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.


Melissa M

Thanks for this insightful article. I just broke up with my boyfriend, who I love dearly, because of this very issue. There were control issues, as well. In my mind, I showed him nothing to be jealous of, was always attentive, and tried early on to tell him I loved him for who he was and didn’t have to prove anything. But, he didn’t hear it. He is kind to the point of almost being annoying, overly considerate. I never understood that, until now, and I see that he wasn’t taking care of himself. He says he is an emotional wreck right now, and that he is going to need time to heal (mind you, we have broken up and gotten back together at least 3 times in the 2 years of dating). I think we’re both tired of this dynamic, but I still want to be there for him, and would like to rekindle something, if he commits to working on himself. I suggested couples therapy, and he was open to it, seemingly. But in the end, he said we just needed and wanted different things. I see a pattern in his many relationships, the longest most recent one being 5 years, but normally they are between 6 months to 2 years. Guess I was number whatever…..


I’ve been in a relationship with my man for a year and a half. In this short amount of time we have taken some serious steps together. We recently bought a home that can fit our four children and us. I feel as though there have been mind games from the start. He told me he was a non smoker when we first met. Well turns out he was hiding that along with the fact that he chews. Once i found out he became comfortable with it and chew is in his mouth all day every day. I can’t even kiss him because there’s chew in his mouth. That’s the least of the issue here. Within the first two weeks he told me his ex is one of his best friends and that I will have to accept her as my friend. I struggled with this as any person would but I have hung out with, text, and tried very hard to have her in my life. She has been dating man after man and now all of a sudden she means nothing to my boyfriend and he says i don’t have to be friends with her and i never did. He refuses to be intimate with me if I initiate (which at first was often because I enjoy sex) he turns me down. I’m literally looked at like I’m a freak who only wants sex if I try to be with him. So I’ve given up. We only have sex on two Saturday mornings a month and its because he initiates it. He tells me he doesn’t want to be with me often because too much of a good thing is bad. I own two businesses, i work another 40 hr a week job, i take care of my two kids and his two. I cook from scratch every night, clean the house and more. I’m growing spiritually and emotionally and I want a partner who’s equally as motivated. He only wants to work, eat, and watch TV. He feels quality time spent together is him in his chair and me on the sofa watching reruns of 90’s shows. He is by nature a fairly negative person. He was raised in a very abusive environment and has said to me he feels the most loved when he pushes me for hours and sometimes days into losing my cool and letting him have it verbally. I can’t stand being down, or negative. I really see no point in it and I’m generally a very happy person. All that being said I now feel a massive amount of guilt for wanting to leave. We bought this house and are working to fix it up. He talks about marriage but I am very hesitant about the idea. He has said he feels he has me on lock down. Like I’ll never leave him. What I have highlight here are some of the things that are really bothering me. There are many more but I do strive to see the good in him. He does have many good moments, and traits. I can see his low self esteem and because of that I am afraid to leave. I don’t want to be another person to take it down a notch. I’m trying to figure out if I should stay and do my best to help him or if i should call it a day and move on. Anyhow, thanks for letting me vent. I needed that.


Been with my bf 2 years he has low self esteem and depression, most of the time he’s extremely loving and caring but recently he’s been saying he hates himself and doesn’t know who he is anymore. He’s started drinking more and smoking weed, messaging other women, it seems like he’s in self destruct mode, don’t know what to do , love him so much ,we’ve been through so much can’t give up on him. But can’t keep getting upset and feeling I’m not enough for him.


But when will his validation be over and get ready. for a committed relationship.As his love what are my responsibilities to make him feel secure.im a very self confident and strong woman. Is my confidence intimidating him


This article is hitting me hard. I’m so torn about my relationship with a man who hates himself and the past hurts he’s caused me. I stay because he keeps making small steps towards getting better but it’s hard to tell anymore if he’s doing it for him or just to keep me from leaving as he goes up and down like a rollercoaster. I love him dearly and truly want him in my life but also know that it is killing my own self esteem constantly not having stability or feeling like I myself am not enough. I’ve gotten into such a hole. It’s been this way for months. After 3 years, I don’t know when to give up or if it’s on the edge of getting better. He is in constant conflict with himself and what he wants, saying he’s just going to ruin my life because he’s a bad person. It’s breaking my heart.


