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What Are the Best Presents for People With Low Self-Esteem?

by Anneli RufusDecember 15, 2017
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Here are some strategies for picking gifts that not only are relatively trigger-free, but also possess healing powers which might outlast the gifts themselves.

I've always been one of those "You're impossible to shop for!" types. Now I know why.

Low self-esteem landmines the gift-exchange experience, as it does nearly everything, implanting it with triggers poised to sting us, stun us and turn pleasure into pain.

Here are some strategies for picking gifts that not only are relatively trigger-free, but also possess healing powers which might outlast the gifts themselves.

Give us gifts that reflect, reveal and honor our true selves. This screams "no-brainer," but self-hatred is an identity crisis. Somewhere back there, we were told that we were ugly, crazy, sneaky, sloppy, stupid or otherwise bad, and — being too young, inexperienced or terrified to debate or disprove such claims to our accusers or ourselves — we froze into the toxic rictus of uncertainty.

So we cannot see ourselves. But you can see us.

You need not be telepathic nor have known us long nor even love us, but you see what we cannot. Through the spiked steel gates of our self-denial, you have spied glimmers of fleeting, fragile joy which you noticed even as we did not. Think back. When have you seen us serene, confident, enchanted or engaged? Which persons, places, activities, qualities — even which color, flavor, tune or word — made us that way? When — even momentarily, or maybe magically — did we seem lifted from our customary blankness, bleakness and/or desperation to appear okay?

The seashell wind chime or pepper plant you give us can reconnect us with whomever we were before we started believing we were bad. They make us say: Oh yes! I was that little one who loved gardens. Or bright red. Or the sea. That haiku volume or rose quartz remind us of yet more.

Give us gifts that activate our skills. We tend to believe — or at least say — we're bad at everything. Were we even to dare suspect that we have untapped talents,  were we ever to half-wish that we could try our hands at sketching, say, or sprinting, fear and shame and anhedonia would keep us from testing these guesses, much less embrace or expand them.

Again, you can help.  

You know what we are good at, even if we don't. Your gifts assert what we will not admit. The learn French cards or watercolor set you give us whisper: C'mon! Try it! Kits, tools, sporting goods and instruments which we would never buy ourselves: Your giving them to us makes using them feel like we're doing it for you, which through our admittedly twisted lens feels more permitted and legit — at least, at first — than doing it for us. But once we start, we kindle long-neglected wicks.
We who hate ourselves require coaxing, confirmation, reassurance, validation, evidence — about our talents, about everything— from outside sources such as you because we cannot find such faith within. We wish we could, because that would be easier than awaiting applause. And it would hurt less than believing ourselves talentless, thus depriving the world — and ourselves — of whatever wonders our skills might produce.

Consider comfort-gifts. Self-hatred manifests as self-denial and self-punishment, which keeps us from giving ourselves those soft, sweet, warm, cute, fuzzy treats that ordinary people take for granted. Socks, scarves, slippers, blankets, better-than-dollar-store underwear. Cans of nuts, candies, cocoa, coffee, tea. This might be your easiest bet.

Make your gifts for us neither too large nor too small. Give us anything fancy, costly, huge, extreme — and this will backfire big time as we wallow in an imagined undeserving state, certain that you bestowed this grandiosity on us by accident and/or under false pretenses — mistaking us for someone better, someone else — or as part of some secret and sinister plan. Rather than simply accepting your generosity, we will berate ourselves for having tricked you into this or for having been tricked by you, for entering a competition we are sure to lose.

But give us something obviously slight and we will take it as a (100 percent valid) sign of disrespect, a gift that broadcasts how little you care.

Finding the perfect gift means asking yourself: What's the ludicrously worst thing anyone could mis-assume about this present, then working from there.

Finding the perfect gift means telling us, without saying a word: Yes, you deserve this gift, which mirrors what is good about you. It is your reward.

Get it right, and your gift awakens sleeping beauties. Get it right, and you will help us find the most important things we've ever lost.


Anneli Rufus’ latest work, Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself, was released by Tarcher Penguin in May 2014 and continues this path, addressing self-esteem.


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