Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

When You Love a Man With Low Self-Esteem – 9 Things to Keep in Mind (by Paul Graves)

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When You Love a Man With Low Self-Esteem

So you love a guy with low self-esteem. Sucks to be you. I’m saying that as a dude who used to hate himself. Who still kind of does. I know the crap you deal with. He must drive you nuts.

I was in a relationship with an angel, let’s call her Mary. Mary was such a pure, beautiful soul. We connected. Looking into her eyes filled me with comfort and calmed my fears. Mary loved me so much, and I loved her too. But I hated myself even more. Long story short – I ran away from her love. The love I felt unworthy of. I sought validation and distraction in women, alcohol and career moves. And in many other dark ways I won’t mention.

Low self-esteem is easy to explain yet hard to understand for some. It’s feeling shameful about who you are. Feeling guilty or embarrassed about who you are, deep in your core. You feel ‘different’. Damaged or flawed in fundamental, irreversible ways. You don’t love yourself. Your man may never admit it outright – but he wishes he were someone else.

Alas, there’s no return policy in life. We’re stuck in this skin forever, and the hate, the self-pity – it gets us nowhere. But here’s the rub:

When a man is dealing with low self-esteem, he’ll make mistakes. Big mistakes. My shame and low self-esteem led me to become reckless. I felt a constant, nearly unbearable background anxiety. I had to make myself feel different. I had to escape. Luckily, there were several reliable methods: nonstop partying, irresponsible sex, starting businesses, spending lots of money, exotic traveling. My worst nightmare was being alone, in a quiet room. I couldn’t stand my own company. Maybe your man feels the same way, I pray he doesn’t. But my feelings aren’t unique.

The mistakes I made led to more shame and guilt. And then more mistakes made running away from those feelings. The cycle continues. This leads to what I like to call the 9th dimension of shame. The hole can get so deep. The spiral of pain seems unstoppable.

Your man’s low self-esteem can manifest in a variety of ways. Every guy will act out in his own way. Some pull back and hide, some flee and seek experiences. Others party and rage, or try to prove themselves at work.  It’s troublesome for both the sufferer and the poor individual who loves them so much. Low self-esteem is tricky; the sufferer can distract himself or run away from it for years. He may not even realize that the darkness he feels is low self-esteem. And it’s f*cking heartbreaking.

If you love him, he will need you to get through it. You may be able to show him the light. Don’t give up on him, he needs you. Many times it will be confusing, and he may hurt you without wanting to. (Trust me, he doesn’t want to hurt you. He hurts enough just being himself.)

Here are some important things to remember: a cheat sheet to get you through tough times. And maybe to help him see the truth of his ways.

  1.  He loves you so much, but hates himself even more.

    He’s lost. You two may have such an obvious, beautiful opportunity for love but he squanders it. He only sees his own shortcomings. His pain and depression is like a dark, heavy, thick blanket that he just can’t shake. But like I said above, he may not even realize it. He’s not trying to mess with your head. He’s not unreachable. However he is in a state of constant anxiety, always wishing he could be someone HE loves. If you say ‘I love you’, he probably thinks: ‘Why would you? You can’t. You’re wrong’.

    He yearns to love himself, and the struggle to do that can ruin your relationship. This should be a good thing, right? Not all men act out this feeling in healthy ways. It will be hard but think about their perspective. If they don’t love themselves maybe you can do something to help them. If you love him, do what you can to help his HEART. Buy him books on spirituality, ask him how he feels about himself. Listen, and if required seek the help of a licensed therapist or psychologist.

    A book I recommend is No More Mr. Nice Guy by Dr. Robert Glover. It was a wake-up call, and helped launch my wild journey of transformation. Don’t let the title fool you, it’s a book about shame, self-worth and learning to accept yourself. It’s a powerful starting point, buy it now.

  2. He may seek attention outside the relationship, or activities without you.

    This was a huge factor in my relationship ending. My low self-esteem led me to crave attention from other potential partners. I was addicted to approval and validation from other women.