My boyfriend only recently just broke up with me because he expressed that he felt he was wasting my time, that he cannot promise me a future with him. Stating there is something inside him blocking him from giving me the relationship I deserve and the big love I have searched for. He expressed he had fears of rejection, not fulfilling his potential and not being good enough. He told me that it wasn’t my fault and told me that he still loved me and I would always have a special place in his heart. Previously he had been feeling constantly distant and also resorting to going on adventures without me. This breakup has left me shattered but Im seeking assistance from a councillor. I now better understand he was in no condition to love me. I still respect him dearly as a friend and I am going to suggest he come along to a therapy session with me because he was the one to identify his low self-worth. Should I see this as us creating stepping stones for a new chapter in an improved relationship?

Karen - Hey Sigmund

When he says that he can’t give you what you need, believe him. Perhaps it will be a new chapter as friends, but before that to happen, it’s important to take the space you need to be able to let go of the relationship you were hoping for with him.


This is exactly what I am going through right now. My husband has anxiety and depression as well. After reading this article it gave me more hope in our relationship. Since Valentine’s Day is coming up I feel like I now know what to do for him. Thanks for the amazing article.


My boyfriend of three years has just threatened to leave me if I go on a trip to Nigeria. The trip is paid for already. I’m going with a girlfriend, I don’t see what the problem is. But, I don’t appreciate being given an ultimatum. He feels some rich Nigerian will whisk me away. We’ve been arguing for over one week about it. Now, I’m tired of trying to get him to see how his insecurities are hurting me by wanting me to give up something I really want just so he feels better. It’s the craziest thing. I can’t get him to work with me, so I guess he will leave me. He is an over weight guy and from what I’m sensing, he doesn’t believe he’s enough for me. But, I accept him and love him, so not sure what’s going on with him. Needless to say, I’m leaving to go on my trip and I hope we can get through it. This is something I want and have always wanted to go to this country. My oldest child is Nigerian, I have a large community of Nigerian friends, hell, I threw a Nigerian concert to celebrate their independence last year. And, I can’t go to the country? It sounds ridiculous.


Reading this broke my heart because I realize if I stay things will never truly change. After an all day battle with my husband I have been searching the web for understanding, advice, and insight. I have been with my husband for 6 years and today I reached my breaking point. A point I thought I would never reach. I used to a social butterfly with a close relationship to family and friends. I was always the fun loving dependable person that had a burning desire to help those in need. But over the last 6 years my husband has sucked my entire soul from me. I no longer socialize with friends and only socialize with family around holidays. Attempting to help others is misconstrued as a sign of me being loyal to someone other than him. I have tried everything and yes I mean everything I know of to help him and make our marriage work but nothing works. I’m ready to walk away but over the last 6 years I have put so much effort into him that I lost myself and I don’t know where to begin to start over but I’m going to take a leap of faith and see what happens. So some advice to others in this situation if your going through this with someone you love it is up to you to make the decision to stay or leave. Neither will be easy decisions. Just don’t get so wrapped up in your loved one that you lose yourself along the way.

Lucy R

I so identify with this article and feel relieved that these kinds of issues and behaviours can be shared. I spent 7 years with a man who I loved so deeply and tried to support because he had no self love or self respect. He sucked the life out of me and in the end nearly destroyed me by cheating and lying to me. It has taken me over two years to recover from the psychological abuse he put me through because of his self loathing and need to sabotage any happiness we had. He’s miraculously moved on, recently met and married someone else and by all accounts is incredibly happy. As for me I am now so incredibly wary of giving so much to someone in a relationship as I couldn’t bare to be so used and hurt again – whether it’s unconsciously done or not…


I have been battling this with my partner for 5 years. Dating sites, fb girls, ex girlfriends, Craigslist really anyone who gave him attention. Although I was all about him and always wanted his attention and love.
His ability to navigate through any agrument led to Constant break ups and running away for several weeks. Only to return in tears and utter commitment. It was mine boggling for me until I realized that I was not the problem. No matter how great, careful or direct I was, the result was the same.
It became so bad that my counsellor diagnosed me with PTSD as a result of the abuse and abandonment.
Yes everyone needs love and support. understanding that it is their issue not yours is helpful. If you get to the point where you are left with scars, it’s time to go.


