When You Love a Man With Low Self-Esteem – 9 Things to Keep in Mind

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.

514 Comments

Nick

This seems a lot like narcissistic tendencies. Making excuses for their actions instead of making the changes necessary in therapy.

Saying the partner needs to stay around to help also seems very narcissistic; they should suffer at the hand of someone who will “ take their frustrations of life” out on them so that they will have an “unbreakable” bond…?

Telling people to accept getting treated in a disrespectful way in order to end up with someone who doesn’t even love themselves is terrible advice. That is a grave mistake to say to anyone.

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Jennifer W

Omg, U just made my day. HONESTY EXCELSIOR! Been there, done that…Glad U grew 👆.

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Miriam

OMG I’ve been in a 10 year relationship with a man-boy with low self esteem and it’s been hell. I say run screaming.

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anon

This makes sense. I am co dependent. I see signs – RED FLAGS. We live a few hours away. He NEVER CALLS. He sends selfies and talks with him usually have overtones of “I am valuable to you,” I am really good for you.”

I wonder if he is silently hiding depression. His comments are people pleasing. He seems fragile emotionally, ready to cry. Too ready.
He has become a cannabis smoker at 60+ age for legit body pains, but it has become super extreme – every 4 hrs – before bed, after breakfast. He is active, as in hits the gym daily and walks miles.

He lights up, before we go out, at the event, at the house, before and after activities, so its constant, but he is sober when driving, or doing odd jobs.

So it’s like a mystery. Who is this person?
After many years dating on/off I told him flat out when he was getting very emotionally clingy, ‘Hey whoa… I am only just dating lightly with you.’

When I saw the raw emotional outbursts
it freaked me out. Underneath that calm, mellow stoned guy is rage.

Self esteem can be tricky. There are traits of narc in there. It’s minor but it’s there.

Do not buy into the, ‘I AM SO GREAT FOR YOU’ line.

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Sleepless in San Antonio

I’m in same situation. Narcissist. Malignant. Wants to hurt or punish me for things he’s done. I need a man who’s going to hold my hand, and call me sweetheart. Not call me bad names. It hurts cause I love him so much. Have done so much for him. But he’s ungrateful..so I’m going to put my makeup on and get dressed up and go find someone who loves me even if I have to fight myself mentally from thinking about him. I will be silent. When he’s ready, he will come back. I gave him the best sex and home. He will miss me. But if he doesn’t that’s okay too. NEXT

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Havealittlefaith

This article was helpful for me today. I have been in a relationship w/ a man for 2 years who suffers from low self esteem. Unfortunately I saw those signs from the beginning but chose to look past them thinking that I could save him. (Unfortunately I think I can save everyone – this is a life long battle for me). In fact in the first few weeks and months of our relationship he would tell me often that I saved him. I enjoyed hearing that. It didnt take long for that to turn into something very toxic. Whenever we have any disagreement (small or large) he immediately shuts down, is completely unable to cope with my feelings, ignores any opinion I have and immediately begins to feel sorry for himself – saying things like I’ll always feel like this, I will never be ok, I don’t know why God saved me (he tried to kill himself a year before we met), everyone deserves better than me, you deserve better, I dont deserve you. Aksi U found that he began to communicate with his ex girlfriend whenever we would have a fight – who I now know he was not healed from when we met. The X lives out of state and this communication has been through emails (not that it makes it right) But this is so confusing for me because according to him, she was a liar, a cheater, a manipulator, a narcissist who completely shattered his life and left him for dead. He also throws himself into work, and will find things to occupy him as often as he can. I dont know how he has so much energy. I see a very broken man on some days who I know loves me genuinly and does not want to hurt me but on some days I think I see a terrible man who doesnt love me at all and is just using me and will leave me when he gets the opportunity. I struggle between these two perspectives on a weekly sometimes daily basis. I want to say – I am not a stupid woman, and I am not blind. I am also not turning my head or overlooking red flags. I might love too hard. I might have trouble letting go. Maybe I have too much faith in people to change. Maybe it is a little bit of all of that. None the less I stay hoping that maybe God brought him into my life so that I could help him in some way. I just hope I dont lose myself in that process. Thanks for the article.

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Anu

Sorry. Being the “Mary” myself for the past 7 years, I do not wish any partner to go through this. Someone’s low esteem is not anyone’s responsibility to raise. Despite the low esteem partner taking reckless decisions to “feel good about themselves” in turn disrespect the partner of their loyalty and faith. And expecting/implying that the partner should not give up despite how the low-esteem partner behaves is outrageous. It’s a projection of unhealthy child-parent relationships on romantic relationships. I feel so much better in place, so much deserving of better love than I was with my ex who had every symptom like your article state. Giving him 100th chance feels like nightmare to me. 100% would never recommend doing it.

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Kaia

Thank you for your amazing article. Just started university as a freshmen, and something’s just wrong with me. I did try to work on myself using resources on google, but it’s not easy as it seems. Hope I’ll be financially independent from my parents and get to work this with professionals. Again, thank you.

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Amanda Z

Thank you for writing this. While looking for a problem with my boyfriend I ended up realizing the problem is in me. While I read through what you wrote, I related to 95% of it. I act exactly how you describe men with low self esteem except I’m a female. I’m going to try working on myself from now on. I feel like a weight has been lifted off my back because I always wondered what’s wrong with me and reading this made me realize the problem, I’m low on self esteem. I believe my boyfriend also might have low self esteem because some of what you wrote sounded a lot like him.

