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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168 Comments

Anonymous

I married in 2006 and in 2008 I found out my husband was having affairs. He lost 4 jobs for sexual harassment and or getting busted having sexual acts with women inside the work place. We went to marriage counseling due to he stated they could help me. He got kicked out of marriage counciling by the second session. The psychiatrist basically told him if he was going to attend these sessions and continued to lie and manipulate. Then he did not need to continue forward he either wanted to fix the marriage or he didn’t. I continue going to marriage counseling alone for 9 and a 1/2 years. I grew a lot by it I was able to keep my sanity even though things got worse within my marriage. By 2010 I met 13 mistresses and his children he had with his mistresses. My husband and I never had children together he stopped touching me in 2008 stop communicating me completely and 2009 and became a complete stranger living in a separate room as we lived under the same roof. I did everything I possibly could sink of to save the marriage. In 2017 I decided I could not take and live this way anymore. I asked for a divorce which he filled out all the paperwork. I just turned the divorce paperwork in and paid for it. Of course I became the bed guy in the situation he became the victim. I struggle with that due to his lies have cause not only my family but his to have animosity towards one another which is sad. The even more sad part about this story is my ex still lives under my roof and we still have no communication and he still lives in another room as if we had never divorced. I feel that he may have some psychological issues with his sexual acts with many women. Whether it’s over the phone, computer or in person. I feel his lies and manipulating ways will catch up to him if he doesn’t seek help.

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Myself

At this point, you’re bringing this all on yourself. Why on earth would continue to live with him? It’s almost like you enjoy being hurt or victimized by him. I think you both have some psychological issues that need to be addressed. Your relationship goes beyond toxic and delves into plain old ridiculousness. You need to move on and try to enjoy what is left of your life. Time is passing you by, and you are wasting it.

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Erik

I can totally understand what Anonymous is going through. I’m a male trauma bonder. I do not loathe myself in the least, but I do see myself as inadequate and incomplete. In an attempt to complete myself, I bonded with a woman who matches the description in the article to a degree that is almost frightening. Or maybe I should say that I bonded myself with the confidant, competent, strong, kind, and trustworthy half of this woman that she builds up in order to compensate for the other half (which she herself calls “the sucking void”). Of course, you know which side I ended up getting REAL familiar with.

She is now my ex-wife, although to this day I would not hesitate to sacrifice my life for her if I had to. I will probably never be able to grasp the fact that the happiest moments of my life were shared with someone who can act at one time as if I am at least somewhat important to her, and then at other times does things to me that can only be explained as evidence that she holds me in utter and abject contempt, without even the least bit of concern for my dignity well-being.

Right now, my estimate is that she simply doesn’t care whether I live or die. I would actually prefer that she actively harm me, or physically beat me than to simply not care one way or another about me (and yes, I was once in a relationship with a different woman who beat me many times). At least if my ex were to beat me up it would show that she puts me in a different class of being than, say, a cockroach or a public toilet. I struggle to try to reconcile the two different realities of my experiences with her, but I can’t.

I know I have brought all this on myself, and I know that it’s up to be to get “unstuck”. But before I can do that, I have to try to arrive at an understanding of things that makes some sort of sense. Otherwise, I’ll have to go through life believing two contradictory things at the same time and not trusting my own ability to correctly perceive reality.

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Branden gray

this is me and I have been stuck in this pattern in my my realtiship and life for a while i didn’t realize it was my low Self-Esteem until now, until you described me in your article if you have any more books or advice i would be grateful

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Chris

Reading this hurt, a LOT! That is because this is me, feels like the writer has read my mind. I have been like this for as long as I can remember, ever since i was a severely overweight child and the bulling that resulted from it! I have always tried to hide the true seriousness of the self loathing and depression which hounds me, sometimes more successfully than others. I’m 33 now and have recently had the biggest wake up call of my life. My partner of 7 years has finally had enough of my selfish, inconsiderate ways and has called it a day! I have never felt so broken and low in all my days, and its so much worse when I can realize its entirely my own fault! I Do feel like a veil has been lifted from my eyes and i know now what I have to do to make myself better – seek help, which i am doing! The changes I have made in the last two weeks make me immensely proud of myself and fill me with optimism for the future, I know that i am going to be a better person and love myself for who I am, I am not going to stop fighting for this for as long as it takes, It just kills me to know how much I have hurt the one person who means the world to me and who’s support i need so much! I fear it is all too little and too late. I don’t think she ever really understood what i was going through, but i was so disconnected i couldn’t understand how she was feeling too. Please, please please, any one of you partners of those going through this, make them get help like i never did until I lost it all!