    Maybe he likes attention from others, flirtation and come-hither looks. I hope you haven’t caught him on dating sites or apps. That was another thing I would do – I craved the attention so much. Maybe he also yearns for people to tell him how cool he is, how great he dresses, or what a sweet job he has. Point is, he’s just crazy for attention.

    He seeks attention and approval from other people – but what about you? Self-esteem is a real b*tch. He thinks that he has to either prove to himself that he’s worthy, or look for evidence of it anywhere he can. ‘If other people tell me I’m great, then that must mean I’m great.’

    It may be common sense to you – that we should all love and respect ourselves as human beings. But to a sufferer of low self-esteem, this isn’t the case. Having low self-esteem is like being in a courtroom. And you’re guilty until proven innocent. He’s shameful at the core of his being. His soul appears blackened, damaged and irreparable. He craves escapes from reality.

    Try to talk with him about this. ‘I think you act like this because you like how it makes you feel, right? Why do you need to feel this way?  Can’t you just be yourself, how you feel now?’ ‘Why aren’t I enough?’ ‘Do you need help learning to love yourself?’

    If your man can’t handle this conversation, consider moving on. He’s not ready. It must be him who makes the changes necessary to heal. It is NEVER on your shoulders to do this for him.

  3. He believes he must have ‘got lucky’. He feels unworthy of you.

    At first he cherished you. You were his prize. He held you close, showed you off to the world. It was intoxicating and intense. But soon, he knew he ‘had you’ and started looking around. The high that you and the new relationship gave him faded. The drug wore off, so he’s seeking fresh supply. He needs more intense intoxicating experiences to feel okay about himself.

    I had an amazing partner in Mary, but I didn’t believe I was worthy. She could see the man I was, beyond the shit-storm that was my life. She saw through my shame and self-hatred but I couldn’t buy it. I was too deep in my own trance.

    I thought I’d got lucky, that I’d fooled her somehow. So I needed to prove that I could be worthy of someone amazing. Does that sound stupid or what? I wanted to be able to ‘earn someone’ who everyone else wanted, to prove to myself that I was a valuable man. Then I could love myself.

    Remember that this isn’t about you – this is about a hole he has in his heart. He needs to know that he didn’t just ‘get lucky’ when he landed you. Don’t let him feel that way! Please, tell him you love him. Tell him everything you think is unique and enticing about him. Don’t make it only about appearance either. If he feels like he fooled you, he will not treat the relationship with the respect. This is an important point.

  4. He may be restless, or always trying to prove something to the world or himself.

    Some call it ‘hustle’ or ambition. Maybe he has grand ideas or entrepreneurial zeal up the wazoo. He wants to create something that will change the world. That’s wonderful, but in his case it may be a cover-up: a distraction from voices in his head. The voices that say, ‘you’re not enough’. He’s trying to create a life that will prove his worth.

    He doesn’t want a life without you. His big dreams or grandiose desires get him out of his head. They give him hope that maybe one day, just maybe he will be able to like the man he is. After he does all this awesome stuff.

    There is nothing wrong with drive and initiative. But why is he so driven? Why does he desire so much?  If we bothered to ask ourselves ‘why’ we want the things we do, we could save ourselves much heartbreak. We’d stop running after so many shiny red balls. We could live with more purpose. Your man should ask himself why he wants to accomplish so much.

    To bring him down to earth, remind him how much life there is to live right now, in this moment. This moment, between the two of you. Kiss his lips, hold his head in your hands. Tousle that hair and look deep into those eyes you love so much. Say, ‘I love you for exactly who you are, right now’. Tell him he is enough.

    The point isn’t to make him an aimless, lazy ass. It’s to make sure he has his motivation and priorities in the right place.

  5. He can be extremely jealous or insecure about other men.

    My ex, Mary, had to think that I was perfect and wonderful at all times. She was my entire support system, and my source of confidence and security. She was my everything. (And yet I treated her awfully – aren’t men the greatest?)

