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.

441 Comments

Marc

Low self esteem does not give you the right or excuse to cheat or treat your partner badly. Every man who suffers from this will deal with it differently and I guess the point is that if he wants to change and his behaviour doesn’t cross the boundaries of the relationship for the other person then you can work with him and try to understand him. Low self esteem is debilitating but it’s not an excuse for bad behaviour that crosses the boundaries of a relationship like cheating, physical abuse etc…. I like the article because it highlights a big problem and gives one man’s journey. I suffer from this as well but would never cross the boundaries of my relationship. This to me is just awareness of how this can manifest itself but not everyone will deal with it the same way. Men with low self esteem are not necessarily bad people to keep away from.

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MT

So sorry Lia. I am one that deals with the low self esteem man. Every thing Paul says, has happened to me. At my whits end with trying to convince him that I care and he is worthy. At a point now where infidelity became a problem, but he feels it was ok because I left for a very brief period from other things he contributed too. They do things to hurt you to make themselves feel better. As mentioned above, you are put on this pedestal, until he is ready to knock you down. You are the muse, but only until he feels he is done sucking whatever he needs from you. And then on to the next. While you are left holding a heart broken into 1000 pieces. Nothing is ever enough for the low self esteem man. Always changing jobs to attain the highest status, but already achieved much in life. Nothing is ever satisfying. Always complaining. Until he sees what he does and loves himself, he will never change.

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Marc

Part of the problem is he needs help. If he’s willing to go to therapy and confront his issues then you could work together to beat this. If he’s not willing then you need to decide if it’s worth it. I’m a man struggling with this but I have seeked help and I’m on a path to recovery. My partner has been patient and believes I’m worth it. I had to work hard at it and we have great days and sometimes not so great days but the goal is eliminating this way of feeling about myself. Some people in these comments have compared it to narcissism but it’s not. Might have similar symptoms but its a completely different issue. Narcissistic people love themselves and have no empathy towards others. Men with low self esteem hate themselves and hate what they do to others. They just still do bad things because they are filled with hate for themselves.

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Dawn

This isn’t low self esteem. It’s narcissism. How do I know, I’m married to it and I can’t.rid of him.

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Lia

Thank you for sharing. This one is really tough. However, what if another woman beside Mary loved you for who you really are (but this woman didn’t know that Mary still exists). She was proud of you and loved you dearly yet when Mary found out about her existence, you denied her, dumped and left her to go back to Mary. This woman became the casualty. You lied to her and broke her heart without her knowing from the start that she’s just another woman to feed his ego. How can this person be so unjust to this woman. Sorry, this struck my heart. Because this happened to me. I am this woman who loved and adored a man with low self esteem, but became a casualty at the end. While I remain true and honest, the man made me believe that he loved me and only me but all these are lies.

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Ruby

Thanks Lia,

Sometimes, people need help in being shown the way out of a miserable situation I only know too well. In the end, men like this don’t change and even when they do, it can take years of even decades of work to get to that point.

“A woman who doesn’t know her worth will settle for less than she deserves and finds herself trapped in mess that’s even harder to get out of. Women without boundaries will soon be women without respect. You set the standard of how you should be treated. It’s not cockiness or pride, it’s value. Just because someone desires you, doesn’t mean they value you. No matter how good they look or exciting them seem, you are so worth more than someone playing games. It’s better to be single and wait for what you deserve than lower your standards and settle for less than God’s best for you”

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Ausn

Most of what was written sounds like my boyfriend.
We have been together for four months.
I have mental health problems and think I put up with some off what he does because off the years off therapy I’ve had.
At the start the usual couldn’t get enough of me, wanting to talk to me all the time. We arranged to see each other twice a week, when the phone calls stopped his reasoning was we see each other more now. I understand after the first so many weeks things slow down and was fine. I get a good morning text everyday.
All weekend he has been hard to get hold off, Sunday is our usual day of meeting, he didn’t turn up and his phone was turned off, he later messaged to apologise then turned his phone off.
I’m close to breaking up with him. He doesn’t know but I’ve given him three months to do what he said he would do. If he doesn’t do them I am going to try break up with him.
I feel he loves me but no respect. It will be painful at the start but will stop me from being hurt any further.

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Emotionally Abused Angel

Yet the girl who gets cheated on multiple times by a guy who feels he hates himself suffers much more permanent damage.. speaking from experience being cheated on even though you know that he hates himself makes you hate yourself even more for not being enough to satisfy him. You end up bending over backwards trying to love him into being fixed. You sacrifice your needs of feeling loved equally, being respected enough not to be cheated on. Even though you might be successful, kind, loving, loyal a perfect 10, you begin to feel worthless and then you end up believing you’re worthless. Then you start to slack at work and get into trouble, you begin to let go, maybe you don’t even feel like eating or living because now life around you has become dismal. Your only hope is your guy. The scraps of attention and breadcrumbs of love you get from him becomes the only source of happiness in your life. Even though you resent him for cheating, for making you sacrifice yourself, for putting yourself through this, even though you 100% believe that he is a good guy inside that just hates himself and hates the world because of his bad childhood or first love that screwed him over. Don’t cause harm to yourself if your guy or girl is doing this to you. Don’t give them a chance. It’s sad but you don’t want to suffer like this. This can go on for decades that’s how tough it is to break this toxic cycle. You end up thinking that this is how life is supposed to be. It makes you insane because you’re being ok with letting yourself be hurt and you’re dreaming of a fantasy and promises that seems just out of reach. Maybe next year, maybe the year after that he’d realize how great he is and then we can finally be happy, you think. It’s not gona happen. Save yourself, there’s other guys out there that will absolutely adore a good person like you. You don’t deserve to suffer for anyone and it’s not your job to fix them, it’s it’s psychologist.