My current boyfriend is exactly like you. He doesn’t understand why am with him and thinks that I can do better. He’s even gone as far as to say that maybe I should date other people so then I can find the right one, because he felt like he didn’t deserve me. At the same time he says he loves me and doesn’t want to give me up, but he scared he’s going to drag me down and m feels like I shouldn’t have him. I told him about your article what you said, and I even asked some questions myself. He started feeling this way about a year ago when he took a break from college so you could work more. I start a regimen with him where we work out at the park after his work, and at the moment I’m helping him get back into his college. Is this the right steps for me to take? Should I just listen to him and let him deal with this on his own because it’s a ” me problem “


My fiancé has issues I think it’s depression but I may be wrong. From the day I met him ik he was the one for me. But he doesn’t want to see me or my family we don’t live together out of respect for our families and being raised in a Christian background it’s sad and it makes me sad I cry all the time I’m lonely and lost but when I’m with him everything is ok and the world stops around us that’s how it feels at least. What do I do how can I help him without loosing myself in the process


Hi Paul,
Thank you for sharing this. I am in love with man from almost 10 years. First he was not accepting our relationship, then he was keep saying he hate responsibility, commitment. For me many days and nights were crazy. We had break ups amost five times in last 10 years. But I Knew this man is genuin and humble, and he need counselling. I tried for him, but he was not ready. Now few months back he accept that he has some problem to deal with emotions. I am waiting for him to say ‘lets go to proffessional Counceller’.


I was just pushed out of a relationship with a low self-esteem man. He seemed so special to me. A few weeks into dating, he became severely ill with a heart issue. After 2 procedures over 2 weeks, he was on the road to recovery. I was there for him since many family members and friends weren’t.

He kept saying how terrible it must be for me to be with someone so broken. He often spoke about his parents being selfish and not acknowledging his achievements enough as he grew up. He worked hard with several significant career and financial setbacks. He was divorced twice, but I only found out about the second one during a family trip he asked me to take with him. During the 3 months we were together, he also lied twice about being on dating sites. Oddly, he also was very involved in his church and spoke about being a caring person with a good heart. Yet, in the end, he broke up with me – by text. He wouldn’t talk to me just said he was too upset and would only say something bad.

I accepted all of his difficulties and even felt I could help him through it because it was worthwhile. We’d been through so much already. Now, I’m heartbroken and confused.


I was with this kind of man for three years. I love him and tried to give my best just to work out our relationship.He is addicted also to cockfighting.I think this is how he is relieving his stress.As per George I want to know also what is the wake up call for you why you seek professional help?


“Low self-esteem” is an understatement. Try no self-esteem because their inability to self-validate is total.

Do not buy them spiritual/mindfulness/psychology books because in doing so you will invalidate them. They will not see it as you caring for them, instead they will see it as you pointing out their inadequacies.

Just as they crave external validation, they will react to every perceived external invalidation like a vampire to sunlight, regardless of source. It will burn into them leaving a permanent scar and you eventually pay for that external invalidation as well-intended as it may be.

If they are not seeking professional help on their own accord, leave. If you leaving isn’t a sufficient wake-up call for them to seek help, you are not worthy enough in their eyes. Why stay in a relationship where your partner is incapable of handling conflict, is insensitive of your feelings, makes you feel diminished and doesn’t value your being in their life enough to want to improve?

Paul, I’m interested to know what led you to seek professional help and be on the path to improving your self-esteem.


I 100 % agree with George.
Why would you stay ?
For all the girls, leave those kind of relationships fast.


I loved a good man who was floundering. He felt, with being with me, that he had to look a certain way, dress a certain way. I never fostered those feelings. In the beginning he was so proud to have someone like me. But as time wore on, he crashed dieted, he had to buy things (clothes, electronics) and he felt that his career success would help me and his family accept him. He spiralled into a depression. When my job became heavy, he felt I wasn’t there for him and after a couple of months of my gruelling schedule when I so needed him to hold me (I’m in healthcare), he broke it off with me. I feel wrung out. I tried so hard to encourage him and love him–but he just kept taking and taking. Now, he has gone on to the next girl. I now need a recovery group. I also need to figure out why I find myself with men with self esteem issues…

CW Reed

I finally finished this today, after having struggled with it for a while due to my own Ego screaming “NOT MEEE!” – but after therapy and definitely needed alone time, I understand fully now why *she* walked away. Because she had to.
I was such a mess it was no wonder she couldn’t deal with it all 3 years on. And while I was pretending to get better at being a better me… she saw the truth. Thank you for this article, and thank you to *her* for knowing when to let go…


Paul, I thought my boyfriend had actually wrote this in disguise as you. That is how much it was him. I do not even need to tell you what he does..because you he already know..
I am interested in the good side to this. I fell in love with him. I want to give it a last shot before I call it quits.
What can I do to help him..I mean..say?..Do?
What does he need from me?
What does he need psychologically?
What does he need to start to love himself?
What does he need to do..or say..that I know he is ready to work on himself, and us?
I have been praying for answers. I came across your article. It hit me hard!!
Thank you so much! sending hugs to you from Utah!!


