Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

When You Love a Man With Low Self-Esteem – 9 Things to Keep in Mind (by Paul Graves)

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When You Love a Man With Low Self-Esteem

So you love a guy with low self-esteem. Sucks to be you. I’m saying that as a dude who used to hate himself. Who still kind of does. I know the crap you deal with. He must drive you nuts.

I was in a relationship with an angel, let’s call her Mary. Mary was such a pure, beautiful soul. We connected. Looking into her eyes filled me with comfort and calmed my fears. Mary loved me so much, and I loved her too. But I hated myself even more. Long story short – I ran away from her love. The love I felt unworthy of. I sought validation and distraction in women, alcohol and career moves. And in many other dark ways I won’t mention.

Low self-esteem is easy to explain yet hard to understand for some. It’s feeling shameful about who you are. Feeling guilty or embarrassed about who you are, deep in your core. You feel ‘different’. Damaged or flawed in fundamental, irreversible ways. You don’t love yourself. Your man may never admit it outright – but he wishes he were someone else.

Alas, there’s no return policy in life. We’re stuck in this skin forever, and the hate, the self-pity – it gets us nowhere. But here’s the rub:

When a man is dealing with low self-esteem, he’ll make mistakes. Big mistakes. My shame and low self-esteem led me to become reckless. I felt a constant, nearly unbearable background anxiety. I had to make myself feel different. I had to escape. Luckily, there were several reliable methods: nonstop partying, irresponsible sex, starting businesses, spending lots of money, exotic traveling. My worst nightmare was being alone, in a quiet room. I couldn’t stand my own company. Maybe your man feels the same way, I pray he doesn’t. But my feelings aren’t unique.

The mistakes I made led to more shame and guilt. And then more mistakes made running away from those feelings. The cycle continues. This leads to what I like to call the 9th dimension of shame. The hole can get so deep. The spiral of pain seems unstoppable.

Your man’s low self-esteem can manifest in a variety of ways. Every guy will act out in his own way. Some pull back and hide, some flee and seek experiences. Others party and rage, or try to prove themselves at work.  It’s troublesome for both the sufferer and the poor individual who loves them so much. Low self-esteem is tricky; the sufferer can distract himself or run away from it for years. He may not even realize that the darkness he feels is low self-esteem. And it’s f*cking heartbreaking.

If you love him, he will need you to get through it. You may be able to show him the light. Don’t give up on him, he needs you. Many times it will be confusing, and he may hurt you without wanting to. (Trust me, he doesn’t want to hurt you. He hurts enough just being himself.)

Here are some important things to remember: a cheat sheet to get you through tough times. And maybe to help him see the truth of his ways.

  1.  He loves you so much, but hates himself even more.

    He’s lost. You two may have such an obvious, beautiful opportunity for love but he squanders it. He only sees his own shortcomings. His pain and depression is like a dark, heavy, thick blanket that he just can’t shake. But like I said above, he may not even realize it. He’s not trying to mess with your head. He’s not unreachable. However he is in a state of constant anxiety, always wishing he could be someone HE loves. If you say ‘I love you’, he probably thinks: ‘Why would you? You can’t. You’re wrong’.

    He yearns to love himself, and the struggle to do that can ruin your relationship. This should be a good thing, right? Not all men act out this feeling in healthy ways. It will be hard but think about their perspective. If they don’t love themselves maybe you can do something to help them. If you love him, do what you can to help his HEART. Buy him books on spirituality, ask him how he feels about himself. Listen, and if required seek the help of a licensed therapist or psychologist.

    A book I recommend is No More Mr. Nice Guy by Dr. Robert Glover. It was a wake-up call, and helped launch my wild journey of transformation. Don’t let the title fool you, it’s a book about shame, self-worth and learning to accept yourself. It’s a powerful starting point, buy it now.

  2. He may seek attention outside the relationship, or activities without you.

    This was a huge factor in my relationship ending. My low self-esteem led me to crave attention from other potential partners. I was addicted to approval and validation from other women.