    If I felt threatened or not #1 importance in her life, I would start to lose my sh*t. The low self-esteem inside your man creates an enormous hole. He filled it with you, and sprinkles in other things like vices and attention from others. When you threaten to leave them empty again they go crazy or become irrational.

    He doesn’t want you to suffer. Nor does he want to dominate you. He doesn’t know why he feels this way, but it’s because he hates who he is. In effect it’s self-defense, your actions hurt him. It’s painful enough just being who he is – when you threaten to make him feel even worse about himself … he lashes out or gets uncomfortable.

    Nothing about this is okay. I’m only telling it like it is.

  6. It can be near impossible to get him living ‘in the moment’.

    Many guys with low self-esteem are living in the past. He may be guilt-ridden and woeful over opportunities he failed to seize. Maybe he regrets not doing better in school, or choosing a better college. He might feel like a failure and disappointment to his family. Who knows, the point is he rides himself down all the time.

    Alternately, he’s living in the future. He dreams of a day when he can ‘be happy’. You may feel sad because it seems all he cares about is making lots of money, accomplishments or fame. Or making his family proud. He may seem to leave you out of his utopian vision of the future. But he probably just feels he’ll only worthy of you once he conquers the world. He feels he’s unworthy of happiness until he proves himself. These thoughts consume him and he’s desperate for that sweet moment of relief when he’s ‘made it’.  Problem: it’s never coming.

    You love him exactly as he is, right? Tell him that right now.

  7. True commitment scares the sh*t out of him – but not for the reason you think.

    In my relationship, I was afraid because I didn’t know who the hell I was. The only parts of myself I knew were sh*t. I didn’t feel like a good person, so who would want to be with me? I convinced myself that I was helping by not giving her marriage or children. By not giving her 100% true commitment I was doing her a favor.

    I didn’t believe in myself. I had no faith in my own goodness or potential. I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle the hard times that would come.  My feelings were ‘everything I touch turns to sh*t, so why would I waste her time? It’s doomed from the start, and I do not want to hurt her’.

    No advice here, no matter what he’s going to give you the ‘deer in the headlights’ look. Knowing this may help you understand the complexity of a man. He needs to learn to love himself through the hard times before he can love you through the hard times.

  8. He may enjoy seeing you in pain or suffering for the relationship.

    Sick, huh? Hate me if you want, I don’t care. I come in truth. This is a tough one to talk about. Self-esteem can get so low that a man gets validation from seeing his partner suffer. Seeing a person go through hell for us, feel pain caused by us – can actually give us pride.

    It’s a dose of the ‘I’m worthy’ drug … ‘Look at how this person goes crazy for me, I must be worthy’.

    Enough said, it’s time to leave the relationship. Hurt never justifies hurt.

  9. He adores you – but he needs to learn how to love himself.

    Your guy has to learn to love himself. This includes all the deepest and darkest parts too, the parts that scare him to death. The unfaced and unfelt parts of our psyche are the source of all neurosis and suffering. Carl Jung said that, not me.

    If he only loves a certain part of himself like his looks, the rest of him will just go on undeveloped. In many ways I was like a child before. I avoided pain or sacrifice every chance I could, and I turned into a big man-child. If this is happening to your man, you must stop it right away.

In the end, you can get over this together. The bond between you will be unbreakable, and he will love you forever. He’ll never forget that you were the girl who helped him discover the greatest love in the universe. His love for himself. Stick in there, but develop a plan right away. Not only is he suffering, you are as well. Take action now. If he refuses to draw a line in the sand and change his life, it may be time to walk away.


About the Author: Paul Graves

Paul Graves writes about pain, shame, and better living through self-acceptance at TakeTheLemons.com. He lives in Ohio with his 7-year old daughter and two cats. 

Paul is on Twitter and Instagram.