I think the point he is making is that unconditional love is what is required in these situations. I understand the points of Vanessa and Amber… if people are finding themselves suffering with low self-esteem and screwing their lives and the lives of other up in the process they need to take responsibility for their behaviour and go see a therapist who can help them in a professional capacity. Once they are feeling better about themselves they can go on to find a partner and fall in love. This is really about responsibility and the need for unconditional love, support and forgiveness (of self). Relationships should be about what you are bring to it and contributing not what you expect to get out of it. Interesting insights tho. Thanks for sharing!

Paul Graves

Thank you for understanding, Jessica. Unconditional love for all humans is what I’m referring to here.

If we are strong people adept at managing pain, then we should attempt to help those who hurt. We are better equipped than they are, caught in their own trance and suffering.

If it’s too much, then we may leave, but let’s try to help all we can first.

Paul Graves


I appreciate the vulnerable thoughts & feelings the author shares, and his recommendations for having stickwithitness with your struggling man. I’d be interested in his thoughts on how to avoid the low self-esteem trap to begin with. Is there something parents can do?

Paul Graves

Michelle, excellent question. I’d suggest doing research into negative masculinity. A film entitled “The Mask You Live In” is VERY introspective on this.

Most society places our boys and men into tight boxes that say:
*Real men make lots of money
*Men have sex with many women
*Real men don’t cry
*Emotions are “women things”
*Don’t be a girl, a sissy, weak (what is this teaching men about women?)
*Real man accomplish before they can be happy

So much more. Please look into it, start by watching the film. Our boys need to learn sensitivity, caring and benevolent strength. It’s a crisis of massive proportions.


Thank you! Your comments are right on the same page as I was thinking and suspecting. There’s always so much concentration on the pressure for women to look a certain way while also “achieving it all,” but I think many have forgotten how much pressure there is on males to achieve and be strong while also being sensitive (and also look a certain way). No one is defining what success actually is in that regard. What mixed messages our children receive! I will check out the movie, thanks! Best of luck to you….keep sharing your message and moving forward!


“Most society places our boys and men into tight boxes that say:
*Real men make lots of money
*Men have sex with many women
*Real men don’t cry
*Emotions are “women things”
*Don’t be a girl, a sissy, weak (what is this teaching men about women?)”
*Real man accomplish before they can be happy

Most societies in the past did not allow women to vote, …Societies need constant change.
Paul you don’t understand that women need to be tough the same way as you described in the case of men. I am a woman, I don”t remember when I cried last time. Lives of women are not easy, and actually have never been, the exception is a small percentage of women with no financial worries. To accomplish something (anything ) in our lives is important, that is a part of who we are. What you are talking is just a societal conditioning. It is up to each individual to do what is right/good for him/her. If you need to cry, then cry, who cares what other people think.
Thinking about the problems you described, I am not sure they are just about low self esteem. People with low self esteem are maybe even more careful not to hurt other people. There is also a luck of empathy here. Maybe Amber is onto something. What I am sure of, is that staying in a relationship with someone where you don’t feel good, is not right.

Julia Prentice

Reading this article was like it was written about my husband. Sadly, we separated almost 8 years ago when things in our marriage became too unbearable for myself and our 3 children. We tried to work through some of the issues a couple of years later but unfortunately we couldn’t “break through” the barriers that kept my husband a prisoner of himself :o(
Thanks for explaining this so eloquently.

Paul Graves

I’m sorry to read of your situation, Julia. I have a daughter myself. “Prison” is an accurate way to describe it. A prison with many dimensions. I thought I understood it back then, but I had no idea.

For myself, it took many years of struggle, pain, depression, and near-suicide to finally have that moment of clarity.

Part of it was finding an art again. For me it was guitar and writing. Maybe there’s an art or medium of expression that he left behind when you got married or had kids?

Also, do some research on negative masculinity. The film “The Mask You Live In” is excellent, on Netflix and Amazon. His man box, lack of creative expression and avoidance of his emotions may all we working together to keep him down.

Best of luck, and much love to you.

Paul Graves


I agree with Vanessa. It’s not up to a relationship partner to address thier significant other’s mental health issues (particularly if doing so means they have to put up with hurtful behavior). A therapist is the appropriate support for someone with the mental health and behavioral issues described; a partner can provide some empathy and understanding, maybe, but not at their own expense. I would never advise someone to stick around and try to “fix” the problems described here.