    Maybe he likes attention from others, flirtation and come-hither looks. I hope you haven’t caught him on dating sites or apps. That was another thing I would do – I craved the attention so much. Maybe he also yearns for people to tell him how cool he is, how great he dresses, or what a sweet job he has. Point is, he’s just crazy for attention.

    He seeks attention and approval from other people – but what about you? Self-esteem is a real b*tch. He thinks that he has to either prove to himself that he’s worthy, or look for evidence of it anywhere he can. ‘If other people tell me I’m great, then that must mean I’m great.’

    It may be common sense to you – that we should all love and respect ourselves as human beings. But to a sufferer of low self-esteem, this isn’t the case. Having low self-esteem is like being in a courtroom. And you’re guilty until proven innocent. He’s shameful at the core of his being. His soul appears blackened, damaged and irreparable. He craves escapes from reality.

    Try to talk with him about this. ‘I think you act like this because you like how it makes you feel, right? Why do you need to feel this way?  Can’t you just be yourself, how you feel now?’ ‘Why aren’t I enough?’ ‘Do you need help learning to love yourself?’

    If your man can’t handle this conversation, consider moving on. He’s not ready. It must be him who makes the changes necessary to heal. It is NEVER on your shoulders to do this for him.

  3. He believes he must have ‘got lucky’. He feels unworthy of you.

    At first he cherished you. You were his prize. He held you close, showed you off to the world. It was intoxicating and intense. But soon, he knew he ‘had you’ and started looking around. The high that you and the new relationship gave him faded. The drug wore off, so he’s seeking fresh supply. He needs more intense intoxicating experiences to feel okay about himself.

    I had an amazing partner in Mary, but I didn’t believe I was worthy. She could see the man I was, beyond the shit-storm that was my life. She saw through my shame and self-hatred but I couldn’t buy it. I was too deep in my own trance.

    I thought I’d got lucky, that I’d fooled her somehow. So I needed to prove that I could be worthy of someone amazing. Does that sound stupid or what? I wanted to be able to ‘earn someone’ who everyone else wanted, to prove to myself that I was a valuable man. Then I could love myself.

    Remember that this isn’t about you – this is about a hole he has in his heart. He needs to know that he didn’t just ‘get lucky’ when he landed you. Don’t let him feel that way! Please, tell him you love him. Tell him everything you think is unique and enticing about him. Don’t make it only about appearance either. If he feels like he fooled you, he will not treat the relationship with the respect. This is an important point.

  4. He may be restless, or always trying to prove something to the world or himself.

    Some call it ‘hustle’ or ambition. Maybe he has grand ideas or entrepreneurial zeal up the wazoo. He wants to create something that will change the world. That’s wonderful, but in his case it may be a cover-up: a distraction from voices in his head. The voices that say, ‘you’re not enough’. He’s trying to create a life that will prove his worth.

    He doesn’t want a life without you. His big dreams or grandiose desires get him out of his head. They give him hope that maybe one day, just maybe he will be able to like the man he is. After he does all this awesome stuff.

    There is nothing wrong with drive and initiative. But why is he so driven? Why does he desire so much?  If we bothered to ask ourselves ‘why’ we want the things we do, we could save ourselves much heartbreak. We’d stop running after so many shiny red balls. We could live with more purpose. Your man should ask himself why he wants to accomplish so much.

    To bring him down to earth, remind him how much life there is to live right now, in this moment. This moment, between the two of you. Kiss his lips, hold his head in your hands. Tousle that hair and look deep into those eyes you love so much. Say, ‘I love you for exactly who you are, right now’. Tell him he is enough.

    The point isn’t to make him an aimless, lazy ass. It’s to make sure he has his motivation and priorities in the right place.

  5. He can be extremely jealous or insecure about other men.

    My ex, Mary, had to think that I was perfect and wonderful at all times. She was my entire support system, and my source of confidence and security. She was my everything. (And yet I treated her awfully – aren’t men the greatest?)

    If I felt threatened or not #1 importance in her life, I would start to lose my sh*t. The low self-esteem inside your man creates an enormous hole. He filled it with you, and sprinkles in other things like vices and attention from others. When you threaten to leave them empty again they go crazy or become irrational.