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335 Comments

Emma

Wow I can relate so much to this article in what I see in my partner.
My partner and I have been together for over 7 years now. We’ve had an amazing relationship, with ups and downs but have always supported each other and made it through the lows. My partner suffers from quite severe depression and low self esteem. This ebs and flows and is part of our life together but something I am always willing to support him through. However, what has confused me is that twice now he has sought the love and affection of other females. I have found out both times and he has apologized and explained that it is his coping mechanism for his depression and low self esteem and it is me he loves. He wants/needs 100% attention and validation from someone who is always there and always willing to give, something you don’t necessarily just get from a normal friendship, and hence his need to seek further. While he has not had physical relations with these other women, he has had an intense emotional involvement with them through sharing everything with each other, discussing potential for feelings, long messages about love – which hurts incredibly much.
I recognize this desperate need for validation and self assurance from others in him and have therefore accepted it both times.
BUT, it hurts. Knowing and understanding it does not stop the intense hurt it causes me. Not to mention the distrust and feeling like an idiot. I should also add that during these times he does not become withdrawn from me and our sex life does not suffer. He doesn’t sneak off or spend less time with me or push me away. He just has it going on the side.
He has finally agreed to seek counselling as his depression is at an extreme low and I am hoping that will help him work through this issue that is so hurtful to me.
But, am I making excuses for my partner??

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Tayler

Emma, if you see this please reply so we can find a way to talk. Of all the comments I read on here I relate with you the most and I am going through the same thing!!

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Rachel

I’ve just met a guy that is clearly suffering from low self esteem. He’s funny, charming and caring but already I’m starting to see the cracks. He wants all of my spare time and takes it as a personal affront when I can’t give it to him. When things crop up and I can’t see him, he bombarded me with impossible questions as to why and I know every answer I give will be unsatisfactory for him. I can see that he sees this as a sign of disobedience on my part and that he thinks he’s losing me in some way and I’m already finding it exhausting. I’m not emotionally equipped for this and I’m so grateful for this article because It’s given the insight I needed to make my decision. Self love first! x

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Toni

Yeah all of this We do alright for awhile then he pull away.We dealt 30 plus years ago crossed paths again we got engaged year ago whew been like a roller coaster.We Love either so much.He is a very good person ,but very broken.Help

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Jen

Toni,

Same… Had a 2nd chance and we BOTH suffer from such depression, but I didnt seek the validation that he did… he says he has a sexual addiction (for validation, However SWEARS he never cheated, Only shared or recieved pics etc)) He purposely got me Pregnant, We now share a 9yr old son… 1 month into my pregnancy I found where he had shared a pic of himself & recieved by a girl we had both known since we first met as teens… Anyhow, I began to feel insecure after KNOWING this man had loved me so much and I ended it.. Theres SO MUCH MORE to it all and Many Painful things etc.. but ultimately, I Pushed him away to protect my own heart, But instead I broke my own heart.. I made him leave… I CRUSHED MY OWN HEART… He’s Literally the ONLY GUY I’VE EVER LOVED.. EVER…. Of course No one wanted us Happy either… We were best friends, So happy together. WE NEVER fought .. had so much in common… his mom hated me.. she wanted him all to herself, She is 10000% Narcissistic… Did EVERYTHING in her Power to make us Miserable after I met her… She ONLY wanted our Child.. Long story short, DO NOT CHASE YOUR MAN AWAY IF YOU LOVE HIM.. AND DO NOT LET HIM CHASE YOU AWAY… Fight.. and Keep fighting.. I waited 1/2 my life to Find him again… Only to ruin everything I had dreamed of… Its been since roughly 2012-13 off an on until then and now just sharing our son.. The pain NEBER EVER STOPS… EVER ? I HATE MYSELF for making him leave… ((all bc I was afraid he would hurt me 1s))) I ruined my OWN FOREVER, And Now my Precious Son will never know how Amazing his daddy & I are together??? I’ll BE WAITING FOREVER IF NEED BE, FOR A 3RD CHANCE.. Bc as *They say* 3 Times is the Charm❤

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Jen

Forgot to add, I TOO had done Many stupid Little things to HURT him as well, But even Little things ADD up or To another person May seem So very Monumental…. Point is, Neither of us were Perfect and did many little things to hurt one another…
Truth is, we could be “Noah & Ally” from the Notebook* I KNOW that for a Fact l, and In fact MANY More… But we would either need HELP to maintain, Or those who sought to Destroy us.. If its truly Meant to be, ((As I will ALWAYS believe that it is)) Then It Will Be❤