Moreover, this sounds less like the behavior and motivations of someone with a simple case of “low self esteem,” and more like either borderline or narcissistic personality disorder. In those cases, just re-affirming your love, exploring the problem, and otherwise “standing by your man” (ie, doing what the writer advises) just feeds into the problem. Again, some kind of therapy is in order.

“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.”

I don’t even know where to start with this. The writer recognizes that this isn’t “right,” but he spends a lot of time emphasizing what the partner ought to do and not enough imploring the person who is engaging in these behaviors (and probably suffering as well) to take some responsibility for the problems they have and are creating.

His own story suggests that the strategies he suggests won’t necessarily help the sufferer. By his account, Mary seems like a wonderfully supportive partner who got sick of the situation, and he only faced his problem after the relationship ended. I wonder if the author would have been as motivated to change if Mary hadn’t walked away? It seems like at that point, he had to accept that his behavior had caused him to lose someone he cared about, and he needed to make changes.

“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.”

This is the sort of false hope and flawed logic that keeps women in abusive relationships. How many abused women have told themselves that their partner’s behavior would improve if they only loved them enough, or in the right way, or provided the right kind of support? The small chance that “love will save the day” isn’t worth the greater risk that it won’t, and the pain the helper-spouse would have to go through trying to make a potentially abusive and/or co-dependent relationship work. If it’s getting the to point where someone is engaging in the aforementioned behaviors routinely, skip the plan and just run away.

Paul Graves

Hi Amber,

Thank you for reading and for your in-depth commentary. I agree with you, this is not the job of a sig other.

I disagree with many of your assessments. The piece is meant to be hopeful. I refuse to condemn a man suffering from negative masculinity and low self-worth as damaged or unworthy of love.

I have learned to love myself and reached awareness. Problem is, I never communicated any of these feelings until five years later. Only when I communicated them and accepted them did I begin to heal and change.

There is no blame game here. If you forced me to try, I’d say blame our society. Most of our society places boys and men in rigid boxes that say:

*Emotions are for the weak
*Men must accomplish things to be loved
*Money equals success and power
*Don’t be a girl or a sissy, don’t be weak (what is this teaching men about women?)
*Men who sleep with multiple partners are “real men”
*Real men do what they want, no matter what

Now, once you realize this, change can begin. Awareness and attention begin the healing… But I was trapped in this “man box” and suffering from low self-esteem for most of my life.

I was writing about what I wanted to hear at the time. There is no right or wrong, just opinion.

I was so deep in my trance that I was the one who left Mary, not the other way around. Which only adds to my regret.

But yes Amber, you’re right. If your sig other is acting the way I describe in the article, he needs help. As a human being, try to help a fellow suffering human being. If you don’t want to, then leave. There is no right choice in this situation. Both are going to suffer.



Dear Amber and Paul,
I’ve been in a relationship for over 8 years with a man who struggles to love himself. Often I feel like the best years of my life are passing me by, my friends say that I’m in an “abusive relationship”, some even suggest that perhaps I too have self-esteem issues for not leaving. And certainly I feel the clock ticking.

But then its my choice to make: I’ve chosen to focus on my relationship and make it, on my part, the best that it can. This might not help me out of this situation but it cannot but help me spiritually. If you believe that God has brought you together, as I do “what God has joined”, then my calling in life is to help him get to Heaven.

Maybe its good/bad to issue an ultimatum, the psychologists are not in agreement about this one and I know that leaving may help me but it will set him back even further. So my decision is to carry on wooing him and loving him for the next forty years of his life.

The question I had to ask myself is whether his behavior was chosen (was he a narcissist deliberately trying to hurt me) or is this really an illness that he was battling within himself. Since its clearly the latter, then I remind myself that we marry for better, for worse, in sickness and in health.

I pray daily for him and do certainly hope that one day we will get over this together “The bond between you will be unbreakable, and he will love you forever”. But I’m prepared for the consequences of this not happening in my life time.

I would really ask if you truly love your partner and if you have a faith encourage you to seek support there. Mental health may really be the modern playground of the “devil”.

I understand the view that the “small chance that “love will save the day” isn’t worth the greater risk that it won’t, and the pain the helper-spouse would have to go through” is the prevelant one. And in cases where there is deliberate abuse even agree. For me that “small chance that love will save the day” is what I rely on everyday. Its what gives me hope.

People say that because he doesn’t love himself he can’t really love me and I’ve had to really ponder over the truth of that statement. I’ve come to realise that if you dont love yourself you can still love another but you just dont know how to express it.