    He doesn’t want you to suffer. Nor does he want to dominate you. He doesn’t know why he feels this way, but it’s because he hates who he is. In effect it’s self-defense, your actions hurt him. It’s painful enough just being who he is – when you threaten to make him feel even worse about himself … he lashes out or gets uncomfortable.

    Nothing about this is okay. I’m only telling it like it is.

  6. It can be near impossible to get him living ‘in the moment’.

    Many guys with low self-esteem are living in the past. He may be guilt-ridden and woeful over opportunities he failed to seize. Maybe he regrets not doing better in school, or choosing a better college. He might feel like a failure and disappointment to his family. Who knows, the point is he rides himself down all the time.

    Alternately, he’s living in the future. He dreams of a day when he can ‘be happy’. You may feel sad because it seems all he cares about is making lots of money, accomplishments or fame. Or making his family proud. He may seem to leave you out of his utopian vision of the future. But he probably just feels he’ll only worthy of you once he conquers the world. He feels he’s unworthy of happiness until he proves himself. These thoughts consume him and he’s desperate for that sweet moment of relief when he’s ‘made it’.  Problem: it’s never coming.

    You love him exactly as he is, right? Tell him that right now.

  7. True commitment scares the sh*t out of him – but not for the reason you think.

    In my relationship, I was afraid because I didn’t know who the hell I was. The only parts of myself I knew were sh*t. I didn’t feel like a good person, so who would want to be with me? I convinced myself that I was helping by not giving her marriage or children. By not giving her 100% true commitment I was doing her a favor.

    I didn’t believe in myself. I had no faith in my own goodness or potential. I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle the hard times that would come.  My feelings were ‘everything I touch turns to sh*t, so why would I waste her time? It’s doomed from the start, and I do not want to hurt her’.

    No advice here, no matter what he’s going to give you the ‘deer in the headlights’ look. Knowing this may help you understand the complexity of a man. He needs to learn to love himself through the hard times before he can love you through the hard times.

  8. He may enjoy seeing you in pain or suffering for the relationship.

    Sick, huh? Hate me if you want, I don’t care. I come in truth. This is a tough one to talk about. Self-esteem can get so low that a man gets validation from seeing his partner suffer. Seeing a person go through hell for us, feel pain caused by us – can actually give us pride.

    It’s a dose of the ‘I’m worthy’ drug … ‘Look at how this person goes crazy for me, I must be worthy’.

    Enough said, it’s time to leave the relationship. Hurt never justifies hurt.

  9. He adores you – but he needs to learn how to love himself.

    Your guy has to learn to love himself. This includes all the deepest and darkest parts too, the parts that scare him to death. The unfaced and unfelt parts of our psyche are the source of all neurosis and suffering. Carl Jung said that, not me.

    If he only loves a certain part of himself like his looks, the rest of him will just go on undeveloped. In many ways I was like a child before. I avoided pain or sacrifice every chance I could, and I turned into a big man-child. If this is happening to your man, you must stop it right away.

In the end, you can get over this together. The bond between you will be unbreakable, and he will love you forever. He’ll never forget that you were the girl who helped him discover the greatest love in the universe. His love for himself. Stick in there, but develop a plan right away. Not only is he suffering, you are as well. Take action now. If he refuses to draw a line in the sand and change his life, it may be time to walk away.


About the Author: Paul Graves

Paul Graves writes about pain, shame, and better living through self-acceptance at TakeTheLemons.com. He lives in Ohio with his 7-year old daughter and two cats. 

Paul is on Twitter and Instagram.

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101 Comments

Jenny

Paul ,
In reading your article I felt like I was reading about my life. You give me hope that we will get through this but I it is hard on me sometime. He gets mad when I tell him I love him- he says he does not think he will love again. I don’t want to give up – I love this man with all my heart . Is there hope?

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Zac

This is so passionately written. Very moving, eye opening, and great advise to begin moving forward with my partner. Thank you Paul.

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Mercy

I am so happy I found this article. My ex managed to push me completely away, despite our connection and love. This details his behavior to a T. Thanks for making things clear. I can move on now.