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Brandy A

Omg, thank you so much for sharing those intimate details about yourself. I found the love of my life a year ago and not even 30 minutes ago I was going to end our relationship. Only because of you sharing your life struggles has given me a new look at the man I already see as perfect only now perfectly broken. I am choosing to stand by his side and help him become the man I know he can be!! Thank you again so much!!!

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Jessica

How did it work Brandy? What did you do? I’m in the same boat right now. This is an awful feeling. 🫤

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Lina

Just leave. It’s not a woman’s job to fix his insecurities and stupidities. He’ll fix it himself. Meanwhile, there are other better men.

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destiny

So basically, you’re saying that just because he is insecure, I should stand by him while he destroys me because he needs me? You have got to be kidding. I understand the movements and actions of the self saboteurs, however I do not advise sticking by a man who may never change just because he is insecure and seeks destructive ways to get his “fake fix” at my expense, gambling away a great thing.

News Flash, we aren’t “fixers” we are empaths, healers and lightworkers. We are also damaged from childhood and adulthood. Our light attracts their darkness. It’s not because we need that. No, we need to find the ones who will love, respect and pour into us at the same capacity we pour into them, but first we need to learn that we as healers, can never heal or fix another but we can awaken them to their own ability to heal and love themselves.

Sure, you can stand by him while he cheats, beats, emotionally, mentally, psychologically and emotionally uses and abuses you and even enjoys it, but how much of you and your own life, and your dreams are you wasting. And if you have children, what are you teaching them. this article is horrible – to encourage a woman to stand by a man who destroys her all in the name of love.

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Sai

Hi,
I am going through something with my boyfriend of 5 years right now. He has low self esteem in a lot of the ways you mentioned in this article and he broke up with me the other day because he thinks that I love him more than he has ever loved me and so he feels too guilty. How can I fight for our love and convince him that I’m not going anywhere. That the feeling of guilt he has isn’t justified and that I’m not as perfect as he keeps portraying me to be. Please help me.

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Christine

I advise you to move on. If he is expressing this feeling already and you get back into the relationship, it will not change. I am 17 years married to a man who I dated for 4 years beforehand, so we have been together a total of 21 years this year, and this behavior HAS NOT changed. It has only gotten worse.

I am currently deciding if I should stay or go after years of emotional and mental abuse that has broken my heart to the core. He has sworn change so many times over the years, yet nothing ever changes. He is completely self-absorbed and has said and done most of the things mentioned in this article. I’m sure it sucks when someone loses someone great because of the effects of low self-esteem but it is not fair to the person they are sucking life from.

You deserve someone who sees YOUR value and worth and can love you the same way you love them. Don’t compromise.

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Pamela

Thank you for explaining this. Your insight helps me understand what is happening. Unfortunately, I don’t have the bandwidth to continue and to not take it personal.

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Carol

Ohmygosh!!!!! What a great read. I wish I found this article when I was with the man you totally described to a “T.” I ended it last year and then reconnected 7 months later, mostly because I had no closure and a lot of unanswered questions. Well, not long after the roller coaster started – ups, downs, highs, lows, closeness then distance, mood swings, anxiety, positive then negative etc.

Needless to say, I ended it a second time. I knew he had low self esteem but yet could be very self absorbed. It was all his needs. His wants. Him getting support. Him having a sounding board. I was starting to lose who I was because I was constantly being drained dealing with loving him and trying to fix him because really he was just broken. I would love to send this article to him. I’m sure he’ll see himself in this and maybe understand the underlying issue as to why he is the way he is? Out of all the searches I’ve done trying to make sense of it all, this article was by far the most honest and eye opening of all!! Thank you!!!!

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Sara

Just ended another relationship with these same issues. It is sad. When I first met this man, he seemed to have his life together. After about 6 months red flags began appearing. I thought maybe he was just going through a tough time so I decided to wait it out. After I felt my mental health being affected, I knew it was time to end it. I do seem to find men like this. However, I am thankful that I am strong enough to know when it is time to walk away.
I truly appreciated the article as it gave me some understanding as to what my x was going through and explained many of his behaviors. Although I am a patient and caring individual, I deserve to be in a relationship in which I feel cared about. It is such a shame there seems to be so many men like this out there today. I pray that they find their peace. And for now, I will continue on my own peaceful journey.

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Anonymous and concerned ex

That is awesome Sara that you could away before it affected you and it was harder to get out of. Bless you

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Lady

I can relate in a way. He would get insecure of my past relationships because he doesn’t have actual experience in relationships, which made him think he was below exes. When complimenting him he doesn’t believe easily. We are in a long distance relationship and I really want to work it out with him. I really do love him and want to help him grow too, but sometimes it’s really painful to see it like this, even when I don’t want to give up.

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Angela

This hit home. This was deep. This was raw. Thank you for this. I’m 3 years deep into a marriage with someone who suffers from each & every one of these struggles. I’m 3 weeks deep into the ugliest version of each of them. Baffled at never winning by losing I have been to therapy, resorted to praying (though I’ve fallen from faith), talked with friends, against my usual judgment talked with family, ignored the problem, had some drinks, been angry, written in a journal, read several threads online & for whatever reason… finally I typed in the correct key words “my husband hates every woman he is close to but craves the attention to every woman he is not.” That’s just the surface. When I say you hit each and every point… I mean it! I’m ordering the book tonight. I plan to read it too.. maybe it’ll help give me some insight? As I’m writing this, he’s currently in his garage where he’s been all day with his prized possession of collectors cars along with his Dad while I take care of the baby by myself & lay her to bed. 😑 I’m no prized peach myself, I come with my fair share of “issues”. With that said… thanks for the help & I hope for a resolution.

Reply

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