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Yvette

I am deeply in love with a man like this. He treats me very well. Always says that he’s lucky to have met me. And he dosent deserve me. We have a long distance relationship. After he leaves me.. after a few days he gets really low and negative. This time he found my daughter’s shirt in his drawer.. it’s a plain men’s t-shirt she sleeps in… He accusef me of sleeping around. I haven’t. He dosent think he’s worth waiting for.. but omg he is. Waiting has been so easy. Is there any way to reassure him? He’s barely talking to me. It’s torture.

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Danae S

I am in love with a man like this. About every 6-8 weeks in our year relationship, he pulls back and begins going on dating sites . 3-4 weeks later he pulls me back to him. I nearly dropped on the floor reading this. He would always explain to me the high he felt meeting someone new. We would get in a routine and boom he said he needed a break.
Thank you for this story. I feel so relieved to finally make sense of this.
I really wantt to help him build his self Worth but must admit I’m running out of energy to stick with him.

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Linda

ive been with a man in a Long Distance relationship for 3 years and I went though the same things and always saw that he was always super jealous of meaningless things like going to my girlfriends house to have a glass of wine. He really never went out,probably hiding behind social digital technology but he made me begin to do the same thing, not going out to show to him that I was loyal and not cause any waves in the relationship. I was happy with him so I didn’t need to go out. I felt like he would always punish me by isolating me and ghost on me always to return because I would never chase him. But things would be going so well and then out of the blue he would escalate any questioning that I had for him into his favorite excuse of him being not enough. He always talked about his life in the past as in what he used to do. But I noticed he never would do anything in the present. He used to play college baseball and then all of a sudden he would buy a mitt and the oils and the stretcher etc… but would never join a league or attempt to play. He bought a guitar and started taking lessons and never continued it. It almost seems like he needs distractions from his mind but they soon take over. I believe that he has been in contact with women from his past to validate himself the whole time that he was telling me he was in love with me and that he wants to marry me and coming back to Chicago. The latest thing that he where I really took time with was he began getting close with my daughers buying them girfts and taking us all out to dinner when he would come into town and staying with us and talking with them giving them encouraging texts and then one day just pick up and leave telling me he doesn’t feel like he is enough. When he always was. But this time I was very hurt because he hurt my girls too. They accecpted him in their life after so long and he just picks up and ends it. He continues to text me here and there with regular texts and I respond politely but I try not to engage because I know that he doesn’t have the capacity to love anyone and he will always be the one leaving when his mind gets the better of him. I love him very much but I cant fix him and I think that because he is so proud that he will never seek help and I don’t know how else to help him. Any thoughts would be helpful.

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WENDY CLARK

Then when you add a previous divorsed current functional alcoholic in the picture, it amplifies those traits. That’s where no amount of love and encouragement helps.

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blah

its been 7yrs of the nonsense you describe. I try to always take the high road to show him I dont want him to hurt. hes AWFUL to me.. vandalising my car, destroying my property, stealing , I have to pay for EVERYTHING. . I do cuz i dont want him to think I only care about money. but his sense of e titlement is horrific!! never a shred of gratitude.. so before work one morning he ****ed me and locked me out and I LOST IT. he hasnt been able to come lately when we have sex.. I know why.. I’m pretty sure it’s the pa tied I found and cried my eyes out four months ago. he swears he loves me but bes awf.. I lost it and dont wa t to be with him, I cant stsy away so I madat sure he would and I carved slut in his door——I FEEL AWFUL.

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Tanu

I’m in a relationship with my friend. Before getting in a relationship we were good friends. It was amazing at first. We like each other’s company. I fell for him over Time. But his low self esteem pushing me away. He thinks I deserve someone better than him. It’s not true. He thinks he doesn’t deserve happiness. His past and negativity affecting our relationship. I don’t understand what should I do. I want him back in my life. I wanna fight for him. I wanna help him. He said he tried to give me his best in a relationship but he cant because he doesn’t feel anything. He’s feeling guilty for no reason. He thinks he’s hurting me.

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Littlewing

I’m just sick reading this, and the expectation that anyone should not only put up with this, but keep trying. You engaged in “irresponsible sexual behavior” while your partner thought you were being monogamous. You could have given her HIV or herpes, things that she would carry the rest of her life. It’s often women who are expected to sacrifice themselves for a dead beat man because he’s depressed or has low self esteem. My boyfriend has a lot of issues that I support him with and try to help him with, including low self-esteem. But the day he uses that as an excuse to cheat on me is the day I walk. NO ONE should be expected to sacrifice themselves the way your ex did.