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Marie

My son is a young adult of 22. His depression, anxiety and low self-esteem are a heartbreak. And the strain of powerlessly watching him struggle daily is starting to take its toll. Reading this has been amazing, only because it has felt like being able to look inside his brain and appease frustrations. I am off to get the book. Thank you

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Star

My bf broke up with me recently because he felt he wasn’t good enough for me. We were in a relationship for 4 years. I am more qualified than he is. He feels he would never be able to reach my level. Our families are also very well educated which makes him feel he hasn’t done anything in life and that our families would never accept our relationship. He says he cannot make me struggle with him. He wants to be friends now.
He’s totally messed up right now wrt his career cos nothing’s going right. But I’m sure something great will come up soon. But he doesn’t believe in himself.
Should I be friends with him even after the break up and help him get out of this mess? Or is it time for me to move on? Will he come back to me and is this just a phase? Cos I know for sure he still loves me. I didn’t want to break up but he said he doesn’t want all this right now as he feels he’s using me and that he doesn’t want me stuck with him as I deserve better.

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Faith

This is a very good article. Wish I would have read it before I left my emotionally abusive bf of 7 years. It totally makes sense that he has low self esteem. I tried everything I could think of to make the relationship work, but I was losing myself in the process. It was a terribly painful decision to leave, but he made it very clear he was not interested in changing. Since I left, he has even sent me messages that he is the one ending the relationship because I did the same thing to him that his ex-wife did (leaving) and he is doing great. I am so sad that the relationship ended because he was so good to me at the beginning and he has a lot of wonderful qualities, but I couldn’t cope with the emotional abuse.

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Jen

Ditto..
No one has ever made me feel LOVE the way he did, DESPITE Satans grip on our Minds.. God has our Hearts.. and I WISH I had been able to be STRONGER for the Both of us.. What we had was truly Beautiful and So many envied us.. bc it was REAL!! No One had the Power to make me feel the way he did.. I felt so beautiful and Loved with him.. without I am like a Limp Flower just losing Petals day after day… I’m so very sad and would give ANYTHING to step back in time… I pray you make the right decisions and not mess up your heart the way I have… I wish we would NOT read into everything little thing in life, the way that we do… I PRAY for healing and reconnection one day?

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Janine

I agree. I just ended a relationship for a similar reason. I don’t like that this article is telling the girl to stay. It is harmful and he needs to heal on his own. GO! It will hurt more to stay than to leave. He will always hold you in his heart and mind but go. . You will never know how damaged a person is until you try to love them.

For me he ended up cheating with someone else then saying he loved her when she left him. He used me to comfort his heartbreak over another girl. He only thought he loved her because she was a worse mess than he was. It all made me feel quite horrible, as I am sure based off of our 5 years together that I showed him more love and positivity than anyone else in his life.

Don’t grow flowers for someone else to pick. Refer him and heal yourself of the emotional abuse. It is NOT healthy to stay in a relationship with a man with low self-worth.

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Lucy

I´m going through this right now. He always said he loved me so much, how intelligent I was and beautiful and a lot of other compliments. However, despite his great love he repeatedly said that he never wanted anything formal with me because there always was some minor defect or attitude from the that did not make him sure about having something formal. Despite I always told him that I loved him, he never believed me, he said that it was a lie and always asked to prove him that I really love him.
At some point he started to explode from some minor things, like when he went nuts because at some point I wanted a second opinion for a health issue of mine, he started to say that I was a very negative person and that action of mine was a sign the he could never rely on me in the future (until today I can´t understand this). He started to be very jealous, even of my dog, yes my DOG!!! how could someone be jealous from a dog?, he was getting mad if I touched her o rub her belly saying that it was unhealthy and that I showed more love to a dog than to him.
Everything ended really bad, mainly because I started to feel tired and anxious about all this and afraid of his reactions. Of course everything ended with him saying that I was a horrible person and that I have ruined his life.

