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)


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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The problem is, if you stay with a man like this and help him through, he will leave you once he grows.
Not always.
It’s not absolute.
But it is more often then not, it’s true.
The qualities a man like this is searching for in a woman at this point in his life will not be the same qualities he wants once he comes out of this and becomes empowered. Often times, once he learns how to “leave the past behind”, and live in the present, you will be part of that “past” he is leaving behind.
I’m not saying this to be cruel. I’m saying this to protect women. To make them aware. This situation is similar to a rebound relationship. It is a transitional state.
of course, if you ARE in a committed relationship already with the man and your man comes to need this support, than that is a different scenario. You stay.
But if you met a new guy at this place, I strongly suggest not dating him.
You can stay engaged and friendly if you choose, but I recommend keeping solid boundaries.
A man must learn this type of growth outside of a relationship on his own. He is not ready to lead another if he can not lead himself. This doesn’t mean he shouldn’t engage the support of others. A therapist, friends, both male and female, can be there. But an intimate partner with a man in this emotional place will only serve as a care-taker or a “mommy”. And this role will be satisfying for no one in the long run.
Be very careful of the potential co-dependency of this situation. Sometimes the most loving act a person can give another person, is to set them free.


It’s like you took the words out of my mouth with this reply. Beautifully articulated.


After reading Paul’s post about loving a man with self-self-esteem issues, it really resonated with me. My ex-boyfriend had never had a loving relationship until meeting me and it was the longest he had had. We lasted 14 months. For the first couple of months after meeting it was perfect. Everything clicked between us. Then out of nowhere I spent an evening of receiving vile messages. He had put a post on fb complaining about me and some female friends were more than happy to jump aboard and he loved telling me what they were saying including one calling me a c##t. It went on for several hours. I was absolutely devastated and dumbstruck. The next day the vile messages stopped but he was still very off and rude. Then by the evening he wanted me to get rid of the pictures of my wedding day on fb as “his girls” thought it was disgusting I had pictures still when in a relationship with him now. My marriage had ended 6 years before and I never looked at them. But stupidly in a panic I removed all the pictures where I was with my ex-husband. We met the next day and I told him exactly what I thought and cried a lot. I didn’t realise he had been heavily drinking……apparently does it when stressed and anxious. He also admitted he doesn’t know how to handle a proper relationship. 43 years old and never had a relationship like ours. He was toxic with alcohol and they were toxic people. I forgave him and we carried on with our relationship. We fell in love and got on great…….then the friend who called me a c##t messaged him saying wanted sex with him and very graphic. Then another friend joined in as the 3 of them always chatted together. She wanted a relationship with him despite being married with 3 kids and having an affair before. He told me the next day and blocked them. Again we carried on. I also put up with his ex-fiancé hiring someone to stalk him and trying to win him back after 11 years. I supported him and got it resolved with the Police. Nothing happened til Xmas and then out of nowhere he got drunk again and went on a 5 day bender. He unblocked them and ex-girlfriends, was nasty to me and then blocked me. He took our pictures off fb and our relationship status. I told his parents as so worried about him and knew they could check otn him. I then got a text after the 5 days saying how sorry he was. We met after Xmas and he agreed to go to AA. Again we carried on with our relationship. I still loved him a lot and we had a great time in between the “incidents”. I did tell my family about the time it happened at Xmas and sometimes he would bring it up and not talk to me for afew days. Or say my family would never like him. There was random outbursts about me deserving better and finding someone else. I always told him I only wanted him and us. We had about 6 weeks together after the Xmas incident before he went to Thailand for all of February. We messaged every day. We then had 2 weeks before lockdown and not seen each other since for 3 months. We messaged every day and had some really loving chats. It hit me though that I needed to come back to the relationship not feeling scared of another hurtful outburst or women wanting him. I admit I did become abit distant the past few weeks to get my head and thoughts together. Then 2 weeks ago the messages suddenly changed again. His cheating ex from America wants a reunion after not seeing each other for 9 years. What can he do? Will have a meal out with his parents cos they loved her and she was their favourite. She wants to check me out. Why cant I have red hair like her. She is his and will always be his. A red haired goddess. And the friend who wanted sex with him managed to contact him despite being blocked. I was told to delete everything and he changed his profile picture to just him again. Blocked me on fb and whatsapp. And this time heard nothing since I cant explain the hurt knowing back in touch with them and meeting up. But I feel guilt as though my fault as I was distant the couple of weeks before. Any advice would be great. I feel so lonely and so many emotions. Thank you if you got this far!


