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06/30/2014 11:11 EDT | Updated 06/30/2014 11:59 EDT

Self-Esteem Boost? Let Others Help You, Study Finds

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Being open to positive remarks from friends and family, even during a rough patch, is important for self-esteem, according to researchers at Waterloo University and Wilfrid Laurier University.

The study, which involved 113 undergraduate students with a mean age of 20.3, indicates that self-esteem is in some way a choice, based on an affinity for the positive.

Overly negative views, they say, spark a chain reaction in which rejection from a lover or potential employer can be interpreted as trail markers along the path to worthlessness.

"People with low self-esteem want their loved ones to see them as they see themselves," says Professor Denise Marigold, from Renison University College at Waterloo and lead author of the study. "As such, they are often resistant to their friends' reminders of how positively they see them and reject what we call positive reframing-expressions of optimism and encouragement for bettering their situation."

Participants reported that consoling friends and colleagues with low self-esteem was exhausting and frustrating due to their friends' fundamental lack of desire for positive reframing.

The research team found that in consoling a friend with low self-esteem, empathy is often the best approach.

This extends to identifying their negative feelings about their predicament as appropriate.

"If your attempt to point out the silver lining is met with a sullen reminder of the prevailing dark cloud, you might do best to just acknowledge the dark cloud and sympathize," says Professor Marigold.

Additionally, participants reported that trying to cheer up a friend with one such dark side often made them feel worse about themselves, suggesting that low self-esteem is contagious.

Fortunately, there is good news, for if the somber study didn't have a sunny flipside, then self-esteem would be a rare commodity.

Being open to positive reframing and allowing friends and family to cheer you up can greatly enhance self-esteem.

The findings were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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