How do you love someone who doesn’t love themselves?

It can be absolutely devastating to watch someone self destruct. This can be through drugs, alcohol, an eating disorder, self harm or more subtly through constant self deprecating thoughts and language. I’m not talking about someone who doesn’t like the odd characteristic in themselves but someone embroiled in these behaviours who has a deep seated hatred of themselves.

It can absolutely rip your heart out when you know someone is doing themselves harm and the way out seems painfully obvious. 

If someone is taking drugs or drinking too much, if only they would stop…

If someone is ravaged by restricting and binge eating, if only they would eat regularly…


I’ve watched close friends make the same mistakes time after time and they turn to me in desperation. I know if only they could respect themselves, they could break their destructive cycles and they’d start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But they don’t believe they deserve respect from anyone, let alone themselves.

Watching someone in pain, at times can feel like you’re grieving. Where is the person? How do they not see themselves as you see them? Why are they in so much pain? It’s important to be honest about this grief. You have not lost them but if this is how it feels, be honest, at this moment, they may still be there in body but if their mind is not all there, they can feel missing.


I have been both the person watching on and the person being watched.

Until recently, I had no idea what it meant to even feel ok about myself. I feared that if I liked myself, I would be arrogant so I ran in the opposite direction and I hated myself. From a young teen I travelled through various self destructive behaviours always with an internal self loathing running commentary. I pushed everyone away at the same time as I cried out for their help. I would say I was incredibly hard to love.

There are no simple answers but here are a few of my thoughts.

Accept that, although the answer looks obvious to you, you are unlikely to be able to, nor is it your job to fix the person. Even if the person in pain is your son or daughter for whom you feel responsible, they are their own person, you can only advise and guide, you cannot fix. When I accept this, I find I have more space to do what I can do.

Consider what you are doing, good enough. Whatever you do, you will be showing love. People show and receive love in different ways, this may not be the time to have a deep conversation about exactly what’s right for them but if you show love through words, actions or gifts, keep going. Sometimes just being there is all that is needed or possible, just keep being there.


Make sure you get the support you need. Acknowledge that you are going through a tough time too. You might feel grief or anger, fear or shear desperation, no emotion is wrong. Give yourself some TLC or ask for it from others, there’s no point in your life veering off too!

It is likely that time after time someone in self-destruct mode will push you away, this can feel like a personal attack but try not to see it that way. Give them time and space (this will show them love) but do go back and let them know you’re still there for them.

As hard as it is, almost impossible at times, remember that the person you love is in there somewhere. No matter how hard they try to push you away, no matter how much they hate themselves, no matter how destructively they are behaving, they are the same person underneath.


People do not behave destructively for no reason, they are not deliberately trying to cause you pain. Most people in this position have not been shown the love or emotional care they need, for this they will need professional help. If at all possible, they need someone to remember who they are beyond the destructive behaviour and love them for who they are. You do not have to condone or even accept what they’re doing, just love the person underneath.

Healing can and does occur.

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