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Tim

I came across this looking for help for me an my wife.
I shared this with her and she was able to see herself. Thank you for writing and sharing this article. We are working together and in my case she has drawn a line in the sand to change her life.

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Mary

This sounds so much like my husband. I love him very very much. My worry is he keeps pushing me away and others hurt. I don’t want to leave him, but I’m not sure he will change his ways for me. How do I get him to understand how much I love him.

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Michele

My husband will rub his lips while talking to another woman (in my presence). He’s an attractive man (he looks like Morris Chestnut) and I (look like J-Lo) am an attractive woman. He loves engaging woman in a conversation (in front of me) while he smiles and laughs with them. That concerns me deeply because Im thinking if he does that in front of me how does he acts at work? I have never flirted with any man in front of him. In fact, I go out of my way to dodge men. I just don’t understand why I can’t get the same respect in return. I love him dearly and have talked to him about it and yet he denies it. He says Im making more out of it that what it is. The only way I can get him to feel how I feel (so he can stop doing it) is to flirt with men in front of him. If I were to do it, he would not like it because I get a lot of unwanted attention as it is. What should I do?

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Alichia

Paul, Thank you for your transparency. This is not an area people are willing to expose about themselves. Thanks to your article, I understand so much about what I’ve been experiencing in my realtionship. My ex-guy has all these issues and has been trying to put them on me as my issues. But I understand now and can forgive and pray for him.

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DowninOH

I too am going through this with my husband of 10 years. He has moved out of our home and has an apartment at an unknown address. I have gone through extreme pain resulting in job loss, but also learning a lot about who I am, what I want, and gaining self esteem and personal strength. I am at the point of apathy, I have asked him several times to come home or let me go. At this point I am ready to walk away, live alone, and go on with my life. I think he enjoys seeing me in pain, and playing along with his games. I have decided to not entertain any crumbs he offers like awkward weekend visits, coffee and dinner dates, I’m so tired of it, I have to take care of me now. Thanks for your article, you’re a quite gifted and insightful young man.

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Aria

Dear Paul,

You have described my ex husband. It has taken me 14 years to move on and even then I still cannot fully. I tried for 7 years with him. He would tell me he didn’t want kids. I knew he was with other women and in the end he threw me out of the house. I never stopped loving him. However after this article I can accept and feel sadness on him throwing away our beautiful life.

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Jenny

Reading this article has given me the clarity I have been desperately seeking for the last 2 months. My boyfriend of only 6 months suddenly turned cold. After weeks of distance, crying-filled discussions and trying to make plans on how to work through, I realised how insecure he is. He told me that I love too intensely, and he could never match the love I gave him.
He sobbed in my arms for his pain, not for what he caused me. I realised he broke down when I complimented him, and told him how highly I thought of him. This was eye-opening for me.
We have been apart with no contact for 6 weeks now. I have spent this time working on how to win him back, but now I know that it is beyond me.
Thank you for showing me the way.

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danes

this is a great article… it is actually an eye-opener for me, me and my husband qre going though tough times at the moment because of this so called “self-esteem” issues..and it’s great that i came across your article, this would help me see things in a different perspective. thanks for writing this!

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nina

I literally nodded on almost every numbers. This guy whom I grow to love at have recently and one-sidedly decided to stop our relationship for what previously appeared to me as the most ridiculous reason: he hates himself and feel I don’t deserve to be with the awful person he is (which for me, he is a beautiful soul). He doesn’t want to hurt me and by stopping our relationship, he thinks he does the right thing. No matter how I reasoned with him and argued that this decision is the only thing that could hurt me instead, his stubbornness won. It’s unexpectedly difficult to penetrate his mind and get to that hurtful soul to offer help. I almost give up but reading this, I grew hope. I want to help him, and I realised I haven’t done a lot to make a final decision. Thank you for helping me understand his mind better. Bless you and your kind soul.

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Nicole

Hi Paul – this confession fits my relationship to a tee. I’ve always known and I know my guy is aware of his problem too. I just had a question from your point of you about “Mary” and your process after your relationship ended.