For now I dont regret my decision, its a cross I’ve chosen to bear and I know I’ve been given enough strength to still successfully function in other parts of my life. I believe in my love for him, and because of that I must believe all things, hope all things (including the chance, however small, that love will save the day) and endure all things. Maybe I will change my mind someday so I don’t want to appear as if I’m on a soapbox. Its certainly a decision each person has to make for themselves.

If you’re married I’d ask you to examine what marriage is for? I’m okay with my decision because I believe that God created marriage more to make us holy, than to make us happy.

But then I’m just someone on a computer somewhere!


Your story touched me. I pray for you and your husband. Hope one day he gets to know the Lord and that his worth is depended on God. May God be with you and give you the strength and love to keep going.


Hi Paul

I also thought this was my ex in disguise writing.

I have some questions. with your self awareness what is stopping you from returning to Mary after you managed to begin to love yourself? If she is the significant long suffering partner. the ultimate amends to yourself and her would be to return.

My husband eventually left saying he was doing more harm than good. He frequently sought validation on outside ,sex site, work colleagues etc. I eventually became too resentful. I tried unconditional love in an addictive way it left me neglecting my own needs. It sapped my attention from my dtr.

We both went into counselling separately and have had to learn to love ourselves. 14months on and the time platonically spent with our dtr creates intimacy . I had a conversation yesterday about whether we might date again. But he reverted to “deer in headlights” again.thats a common phrase in our relationship. I await to hear whether he may wish to date without being physical but he is in denial that he feels anything again. I began to feel resentful about the control/avoidant/avoidant pattern he has over me and was gearing up to criticises all his failing. And then I read this and realise once again its no grand plan. He is still not changed inside. And it won’t help to criticise him. O just wish he’d admit his feelings towards me. Theres nothing more painful that being treated exclusively and then denying it. I had hoped in another 2 years he might. I just wish men would see that those “significant ” partners are not some treasured lamentable memory, they are still alive and would still like to reignite the relationship.

Steve Cripe

Thanks for this article Paul…seems like you were writing my bio in this piece. Made a copy to give to my wife. I think we oftentimes have the distinct belief our significant other doesn’t understand our plights and mental “ailments”; how could they, right? We want them to understand so they will accept us, but then, we really don’t understand ourselves.
Thanks again…

Paul Graves

Steve, thank you very much for reading. Yes, I know where you’re coming from. Our sig others are not mind readers. Instead of acting out, we should try talking with them. Treating my emotions and self-doubt as a purely personal battle is what led to so many consequences in my relationships.

And until we understand ourselves, how can we have faith or loyalty in anything we have chosen? If we don’t understand or love ourselves, how can we be steadfast in our decisions? It leads to a wishy-washy foundation. Loving and accepting yourself should be #1 focus, in my humble opinion.


If this is what passes for helpful we are all in a world of hurt! For goodness sakes, why would I want this guy’s viewpoint? Buy him books, ask him how he feels? No, walk away!

Paul Graves

I agree with you, Venessa. If anyone is acting like this, they have so much work to do before they’re ready for any relationship.

I needed a healthy relationship with myself before I was worth piss to anyone else!

Thanks for reading,


But it also takes two. Society right now has created a very throwaway society as if to say “Well its not working RIGHT NOW, better throw it out for something new”

I say this because Im a guy suffer from low self esteem due to being cheated on several times by my ex. My now fiancee and I were going great…until she inadvertently did something that triggered bad memories with me around 9 months ago and since then I find myself being guarded and honestly paranoid. With respect to the author, more often than not its because we’ve been the victims of abuse in some form, not always physical.

I caught it and most of the time I can control it, but every so often, it rears its ugly head. Work on issues, yes, ask us how we feel, how we’re doing. Afterall, is that not what most women would like their husbands/SO’s to do?


Thank you for this article. My boyfriend had told me that he had felt this way. I just hope that we can work through it. When I had asked questions about this it was hard for him to answer. I don’t want this to affect our relationship anymore.

Paul Graves

I hope it works out, Vic. When Mary and I split, she was broken for many, many months. But she then found the man she is still with today. They’ve been together twice as long as we were, and she seems so happy. My point being, life is always happening for us, not to us. Maybe there’s an amazing thing awaiting you through all this struggle.



Thank you for article. We live together as well. It has been four years. Thank you for your kind words.


OMG, you sound exactly like my ex. Yup, I tried, stuck it out for 13 years, the last 4 were because we had a son together and I was trying SO hard to be there for him. I was your Mary. No woman should have to deal with that. It’s debilitating and heart-breaking. He is now married to another woman who is probably dealing with the same shit. She too, is a Mary. Funny how they keep attracting the good ones.