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TheWomen

I honestly felt the same reading this. The expectation seems to be that men are the only ones that are misunderstood and that a
“good” women will put up with it. I found this page to try and find ways of reassuring my boyfriend, but I was a little taken aback that someone should need to literally put their life in danger for someone, to be worth their time. I have issues and I don’t feel worthy, and sure it’s nice to get attention from people, but I wouldn’t tolerate someone cheating on me and saying it’s because they have low self-esteem, because I don’t do it myself and it seems to fundamentally defeat the purpose.
I checked out the book and it basically follows an outdated perspective of masculinity, the advice given in that book could apply to either gender, but blaming women for the “nice guy syndrome” is going a bit far. Giving people support and great advice, as well as telling them to “go get it”, shouldn’t be gendered, and also shouldn’t put their partner through hell in the name of reclaiming their “masculinity” and creating selfish “self-love”

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Robyn Elizabeth

Paul, thank you for this. I needed a mans perspective on this. I am going on my 3rd year of one of the hardest relationships I’ve ever had to encounter in my life, yet has given the most depth in not just a relationship but in myself. Without him, there would be no depth to me, As I stayed forever blind to my own deep rooted insecurities and low self esteem. Almost a mirror relationship, we have both been able to grow in it, discovering each other’s true, deep issues that desperately needed to be addressed within ourselves. I’m still “in” the storm, so much growing and changing brings much suffering as we go thru life trying to get ourselves to a healthy state in life. Much gets taken out on each other. A lot of hurt and damaged caused, and still being caused forcing us to both step back and away from each other just to stop the suffering. But we love very deeply and care for one another so much so that we recognize the need for distance, even tho this too doesn’t help as we need the love of each other and not the fear of losing our bond by staying away. I know his traumatic history that was bestowed upon him, thru no fault of his own, every type of abuse there is and so it is incredibly hard to have a relationship with someone who is emotionally damaged and has a hard time dealing with these types of strong feelings (love). You are absolutely correct in that I cannot do the one and only thing that will cure this and that is him truly, sincerely, genuinely loving himself – who HE truly is. I think a lot of people struggle with this, I know I have, due to the incredible amount of expectations placed upon people and life which only brings judgement and thus the cycle of low self esteem is formed. How to unwork something that has been engraved into your subconscious from such an early age…very hard, so I do thank you for this, and being real to the very core like when you said it gives a type of power when we (your partner) suffers. It is true, it is real. And all I can do is just remain constant. Remind him he is loved, unconditionally while still challenging him to be a better him by looking deeper, dating himself, get to know him like he is his newest love and attraction. By being with him and seeing my own issues reflected thru him I was able to work on myself, but guess what? That creates change which creates anxiety and fear of the unknown which could mean loss. It’s been a tumultuous experience, full of shameful acts that lead to more guilt and shame to add on the pile and it was just very refreshing and helpful that you wrote this article, I needed this, thank you.

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M

Hi Paul –
Coming off of my own recent bad experience but doing ok, actually. I know that his ending things like a bolt of lightning, albeit a suddenly cold, unemotional one, was about him and his fears. But I’m wondering, once you came to terms with your issues did you want to try to get Mary back into your life? She may have already been with her new guy, but if she had been single would you have tried again, knowing who she was and what she meant to you?

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Lou

I appreciate this article very much and have identified with just about all of it. I did do all the things that he needed – constant compliments, assurance that he was succeeding and achieving, re-iterating that I’d stand by him, through thick and thin and no matter what he was dealing with, we’d get through it together. I picked up more of the financial requirements, kept the home peaceful, invited his friends and family over regularly for social gatherings, planned, booked and paid for fabulous holidays to places I knew he’d enjoy.
But none of that stopped him from having a 4 1/2 year affair. BTW, his affair started when I was recovering from cancer and even through my own life-battle, I worked, won major contracts and supported him in every way I could.
His low self-esteem and depression did not stop him from making a conscious decision and choice to have an affair. He could concentrate on his business, his other hobbies but not on the relationship and what he had? No, I can’t buy that.
I’ve left him now and what does he have left? Nothing. Business gone, mistress emigrated, me gone.
I do hope that he gets himself together and that one day he finds the peace, joy, prosperity and someone to love.

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