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Louise

Sounds tough, Lucy. I feel for you. Just don’t ever believe his words. It sounds like you’ve made a lot of rational sense of what has happened. Just keep remembering the thoughts from your rational brain, not your emotional brain, when the going gets tough. Your instincts are right and you know it.

Much love.

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Nirmala

But what if we start feeling further trusting is only going to put me in further trouble and not get any love of his again or even if he tries to show the love his previous behaviours have made me skeptical.rather than getting tied up with a low esteem guy who will drown me i prefer staying alone

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Karena

This is my husband Ian to a Tee. We have been married one year and we won’t make it to two, sadly I can’t deal with the anger and insults and blame even though I realize this must be an Illness or mental issue but I just can’t wait and go through more years of this. I love him but I love myself more and I am the only one on this relationship now that does.
I am glad the man who wrote this article got some help. Perhaps ian will see me as his Mary one day and realize how awful he has been to me, I hope so honestly.

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.

Thank you for being honest, it’s a true insight into ones mind. Now, it seems like the other side is in boats bobbing away in between the storms that come and go. Going through the motions. I understand that it’s pretty much a waiting game, and in reality, all we can do is help them see they are worthy. Saying this, some success stories would really be uplifting at this point. I think we can all agree that we are in the same cluster of boats… but how the fuck do we get to land. How do you handle storms, what’s been effective on your part? We now have the opportunity to see into the heart of someone’s who struggles just like our loved ones. And I need cross information because I fucking refuse to let him lose to himself. I need to know what’s been done before and in honest answers, if it works. How can we help in the most effective ways, and not chase shiny balls that we think could be the answers. When your drowning, we’re drowning, except we don’t care if we drown just as long and your safe and breathing. I know my story, it’s the same as everyone else’s. What I don’t know is how to help him in a way that actually helps him. And I mean truly helping him, what’s where your come in, what actually works, what breathes life back into a dark mind. I’m not chasing an fantasy where there’s an exact answer, but how were some situations handled successfully, what did you do, what didn’t you do? please. How do I help teach him without hurting or pushing him away.

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Lei Lei

First let me address that Paul is fine as hell!!!
Damn, it’s always the gorgeous ones.
My asshole is suffering from a mental disorder but I did get an apology. I’m leaving to start a whole new life in California and this asshole doesn’t even want to see me. I’m not sure if he’s married, sleeping with my daughter or had his penis chopped off by another woman. I also know he has a problem with jealousy. I broke up with him years ago and he’s been doing his best to make me pay for years. He’s spiteful, jealous and an all around asshole. He has addictions and he’s reall not a good guy at all in the surface. On the other hand he’s always been a gentleman to me. He’s two different people most definitely.
I believe he met someone after me and fell deep. She hurt in so much he’s given up on life.
That’s an ego buster because he’s always made me feel as if I was the special one. Reality check!!!
I’m clearly not. Got it. Point taken. Asshole!!!
He may have a disease he can’t get rid of because he couldn’t keep it in his pants is probably the only reason why I finally got an apology from him. He was always the type to never admit his wrongs. He’s 47 so there’s clearly no time for change. I’m looking forward to my new life without him in it. He crushed my soul but the apology finally gave me closure. He’s pretty intuitive as well so he knew why I reached out before my journey. Thanks asshole!!!
Kanye was right…let’s here it for the douchbags and the assholes!!!
Am I bitter? Just a little. I will soon get over it when I’m taking a nice walk down the California beaches and my business is booming.

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yoga

exactly him.. i tried for 3 yrs to stick by him bec i saw this issue in him already.. now i am just so tired.. thinking what else can i do to make him feel he’s worthy also. now i feel unworthy when i saw him with his family and the lifestyle they have compared to me and the other women part of it, thats what i said to myself maybe he cant be proud of what i am now bec he doesnt want to look the loser of the group.. i love him and ill love him from here, im stepping back though cos im also saving myself ?

