Self-Esteem: It Affects Friendships

GoodTherapy | Self-Esteem: It Affects FriendshipsIf you’ve ever been lucky enough to spend time with a pair of friends who both enjoy a healthy self-esteem, you’ve noticed how positive their relationship tends to be.

High-self-esteem friendships have the following qualities:

  • The relationship is based on mutual affection and respect.
  • Competition is low and support is high.
  • Interactions are positive more often than negative.
  • Disagreements don’t put the friendship in jeopardy.
  • Apologies are heartfelt on both sides.

High self-esteem always includes esteem for others, too. Unlike arrogance, conceit, egotism, or self-centeredness, which are sometimes mistaken for high self-esteem, authentic self-esteem celebrates our shared humanity. People with genuine self-esteem make those around them feel good.

Since it promotes connection and closeness between friends, high self-esteem friendships are nurturing. The bond of self- and other-esteem makes both friends feel safe and comfortable.

Unfortunately, safe and comfortable is not how people feel when their self-esteem is injured. In fact, those with low self-esteem typically operate on a perpetual setting of unsafe and uncomfortable. You might think this would mean that they would leap at the chance to be friends with people with high self-esteem, because the high self-esteemers could help them feel safe and comfortable for a change.

This is not what happens.

What happens is that people become friends with those whose self-esteem most closely matches their own. So folks suffering with low self-esteem tend to attract others with the same problem. Similarly, like that old saying, “The rich get richer,” people with high self-esteem stick together. Here are these lucky people who already enjoy the pleasures of high self-esteem, and they get to have nurturing, satisfying, close relationships with their friends.

Meanwhile, those whose self-esteem has them constantly questioning their own worth, feeling unsafe and uncomfortable in relationships, stick to what is familiar by having friendships in which they can never feel truly safe and comfortable. By safe, I’m talking mostly about psychological safety rather than physical safety. But regardless of the kind of safety, we all seek familiarity. If we grew up feeling unsafe and uncomfortable, we’d keep getting drawn into situations that help us stay with what we know—in this case, lack of safety and comfort.

If this sounds at all familiar to you, here are some tips to help you break the cycle of unfulfilling friendships and low self-esteem:

Try not to take disagreements personally. If your friend doesn’t agree with you, or has a strong opinion that’s different from yours, it doesn’t mean you’re wrong, or even that he/she believes you’re wrong. It’s just as likely that your friend is worried that he’s/she’s wrong, and his/her strong language is just a mask to hide that fact. Refuse to feel smaller than your friend. Try not to be too sensitive to what he/she says.

Take the risk of losing the friendship if necessary. When you are continually stood up, ridiculed, or criticized, take the risk of letting your friend know how you feel, and why. If they value the relationship enough to change how they treat you, you’ll have improved your friendship. If they don’t have enough respect for themselves or you to respond appropriately, you will not have lost anything when you walk away.

Do not put up with verbal abuse. Create a boundary that is fixed, firm, and final, and share that boundary. For instance: “If you make a remark about my body one more time, I’m going home.” Be prepared to have your boundary tested, because it will be. Make sure you follow through with exactly what you said you would do, 100% of the time. If you don’t follow through, you must accept some responsibility for the treatment you continue to receive.

Realize that having a friend is not always better than having no friends. The best friend you have, or should have, is you. Yes, it’s a cliche: Be your own best friend. But like all cliches, it’s based on something true: as long as you’re there for yourself, you’re never alone. Having a friend who brings you down instead of building you up is more harmful than having no friends for a while.

Explore the possibility of sharing more of yourself. Sometimes our relationships are psychologically safer than we realize. That is, with some friends it might actually be okay to let our guard down a bit, and share your more intimate, vulnerable sides.

  • If you normally listen rather than talk, try talking about how you feel to a friend with whom you feel comfortable.
  • If you normally talk about, but don’t typically show, your emotions, try showing them.
  • Allow your tears to come if they want to.
  • Don’t stop talking when your voice shakes.
  • Let a friend see you sweat when you’re nervous.
  • Notice when you’re not being yourself around your friend.

You are normal. You are okay. You’re interesting and valuable exactly as you are. There is nothing wrong with you. Look to your friendships to help convince you of these things. Lose or change those friendships that don’t.

© Copyright 2011 by By Tina Gilbertson, MA, LPC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Isabel

    March 23rd, 2011 at 11:26 AM

    I make it a point to stick around with friends who really make me feel good about the friendship and those that encourage me, not somebody who would be negative and try to drag me down with them too. I would not become friends with such a person in the first place. And I don’t think this is my selfishness. I just don’t want somebody else’s negative energy pulling me down…Nobody would,right?