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LR

My partner and I left our spouses for each other 15 months ago. 3 months ago my partner sank into a depression and has been suffering from terrible guilt, self loathing and regret. I encouraged him to seek counselling to address these issues and to try and recover from the trauma of his separation. He also has long-standing issues with his parents he has to address. He has asked me for space to go through this process. He says he cannot give me what I need while he hates himself so much. He misses his kids so much and obviously I cannot replace them – it’s not my role anyway. Anyway, suffice to say I am devastated. We believed we were soul mates – I still believe we are. I am using this time to get my own therapy to address the breakdown of my own marriage and to work out whom I am too. I can only hope that my partner and I will be reunited again when the time is right. He used to say he wished he had met me before he got married. I told him recently I wished we hadn’t met yet! I hope we will get there…we were perfect when he was healthy. He admits to being broken now. I hope his counselling will help him see that it’s ok to leave an unhapoy marriage and that he can still have a great relationship with his children – and me!

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April

What do you do when a man’s insecurities turn into him being too controlling in the relationship? What are some of the warning signs?

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Karen Young

When you feel as though you have less freedom to decide what you do, who you spend time with, when you feel as though your feelings or opinions are shut down, when you feel you are not free to disagree, or if he controls money and decides how much you can have or what you can spend it in – these are some of the signs that your relationship is becoming unhealthy.

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Anne

I think I loved a man like this. I couldn’t hold onto him no matter how much I told him I loved him, and what I loved about him. He kept changing his mind about “being in love”. In the end I had to walk away. I can’t help but wish he would come after me. It is one of the hardest things I have ever done and I miss him every day, but it was nothing but heartache.

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Anita

I have mixed emotions about this article. 1) I appreciate the insights but 2) it’s beyond disturbing. My ex was exactly like this. It was reading a chapter out of our past relationship playbook. I stayed with him at his lowest which was when he lost his job; was his cheerleader, made sacrifices, completely lost myself in trying to help him find himself. After reading your article, I felt nauseated and sick to stomach, but not in a negative way but in a way where someone slapped me and I finally woke up. Granted I’m still getting over him, but article but it in perspective for me. Makes me want to reconsider why I would even want to put myself in that type of predicament again.

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Jenny

I am living it now and wonder if we will survive. I am curious did you leave him or did he end it. Part of my biggest fear is staying in it for the long haul just for him to get better and then move on. I don’t want to be his transition crutch. I hope he loves me as much as I love him – but I don’t know. We have been together a year. How did you get through it?

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Charity

I appreciate this article because my fiance of 8 months broke up with me about a month ago. Every time I started mentioning something concrete about our upcoming wedding, he would become negative. It hurt me badly and when I mentioned any negative behavior that I didn’t like, he got angry, defensive, etc. threatening to break up with me and then he did even though he said that no one was leaving and that he’d always be there. He also became controlling. He also cried in my arms many times about his stuff. He did try to comfort me about some of the things I was going through with work etc. to his credit, but towards the end of our relationship, he drew farther and farther apart. He is a chronic worrier and it seemed to be worse with him sleeping for 12 hours a day and not feeling rested. I am concerned about his mental health. I’m also concerned that this isn’t the only guy I’ve dated that has so little self-esteem. This one I thought was different for a change because he seemed happy and for the most part positive during our first few months dating. But when he went to live with his aunt, the game changed and he became more and more sullen. I feel like he is codependent as well with his aunt. Why can’t there be some sort of training for people to go to who have low self-esteem so they don’t go around hurting other people.

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Dawn

I wish I could have read this much sooner. I’m afraid as I read this it, everything hits so close to home. I’m so heartbroken, wishing I could have reassured my husband more, encouraged him further or recognized these patterns of low self esteem or feelings of ineptness. You would never have known, he’s an amazing athlete, extremely handsome, successful and one of those people everyone likes. He’s commonly called “a saint” or ” the perfect guy.” ( I can see the pressure now) In the past month he’s revealed how much he hates himself, how ashamed he is and how he’s always known he was never going to be able to be good for me in his eyes or be able to give me what he knew I deserved. I also in this period of time have found out about his multiple affairs and this is something no one in our lives would believe to be true of him. No one. They would think I was pulling a prank. I’m uttertly shocked and he just decided not to come home from work one day. I know he believes he can never be forgiven and that he must absolutely get away from me immediately so he can stop hurting me any further. We’ve been together 14 years, and married 8-I’m so hurt and betrayed, but ultimately, I’m very concerned about him. I am searching for guidance on how to help him or how to navigate this black hole I find myself in. Thank you so much for your words. I’m ever so grateful to have stumbled across your site this evening.

