiving end of that compliment ever considered anyone else's feelings, especially whenever it was done in good faith?

This society functions on survival of the fittest right? So if these people truly have enough moxie to pull through it, they will. If they don't, then they should just perish and open the way for the next batch to come through.


That didn't sound as if it should have come from someone who plays with stuff animals all day.


Jul. 15th, 2005 10:17 pm (UTC)
We like you because you play with stuff animals, dear. :*

I don't doubt that there is some passive/aggressive "if I keep putting myself down they'll keep saying nice things about me" reverse psychology false modesty attention-getting subtext going on, but it's only a small fraction of the larger problem (while at the same time feeding it) - low self-esteem.

Now, if you met him in person you'd think, "Him? Low self-esteem? Come on..." because he's fun and bright and witty and funny and outgoing and all that, but, as I said before, his actions speak loudly and clearly about what's going on in his head and heart. I suppose it could be akin to a "functional alcoholic" - no one would know except those who can read between the lines. (Not that I'm an expert, but that's my opinion nonetheless.)

The point is, he IS worthy, and he CAN develop a better self-image through soul searching. And I guess because I call bullshit when I see it and he's not ready to face that, I'm the bad guy. That's ok - I can live with that, because I know what I'm doing is right. :)

And yes, dismissing someone's compliment, as I told him, is basically saying, "You're wrong, shut up, go away." After a while, it's annoying and insulting, IMHO.

(Thanks for replying!)
[no subject] - cd332 - Jul. 15th, 2005 10:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 15th, 2005 10:06 pm (UTC)
As it should be - it's polite. You can feel any way you like about yourself or your performance, and I totally understand not agreeing with people that it was "perfect" or "the best ever," but to dismiss others' opinions of you out of hand is just rude.
(Deleted comment)
[no subject] - esprix - Jul. 15th, 2005 10:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
[no subject] - esprix - Jul. 15th, 2005 10:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
[no subject] - justplainbryan - Jul. 15th, 2005 10:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 16th, 2005 01:02 am (UTC)
Well as has already been said, unless he wants to change he will resist other people's attempts to help him. When I feel rebuffed by a person's false modesty at my compliment I yield to the person who knows the most. So in this case I'd say something like, "That isn't my personal opinion but I don't want to argue with you. So you are right, you're fat." and continue with the conversation. If it shakes them up, so much the better. If it doesn't then they need much better help then I can provide. If they don't ask for my help I don't give it to them.
Jul. 16th, 2005 04:38 am (UTC)
So wise, Lars, so wise, but I simply cannot capitulate to something that is so obviously harmful to someone's health.
[no subject] - moonpuppy61 - Jul. 19th, 2005 04:14 am (UTC) - Expand
[no subject] - esprix - Jul. 19th, 2005 04:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
[no subject] - moonpuppy61 - Jul. 19th, 2005 08:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
[no subject] - esprix - Jul. 19th, 2005 09:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 16th, 2005 07:32 am (UTC)
Hmmm...if it weren't for the unfriending part, I would have sworn you were talking about me. And there's nothing you can say, or do to deprogram this person. He has to do it himself, or be influenced by something so powerful/important to him that he can't ignore or refute said influence.

By the by... I see you don't going our of your way to compliment me, or tell me how full of shit I am re. my self image probs, etc. It seems he suffers from the very same issues I do, so what makes him different from me? Let me guess...For all intents and purposes, and to anyone with common sense, wouldn't preceive this person to be fat, unattractive, etc, whereas I possibly have legitimate reason?

In any event...you can't deprogram him, so when you toss a compliment his way, and he rejects it, just let him. Something will happen at some pointto where he'll shake the self image woes. The best thing to be done is to not react to his dismissals. Don't be hurt, or take it personally...it's just how he's wired. Take it from someone who TRULY knows.
Jul. 18th, 2005 04:51 pm (UTC)
He's unhealthily thin, as in bordering on concentration camp victim. You've never been that thin, even when you were thinner than you are now.

And you have a handle on your issues, whereas he's in complete denial. Trust me, if I thought you were in any way endangering yourself, I'd be all up in your grill.
Jul. 17th, 2005 05:17 pm (UTC)
oh alan...i wish there was a way we could make them all listen. your friend probably thinks he needs to hear these compliments from a boyfriend, which is the wrong way to go about it. i know, because i've seen countless friends (most of them asian) who've gone down that road because they've felt unwanted, ugly...you name the adjective, we've felt it!

i don't think that even if he heard what he was saying, he would stop. the behaviour is so normal to him that it has become the normal thing to say, much like the way paris hilton says, "that's hot."

as to him unfriending you, he'll come around again. i had a friend unfriend me because i forgot to post a happy birthday sign, and i hadn't replied to his posts. totally my fault, but you're not at fault for him unfriending you. your friend has a lot of confidence issues to work through, and sadly, those are the most difficult things to work through.

Jul. 18th, 2005 04:54 pm (UTC)
He's not quite as bad as some gay boys I know, but I do sense a small amount of the "I MUST have a boyfriend NOW" in him, but that's normal (unfortunately).

I do wish he could hear himself. He's just so negative (which, of course, is what he wants). It's a shame, because the rest of us see how great he is, and I wish he could, too (and I'm sure he will, someday).

And yes, as my mother always says, "They get mad, they get glad." He'll come around and we'll be bantering away in LJ entries once again someday soon. :)
[no subject] - fernanb - Jul. 18th, 2005 05:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
[no subject] - esprix - Jul. 18th, 2005 06:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
[no subject] - fernanb - Jul. 18th, 2005 07:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
( 46 comments — Comment )

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