  • sean bradman

    March 23rd, 2011 at 7:07 PM

    the thing about how we tend to attract others just like us couldn’t be more true…have seen this happen all the time with me and with others.and the important thing to note here is that this habit is actually developed very early in one’s life,now that I reflect back to my junior years.

    and I think we should do more studies about this because it may in turn affect our business and work relationships that have become so important.could your level of self esteem actually make or break a deal?

  • Georgia

    March 24th, 2011 at 4:36 AM

    I have always gravitated I guess toward people like me who have lower self esteems, and you are right that we will all feed off of each other. If one of us is having a bad hair day then the rest of us look even worse. Or at least we do to hear us tell the tale! Sometimes those kinds of relationships can wear pretty thin and you have to think about extricating yourself from them if there is any hope of making any self improvements of your own.

  • Im Dime

    March 24th, 2011 at 11:37 AM

    How a person feels about himself often dictates how he treats and behaves with others around him.I’ve seen this happen with others as well as with myself.And this further leads to the kind of friendships we have and with what people.So yes self esteem does play an important role in friendships.

  • PO

    March 24th, 2011 at 11:51 PM

    The relationship we have with ourselves will always have an effect on our relationship with others…And making friends does not happen by planning…We become close to certain people after we know a little about them and I certainly believe we do tend to group and become friends with others who are like us…And that is exactly why friends get along well and a certain group could be said to fit a particular profile…

  • Inez

    March 25th, 2011 at 4:46 AM

    your friends should be your support system but that does not mean that they should have to be there to prop you up all the time. if that is the case you better watch out because there will be some who will tire of that very quickly.

  • Sandra

    March 25th, 2011 at 2:45 PM

    People who aren’t confident in themselves are always filled with ifs and buts when trying to make friends. Not everyone is incredibly touchy, and even though everyone has probably one thing you can say to them that will greatly offend them, it’s usually something very major.

  • Simone

    March 25th, 2011 at 3:33 PM

    I hardly got involved in anything my friends did because I felt I would just hold them back. I stayed friends with them all through high school but I feel like I missed out on a lot.

  • Tina Gilbertson

    March 26th, 2011 at 10:46 AM

    It can feel risky to “burden” our friends with our needs, preferences, or opinions. But if we don’t share our true selves with friends, our friendships feel shallow and temporary.

    The solution is to take the scary risk of being a little more real with our most trusted friend(s). Just a baby step in that direction can nudge a relationship into a pleasing new groove.

  • Carly

    March 26th, 2011 at 3:28 PM

    @Simone, I know a girl like you. You try to involve them but you can’t, because they’re just not confident enough. Anyone got any ideas on how to involve them? What would have made you change your mind Simone?

  • Savannah

    March 27th, 2011 at 10:25 AM

    Self esteem and confidence is something you don’t learn in school. The benefits of it are awesome, yet nobody teaches it. Why? It would really help if everyone was a go-getter and schools included it in their curriculum.

  • Jess

    March 27th, 2011 at 3:41 PM

    I knew a guy who was always adamant he was right about everything and took any disagreement as an attack. Not an insult, not something to think about, an outright attack. He has issues. He used to be a good friend but I don’t even talk to him anymore. Who needs that?

  • Kevin

    March 27th, 2011 at 4:17 PM

    Friends that make fun of you outside of light jest are not friends. You need to tell them when they are offending you however because they may not realize. I just recently learned that a small joke I played on a friend of mine ticked her off and I was the one out of the loop on that. I felt really bad and apologized.

  • ryan

    March 28th, 2011 at 2:02 PM

    “I’m going home.” Doesn’t work in my experience. You need to look at them and make an audible cough and not say anything. That has a much stronger impact and it causes a moment of awkward silence directed at them. Sometimes silence says more than anything else can.

  • Tina Gilbertson

    April 8th, 2011 at 11:51 AM

    Ryan makes an excellent point. When someone says something inappropriate, sometimes the most effective response is silence – a lack of engagement with what they said.

    This leaves their input where it belongs: with them, not with you. They said it, and they own it. The silence helps them “hear” what they said.

    Thanks, Ryan!

  • kaur kaur

    February 4th, 2013 at 4:01 AM

    If you know yourself you will be aware of why you behave in a certain way. If you see yourself in a positive way it is healthy and your life experience will be more positive and healthy. If you have bad self-concept you can behave in a negative way, which means people may treat you badly and it is bad for yourself-esteem. For example- If somebody call you stupid you can feel unhappy or sad, which will negatively affect their self-concept.

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