I am dating this amazing guy and we been together for 6 months. We were always happy and we always had trust in each other. After some day I felt this weird feeling that he didn’t want to talk that much anymore which i was correct about. I decided to see if he texted me back and after two days had passed i decided to text because maybe he needed me. i told him “I love you”. I also asked him if i didn’t text him would he never text me back anymore. He said “to be honest, i dont know i dont feel like talking to anyone and i think we should take a break.”
I never thought that he would say that, knowing that he always wanted to run away from this world with me and just be me and him together. I was really sad after hearing he needed a break. I told him its fine if he had a break. after that, he told me that he wanted me to hate him right now. I did not know what to say. i wanna text him and i dont know how long its gonna take for him to text me back. He said he wanted to be isolated and he anxiety that had raised up. He has been talking about this other girl alot, and recently that girl broke up with his boy friend because he thought she was cheating with my boyfriend. Its complicated idk what to do. I have been crying alot lately and i dont have the energy to do anything. I cant sleep at night and i stopped eating. I just really love him.


I know this is an old comment but I just felt compelled to reply to an earlier comment where a woman said women have to toughen up. What she was proposing (“if you need to cry, then cry, who cares what other people think?”) is next to impossible for people who were never taught (and yes, it’s very much something that is LEARNED through your environment/upbringing) that it’s OK to do so. Women DO get this freedom, let’s call it, of emotional range. It’s accepted that we are emotional, fragile, “weak” by nature (we are not, as you pointed out). So, we generally feel a lot more free when we’re young and as we mature to feel our feelings and do the healthy things needed to process feelings, experiences…Which lead us to self-acceptance, discovery, and the benefits of being someone who was allowed to feel the full range of their emotions without consequence or belittling.
That being said, I did not really get this kind of experience as a woman growing up. I am the daughter of a mother with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and my feelings and behavior used to mirror the same kind of behavior this article outlines. I was often shunned for expressing affection, wanting affection, being “too sensitive”, etc. In fact, my first marriage ended in divorce because of it. I never realized how emotionally ill-equipped I was to love myself or another person. I NEVER lived in the moment. I used lots of things to escape (thankfully benign things like hobbies and work, but nonetheless – escape is escape and you know it when you’re oing it).
I think what Paul is advocating is very very VERY kind – unconditional love. You don’t have to put up with EVERY bit of bs (and certainly you might have to draw the line and walk away), but I know deep in my heart that I wanted SO SO BADLY to love my ex-husband. He was very impatient with my inability to do so. He usually invalidated my feelings and this led me deeper into shame, withdrawal, etc. Much like my mother, in fact. He called me dramatic, too sensitive, overreacting, defensive, etc. I wished so many times he would just comfort me, hold me, and be patient with my suffering. This is what my inner child needed.
He did not, but in the end it was for the best. We parted ways amicably and I blossomed and I’m so thankful for it. I now have completed lots of therapy and soul-searching and I think I can actually say that I feel VERY ready for love and a partner who can be in the moment with me. So, it’s possible. There is hope. Only problem now is, I’m in a relationship with a man who is where I was – depressed, low self-esteem, and with many emotional wounds. He is in therapy and healing but it’s slow. I am still considering what I plan on doing about it but it’s just interesting to me that I’ve come around to the other side. All I can do is tell him I love him, that he’s great the way he is – just the way I wish my ex would have told me. Anyway, best of luck to all! Thank you for your insight, Paul. I don’t know what happened to your site but it’s down. I hope you return to the internet soon.


With a guy for 9 years… he had a ton of other issues going on. Unmedicated bipolar. Awful parents. Things get slowly better as some of the issues are addressed Married. A year later the booze becomes far too much. He quits. And then he’s left alone with the gaping angry maw that remains. Jobs dry up and he’s a husk. Sexless for 4 years and I am so close to just DONE. He knows that his confidence is an issue and being proactive about anything has always been a nightmare. Cue resenting me and authority figures. He’s been in therapy for years. I am now in therapy and we are doing couples counseling which is going pretty badly. I’m pretty ssure it’s over. I think this article is incredibly spot on and I sent it to him.


Elkhart Tolle has a great video explaining the Pain body, it’s a entity created out of thoughts and emotional residue. We have to stop judging others and instead take a good look at ourselves and why we are attracting these people. The pain they have within themselves is the same pain we are attracted to because theirs may be active and ours may be dormant but we all have some pain that is looking for the feedback of more pain from others. No one is a victim to anyone, but we all all victims to the pain body.