Paul Graves

I’m sorry to hear that, Maria. If I may be honest, there is something exhilarating and electrifying about someone like I used to be, and your ex.

I find it much harder to meet women now that I don’t seek external validation. And now that I stay in much more, read and write, and treat my family as my work of art, not my sexuality or my career. I guess I’m boring?

Can I ask you, what attracted you to this man in the first place? I’d love to hear more. Feel free to email me @ .

Paul Graves


Hello Paul, i have the same issue as the others. My boyfriend just told me that he hates himself but he doesn’t show it nor any other emotion because he wants to be strong for me. I love him and i hate that he’s gone through a lot and i don’t know anything about it. I want to ask him and i know he’ll tell me what happened to him to make him hates himself that much but i don’t know if i can. Please help


Hi Maria,

It’s not like “they” (if you mean bad guys) always attract “good” girls. It’s the unavoidable chemistry between fear and shame, between a fixer and a flawed!

The fixer will always find(or attract) the flawed and vice versa. The attraction sparks when a fixer meets a flawed. Believe me, a fixer (no matter what she says her choice is), deep down she is always looking for a flawed person, and same goes for the flawed, who is constantly in search of a fixer. After the initial attraction phase is over, begins the real game of fear and shame. The flawed person avoids intimacy because he doesn’t want the girl to see the real him because that may make her stop loving him(he will stop getting the validation he needs) . And, the fixer becomes anxious for not being able to fix the guy he loves so much. She tries hard and he becomes more distant. He thinks he doesn’t deserve so much love, and she fears to imagine a life without him. This may go on for years and ultimately the eventual break up.


Hi Maria,

It’s not like “they” (if you mean bad guys) always attract “good” girls. It’s the unavoidable chemistry between fear and shame, between a fixer and a flawed!

The fixer will always find(or attract) the flawed and vice versa. The attraction sparks when a fixer meets a flawed. Believe me, a fixer (no matter what she says her choice is), deep down she is always looking for a flawed person, and same goes for the flawed, who is constantly in search of a fixer. After the initial attraction phase is over, begins the real game of fear and shame. The flawed person avoids intimacy because he doesn’t want the girl to see the real him because that may make her stop loving him(he will stop getting the validation he needs) . And, the fixer becomes anxious for not being able to fix the guy he loves so much. She tries hard and he becomes more distant. He thinks he doesn’t deserve so much love, and she fears to imagine a life without him. This may go on for years and ultimately the eventual break up.


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Follow Hey Sigmund on Instagram

Whenever the brain registers threat, it organises the body to fight the danger, flee from it, or hide from it. 

Here’s the rub. ‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually dangerous, but about what the brain perceives. It also isn’t always obvious. For a strong, powerful, magnificent, protective brain, ‘threat’ might count as anything that comes with even the teeniest potential of making a mistake, failure, humiliation, judgement, shame, separation from important adults, exclusion, unfamiliarity, unpredictability. They’re the things that can make any of us feel vulnerable.

Once the brain registers threat the body will respond. This can drive all sorts of behaviour. Some will be obvious and some won’t be. The responses can be ones that make them bigger (aggression, tantrums) or ones that make them smaller (going quiet or still, shrinking, withdrawing). All are attempts to get the body to safety. None are about misbehaviour, misintent, or disrespect. 

One of the ways bodies stay safe is by hiding, or by getting small. When children are in distress, they might look calm, but unless there is a felt sense of safety, the body will be surging with neurochemicals that make it impossible for that young brain to learn or connect. 

We all have our things that can send us there. These things are different for all of us, and often below our awareness. The responses to these ‘things’ are automatic and instinctive, and we won’t always know what has sent us there. 

We just need to be mindful that sometimes it’s when children seem like no trouble at all that they need our help the most. The signs can include a wilted body, sad or distant eyes, making the body smaller, wriggly bodies, a heavy head. 

It can also look as though they are ignoring you or being quietly defiant. They aren’t - their bodies are trying to keep them safe. A  body in flight or flight can’t hear words as well as it can when it’s calm.

What they need (what all kids need) are big signs of safety from the adult in the room - loving, warm, voices and faces that are communicating clear intent: ‘I’m here, I see you and I’ve got you. You are safe, and you can do this. I’m with you.’♥️
I’d love to invite you to an online webinar:
‘Thriving in a Stressful World: Practical Ways to Help Ourselves and Our Children Feel Secure And Calm’

As we emerge from the pandemic, stressors are heightened, and anxiety is an ever more common experience. We know from research that the important adults in the life of a child or teen have enormous capacity to help their world feel again, and to bring a felt sense of calm and safety to those young ones. This felt sense of security is essential for learning, regulation, and general well-being. 