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Genesis

Wow this really hit me 😔. My fiancé treats me like a queen and I love him so much but when I tell him I see it in his eyes and I can read his thoughts, “Yeah, sure” and “Why would you love a piece of shit” (I’m not just making it up either because I tell him and he confirms it). Whenever something happens, especially involving people he thinks it because they are nice to everyone they are nice to him or that things happen to him because he is a horrible person. At first I through it just something we can work through quickly because we are on year 6 now and not change in what he thinks of himself. I have told him so many times how great he is and point out all his amazing qualities but then after a while I become a horrible person and unleash everything and just begin to confirm his negative remarks about himself because I’m growing tired of it. I’m afraid I’m nearly the end and I don’t want to. I love him so much I just wish he loved himself even half as much as I love him.

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Marc

He needs therapy. You can’t fix him. Try and suggest this. There’s underlying reasons why he is the way he is. If you’re ready to give up but love him, try suggesting this. If he’s not willing to try then yes walk away.

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Miyu

Hi Paul, i want to ask – did you continue what you were doing (parties, sex w different women, addiction) after you said you were enlightened? Have you completely been sober and turned your back completely or you were in the place where you realized all you were doing is wrong and just accepted it?
Did you ever come back to any of it after you were enlightened?
Please let me know what are the changes now in your life. Thank you!

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One of our rituals was in the week before Christmas, we’d go shopping and each kiddo would choose a keepsake decoration for the tree. This would forever be their decoration. To make sure we’d remember who owned what (a year is a long time!) I wrote their name and year on the box. The idea is that when they leave home, they’ll have a collection of special decorations for their own tree, plump with throwbacks (‘Oh I remember when we bought this!).

Then of course there was Christmas morning. Santa would leave a note on the table and bootprints on the front path, which smelled remarkably like talcum powder. So magical the way the snow was under the boot and never melted, even in an Australian summer! But that’s the magic of Christmas, right?!

We often put so much pressure on ourselves to make Christmas magical. Rituals can make this easier. They get the special memories, you get to make the ‘magic’ without having to come up with something new and different each year.

It’s very likely that there will already be Christmas rituals happening in your family, even if you don’t realise it. Ask them what they remember most, or what they loved most about last Christmas, aside from the presents.

They might surprise you with things you’d completely forgotten about, or which at the time didn’t seem to be a biggie. It can be the simplest things. Maybe they loved the way they were allowed to have ice-cream with pancakes at breakfast last Christmas. (Ice-cream at breakfast?! Told you Christmas was magical!!). 

If it’s what they remember, and if it lights them up, let it become a ‘thing’. Maybe they loved the magic ‘neverending carrot’ sprinkles you put on the scrawny carrot you found in the vege drawer (remembering reindeer groceries can be so hard sometimes!)

You’d be surprised what they find special. It doesn’t have to be big to feel magical.

What are your Christmas rituals? Let’s share ideas in the comments.♥️
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It can feel as though the only way to strengthen them against their anxiety is to make sure they have nothing to worry about, but when their worries are real this might not happen quickly. 

Instead, we need to focus on helping them know that even though those worries are there, they will be okay. ‘Not worrying’ isn’t the antidote to anxiety, trust is. This will start with trust in you and your belief that they will be okay, and trust in your reaction if things don’t go to plan. Eventually, as they grow this will expand into trust in themselves and their own capacity to find their way through challenges to a place of hope and strength. 
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Strong steady breathing will reverse the fight or flight physiology that causes nausea, butterflies, or sick or sore tummies during anxiety. BUT telling an anxious brain to take a strong steady breath will potentially make anxiety worse unless strong steady breathing feels familiar. Practising during calm times will make it familiar. 

During anxiety we’re dealing with their amygdala, and it wants short shallow breathing to conserve oxygen. It doesn’t want strong steady breathing and will work hard to resist this. 

An anxious brain is a busy brain and it will be less able to do anything unfamiliar. A few minutes of strong steady breathing each day will set up a strong neural pathway to make strong breathing more automatic and accessible during anxiety. 

In the meantime though, you can do it for them. This is the magic of co-regulation. When you do strong steady breathing during their anxiety, it will calm your nervous system which will eventually calm theirs. You will catch their anxiety, and this will feed into their anxiety. Your strong steady breathing is the circuit breaker. They will catch your anxiety, but they will also catch your calm. Don’t worry if this takes a few minutes (and maybe a few more after that). Anxious brains are strong, powerful, beautiful brains working hard to protect. Breathe and be with. This will open the way for that distressed young nervous system to find its way home. And you don’t need to do more than that.♥️
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Needs and behaviour can get tangled up and treated as one. When you can, separate the need from the behaviour. Give voice to the need - let it find a way to breathe - and redirect the behaviour. 

The need might always be clear, especially if it’s being smothered by angry shouting words. If we stifle the behaviour without acknowledging the need, the need stays hungry. Help usher it into the light by making it clear that you’re ready to receive it. Then wait. Wait for the big behaviour to ease, for bodies to calm, and angry voices to soften - but keep the way to you open. ‘You’re a great kid and I know you know that behaviour wasn’t okay. Talk to me about what’s happening for you.’

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