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Aurora

I have loved your article. I had an exboyfriend exactly like this, I am still in love with him. It is very hard, I cried rivers because I thought he didnt love me, no matter what I could do…at the end he was telling so many lies and hiding and cheating. I tried to help him a lot but it is very easy to cross that line you find yourself also with low self-esteem. Because even if you try to be focused in the things you like, then you get worried for him, in a very unhealthy way, like to save him. I became jealous and possessive, almost obsessive. So I do understand what you mean, but I do also think that you must be really strong, and the risk to loose your own security is really high. This is what happened to me and now I feel so empty. I wonder if he really wanted to try and if he is aware of what he did.

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Jane

Thank you, a lot of it resonates. I have been with my husband for 25 years but it is only since retiring he has become a different person from the one I started out with: restless, needing almost constant external validation, bragging, prone to melancholy etc.
I am not finding it easy, I am the complete opposite. Hence my scouring the internet to find snippets hat may enlighten me and give me something to help deal with the situation. Must say I am not finding it easy to say ‘Love you the way you are’ – as it is a bit of a lie and as I say, he hasn’t always been like this, but I will try. But nothing to loose and hopefully lots to gain.cheers jane

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Monique Antonette

I stumbled upon your article today while searching for answers to my ex’s behavior and why he didn’t want to commit. I’ve been searching for answers for three weeks and nothing satisfied my questions until today. Thank you so much for writing this. It sums up everything I went through and now I understand why. I feel sorry for my ex and pray that he will be healed and learn to love himself one day so he can experience true intimacy without fear.

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Melody

My boyfriend is now realizing that he has low self-esteem ever since he started going through hair loss earlier than he expected. He’s starting to obsess over work and money to over-compensate for how he feels about himself. The cycle repeats itself when he doesn’t follow through on his ambitions and then feels ashamed about it.

Even though he has admitted this to me, he says he has too much pride to find a professional to talk to, and he ignores my attempts to get him resources to work through on his own (online articles, books, etc).

I know that he has made progress by admitting that he has a problem, but I’m very tired of being neglected over his meaningless obsessions. And his constant self-hate is starting to convince me that I shouldn’t be with him. I have to remind myself that he is wrong and that I love him for valid reasons.

I’m still trying to decide if this article should give me hope or make me realize that he will only help himself once I leave.

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Kia

I am trying to figure out the same thing.(in reference to your last sentence)
Been dating my BF for almost a year now. He’s a great guy but definitely struggles with feeling unworthy to have me. He gets in these low pits sometimes and wants to be reckless, but then he’ll be good and happy again. We are both christians, so our faith and same spiritual connection has been the main thing keeping us together. He’s a great friend, but it’s tough when he’s got so much baggage from his past (boyhood) and still trying to figure out what he wants to do in life and how to be the man that I need ( He’s always switching up on things he’s pursuing). It’s draining sometimes to see the instability with that, but I love him. He’s afraid I’ll leave him but I’m determined to show him the love of God through the unconditional love I give to him.
Praying he breaks this cycle sooner than later!
Praying that the bondage of low self-esteem bebbroken off of everyone whose experiencing it.
#BreakTheCycle
#RealLove

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Diana

I can relate to your story as well. My “ex”, ( he was never officially my boyfriend, but we dated for 5 months) would constantly say i was too pretty for him & would say little things like “hope you’re not flirting with other guys”, “oh i’m just your side thing” & “you’re just gonna like me for 4 months then leave”. He was insecure probably due to him being 10 years older & not having any college education while i’m currently in the process of getting my Bachelors degree. He would say how he wants to go back to school, but i feel like he would just say that because he thought I’d be more into him. Honestly, I don’t care if he never went to college & i’ve told him that – that i like him for who he is & that i don’t look at anything else. He has a good steady job & has worked his way up. (He works A LOT and has a crazy schedule, but that wasn’t a deal breaker). He has so many great qualities. He’s sweet, thoughtful, funny, and I am definitely attracted to him (he wouldn’t believe me when i would tell him that). He disappeared on me twice & would contact me days/weeks later asking for forgiveness & another chance. I recently ended things with him for good. I was tired of feeling hurt & wanted to focus on me & my school work. I also struggle with being insecure, just never acted on it with him because I would live in the moment. When together in person, I felt happy, giggly, & definitely felt the connection between us. I hope he can change, but I also feel bad for “giving up on him.” He was the first guy i fell for. Maybe we’ll reconnect in the future. When we’re both at a better place…