I’m thrilled to be joining @marc.brackett and Dr Farah Schroder to explore the role of emotion regulation and the function of anxiety in our lives. Participants will learn ways to help express and regulate their own, and their children’s, emotions, even when our world may feel a little scary and stressful. We will also share practical and holistic strategies that can be most effective in fostering well-being for both ourselves and children. 

In this webinar, hosted by @dalailamacenter you will have the opportunity to learn creative, evidence-informed takeaways to help you and the children in your care build resilience and foster a sense of security and calmness. Join us for this 1 ½ hour session, including a dynamic Q&A period.
Webinar Details:
Thursday, October 14, 2021
1:30 - 3:00 PM PST
Registrants will receive a Zoom link to attend the webinar live, as well as a private link to a recording of the webinar to watch if they cannot join in at the scheduled time.

Register here:

The link to register is in my story.♥️
So much of what our kids and teens are going through isn’t normal - online school, extended separation from their loved people, lockdowns, masks. Even if what they are going through isn’t ‘normal’, their response will be completely understandable. Not all children will respond the same way if course, but whatever they feel will be understandable, relatable, and ‘normal’. 

Whether they feel anxious, confused, frustrated, angry, or nothing at all, it’s important that their response is normalised. Research has found that children are more likely to struggle with traumatic events if they believe their response isn’t normal. This is because they tend to be more likely to interpret their response as a sign of breakage. 

Try, ‘What’s happening is scary. There’s no ‘right’ way to feel and different people will feel different things. It’s okay to feel whatever you feel.’

Any message you can give them that you can handle all their feelings and all their words will help them feel safer, and their world feel steadier.♥️
We need to change the way we think about discipline. It’s true that traditional ‘discipline’ (separation, shame, consequences/punishment that don’t make sense) might bring compliant children, but what happens when the fear of punishment or separation isn’t there? Or when they learn that the best way to avoid punishment is to keep you out of the loop?

Our greatest parenting ‘tool’ is our use of self - our wisdom, modelling, conversations, but for any of this to have influence we need access to their ‘thinking’ brain - the prefrontal cortex - the part that can learn, think through consequences, plan, make deliberate decisions. During stress this part switches off. It is this way for all of us. None of us are up for lectures or learning (or adorable behaviour) when we’re stressed.

The greatest stress for young brains is a felt sense of separation from their important people. It’s why time-outs, shame, calm down corners/chairs/spaces which insist on separation just don’t work. They create compliance, but a compliant child doesn’t mean a calm child. As long as a child doesn’t feel calm and safe, we have no access to the part of the brain that can learn and be influenced by us.

Behind all behaviour is a need - power,  influence, independence, attention (connection), to belong, sleep - to name a few). The need will be valid. Children are still figuring out the world (aren’t we all) and their way of meeting a need won’t always make sense. Sometimes it will make us furious. (And sometimes because of that we’ll also lose our thinking brains and say or do things that aren’t great.)

So what do we do when they get it wrong? The same thing we hope our people will do when we get things wrong. First, we recognise that the behaviour is not a sign of a bad child or a bad parent, but their best attempt to meet a need with limited available resources. Then we collect them - we calm ourselves so we can bring calm to them. Breathe, be with. Then we connect through validation. Finally, when their bodies are calm and their thinking brain is back, talk about what’s happened, what they can do differently next time, and how they can put things right. Collect, connect, redirect.
Our nervous systems are talking to each other every minute of every day. We will catch what our children are feeling and they will catch ours. We feel their distress, and this can feed their distress. Our capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

Children create their distress in us as a way to recruit support to help them carry the emotional load. It’s how it’s meant to be. Whatever you are feeling is likely to be a reflection what your children are feeling. If you are frustrated, angry, helpless, scared, it’s likely that they are feeling that way too. Every response in you and in them is relevant. 

You don’t need to fix their feelings. Let their feelings come, so they can go. The healing is in the happening. 

In that moment of big feelings it’s more about who you are than what you do. Feel what they feel with a strong, steady heart. They will feel you there with them. They will feel it in you that you get them, that you can handle whatever they are feeling, and that you are there. This will help calm them more than anything. We feel safest when we are ‘with’. Feel the feeling, breathe, and be with - and you don’t need to do more than that. 
There will be a time for teaching, learning, redirecting, but the middle of a storm is not that time.♥️

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