Dawn-Cbus, OH

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Tallgirl

My heart goes out to you Dawn. The low self esteem is so damaging to ones life for sure. Reading your situation I could parallel the idea that no one would believe that he was unfaithful or you. ‘ He’s such a great guy.” Well from my experience…granted we were never married which is an entirely different ball game and I do not mean to step out of line, but from what he did to you….he isn’t a “good guy”. Personally after reflecting on my experience your husband is a narcissist just like my ex-boyfriend is. Good people don’t do those things and carry on almost secret lives from those they say they love. If I am out of line I apologize but like Charity above said….these people need help and should not be able to get away with hurting others the way they do. I felt my ex was suicidal…..he even told me so….but his tactic to keep me with him was cruel. Do I believe he is mentally unstable…most certainly, however, he has no intention to get help. The narcisist that he is believes he is fine and can deal with it. He is simply looking for a new girl to do everything for him, play victim and then mess her life up. If you don’t have children together I would recommend seeking help for yourself and rebuilding your life without him. The lies will continue with him. Lying is a way of life for them. Again, hope I didn’t step out of line but after almost 4 months with no contact I can see how toxic these people are. Worry about yourself now. You need to be your number one focus.

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Spier

Nice article but to clarify – this happens to all of us and not just Alfas or Betas. There are other type of people out there aswell..but as a victim of depression from past i can agree. Just because some men are more emotional than others does not make them problem. They just care above average..they know what it is like to be hurt and do not want to hurt someone who they pretty much worship most of times. This however often is confused and stereotypicaly called for not being straight..but it is definition of being normal. I guess God has funny way to teach us value of life.

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Nicole

Wow it’s like reading the pages straight from my journal. My bf of 8 years together 5 inclusive ended our relationship bcuz I caught him with using crystal meth and learned he has added infidelity to our lives surmounting the pile of issues where cheating had been the last thing I’d have suspected as this is not in his character. Although he has has rebound relationships over the years as the first couple were a pattern of on again off again. However before maybe naively I dismissed some signs that I now feel that potentionally I may have been able to make a difference in the outcome we now find ourselves in by getting him help for the mental health issues .. as i now believe it may have saved us from some of this hurt and horrific pain, anger, mistrust and the betrayal that these underlying problems created. I failed him miserably instead of being proactive I was dismissive attributing some of his quirkiness and oddities and feelings of worthlessness ,shame, self hatred and inadaquacy on his age and emotional immaturity due to the unresolved developmental milestones which had not been achieved because of an unhealthy childhood and mother/son enmeshment. Now it is far to late the damage is done and my own views and my own once highly confident and healthy sense of self has taken a nose dive into feelings of resentment hopelessness and depression. I love this man more than life.. Now all I fell is sad and pathetic.

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Sunny

Paul, Im so happy to of found this article. My boyfriend of 8 months fits most of the bill. I fell in love with him the moment we met; we are so much alike and feel like it is meant to be. He has so much to offer in this world and struggles to see that. We are both Aquarius’ and share a birthday and can relate to alot of his issues, but have found ways to address mine. I so very hope I can be the reason for him to pull out of his self doubt because he is worth it and so is our relationship!

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Raylene

I’m sitting here with a guy who I had a child with during one of his reckless rebounds (I didn’t know). He’s still in love with his ex and I see him. He has severe low self esteem and prides himself only on his looks and truck. This post hits the nail on the head. Your words are how I see him and what he’s going through. I love him so much but he is narccistic and loving someone else someone I’ll never be. I wish I could help him.

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