Worried for you

Yeah i hate to break it to you but this isn’t low self esteem its a narcassistic personality disorder and anyone in a relationship with someone like this needs to leave before they are reduced to nothing but an empty shell of who they used to be
Physichally, emotionally and fianancially drained


Im a (so they say aaaallll the time) attractive woman who feel every bit of this article. People judge books by the cover all the time…


This makes me so sad, I’m in this position. We dated two years ago it fizzled out yet we remained mates. We talk to each other on a deep and connected level. We both have dated others since. I too suffer from low self-esteem which makes it much worse. I get stuck in my own head and convince myself he is playing me and despite the fact he tells me he is working on himself to be the best version of himself to make me truly happy because I deserve nothing but happiness I tell myself how he is only saying it to make me feel better about myself. I told myself after we stopped dating that he is’just a friend’ but all the while I was falling in love with him. I know he has major issues and yet I think I’m not good enough either and I want him to be happy too and if I am not that person to make him happy it’s OK so long as he is happy because he is so very sad and broken. I’m 11 years older than him and I suppose at 41 I am at that age where I don’t have time to wait but at the same time I want to wait. I don’t want to throw my life away for what ifs yet at same time I have no desire to move on. I was seeing a guy for 6 months who on the outside was the perfect partner, attentive, loving, confident etc etc etc yet I couldn’t get the object of my desire out of my head. Its all so hard and I’m left feeling worthless yet I know this is my own lack of confidence. I suppose I don’t feel worthy of true love either


I dated my high school sweetheart for five years and eventually went our separate ways after I had nothing else left to give. I didn’t realize until I connected with him 30 years later that it was self esteem issues. We had a fabulous four years together and then he started to pull away. I can honestly say I tried everything but to no avail. Until I finally walked away. I never stopped loving him. Fast forward 30 years. He is divorced and literally he still struggles with himself. But he is I think blind to the problem, or a good actor one. Anyway, tried to help him a second time and yet he walked away again. Therefore, I have walked away for good. I do not know how to help someone that doesn’t want to help himself and prefers to blame everyone else. It is utterly a sad life.

Doc Bud

Nothing is more precious than everyday of your life.

Once you allow someone to take you into that hole, YOU will LOSE your self esteem. Much easier to lose than recover it once lost.

I could go on for paragraphs but in one word:



Did Paul go back to “Mary” once he was able to love and accept himself? I’m in the same scenario only I’m Mary, and he says he can’t untangle the feelings of failure and guilt of continuing to hurt me so he’d rather run away and start fresh. This is just going to be a constant cycle for him until he gets help. He’s agreed to go to therapy, but he has no interest in trying to fix us. We were together for 5 years and then separated but still living together as best friends for 2 years. I want him and love him unconditionally just as he is, and he just refuses to accept that love because of his self loathing. Running away won’t make that self loathing go away though because it has nothing to do with me. He’s just associating with me in his head. So did Paul ever go back or want to go back to Mary once he healed and realized his warped logic in regards to their relationship?


I too love a man with low self esteem. Been with him two years and periodically he runs saying he can’t be with anyone. Then in a few weeks he runs back to me. This has happened over 10 times in a year . I am exhausted, depressed, torn on what to do with him, and just sad that he can’t let go of the past hurt and relax and enjoy life. I have walked out several
Times only for him to pull me right back in. Tired and drained.


Pls pls don t marry him in the space he is for it will never change after married to him!!!


Yes! He needs to realise the improvement needs to happen in order to have you fully, not having you fully will being him improvement.


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Anxiety will tell them a deficiency story - that they aren't brave enough, strong enough, powerful enough - but you know they are so much more than enough. You know it with everything in you.
Sometimes they will believe this deficiency story, and they will hold themselves back from doing brave, hard things. This is when anxiety will slide in and try to steal their capacity for courage right from under them, so this is when they need us to show up and stand big, as the guardians of their brave.
Protect their courage by believing in it so much, that they won't have a choice but to believe it too. The brain wires according to the experiences it is exposed to, so think of avoidance and courage as muscles. The ones they use the most will strengthen. If you support avoidance, their need to avoid will strengthen. If you move them towards brave behaviour - as distressing as this might be - you are exposing them to the experiences that will fortify their truth - that they can feel anxious, and do brave.
It's okay if this happens in tiny steps. It's not the size of the movement towards brave behaviour, it's the direction that matters most. Move them towards brave, lovingly, gently, and confidently - because you know that 'brave' is in them, and anxiety doesn't change that a bit. When you are faced with the choice between believing in their anxiety or believing in their brave choose their brave, every time, and guard it with everything in you, because it's beautiful, and life-giving, and it's in them.
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