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Mzladything

I was with my boyfriend for 3 years. He only had a full time job for 2 months and a part time job for a year that is only 10 hrs a week.. I did everything I could to make him happy. My daughters called him daddy. We love with everything. When he talked to his family (which totally different than mine) he would be jealous of his brother or angry with his deadbeat mom. When he’s not around or talk to his family he does great but then when he does they say I’m controlling him and he never stood up for me. I’m going thru alot he never helped with the bills or anything. He would reorganize the fridge, bedroom, closet ECT after I do it. I would ask for help cause I couldn’t keep us above water any more and my parents were getting tired of helping us. All I ask was a 40 hr job and then he would go into a pity story. He wouldn’t try but always come home complaining about his job. We got into in a few days ago. Law got involved and I still tried working it out. We met up and talked and I thought we was working it out but then I came home with everything gone except my daughters stuff in their rooms. I’m so confused and lost. I have him on my phone plan and he shut the phone off so can’t get a hold of him. His car is on my insurance and he’s making payments to my dad. I’m heartbroken. I’m not sure if I should move on. He has done alot of other things that I would talk in private. What can I do if anything.

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Nikki

He is more than likely on drugs. Get rid of him. Change all the livks. Get a restraining order. He is going to stop making car payments to your dad. If he took your belingings, your daughters are next. Get rid of him quickly.

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Kara

Thank you for this. Your former self sounds just like my recent ex. I’m 42, he’s 32. We met randomly one night and were together ever since. He swept me off my feet. For 8 months things were great. We had talked about the future, marriage, kids. He told me I was the best thing that ever happened to him, that he was in love with me. I told him the same. We were on the same page I thought. And then he started pulling away, making his first mistake. (obviously things weren’t great). I then also admitted to myself he had a drinking problem. We almost broke up that night but I couldn’t let him go. I didn’t want to give up on us. I asked him why he was pulling away and he said I had become negative and he needed someone positive in his life. (I’m a teacher and had accepted a long term sub position at a middle school, with his encouragement and it was torture). I listened and said I hear you and I’ll do better but I also need someone who’ll be there for me when things aren’t perfect. He agreed and we moved on. Then the next mistake, and the next. The third time I said I can’t take his behavior anymore, that I loved him but his behavior was hurting me and gave him an out. I encouraged him to seek therapy (in addition to the drinking his dad’s in prison-he found out the month before we met. I had asked him if he felt I got in the way of him processing it and he said no, tht I had helped him). He didn’t take it. For a fee weeks he became more attentive, and I was hopeful. Then he didn’t acknowledge our anniversary, I discovered accidentally he watched porn after we had had that discussion and he said he didn’t watch it. The trust bells went off and I discovered he had been having an online fling with a client since the month he started pulling away. We’re on a “long break” but I don’t think I can get over the infidelity. That one stings the most. I was never insecure about myself before then. I’m attractive, smart, ambitious, friendly and have a great family and friends. I could tell when I confronted him about it hadn’t occurred to him it was wrong. He even said “I never cheated on you, I was always with you”. Um, wrong answer! I knew he was immature but not to this extent. And now I see he is insecure. I do think he thought he fooled me, and now my self-esteem is in the toilet. I’m going to Alanon meetings and seeing a therapist as it’s obvious I’m codependent, this was a classic case. There were so many red flags I chose to accept. It hurts to lose trust and to deal with the anger. I don’t know whether it’s worth it at this point to talk to him again, to let him know how deeply he hurt me if I can’t forgive him and if he can’t accept accountability. I truly did love him and saw through all the junk and adored him. Now I wonder if he fed me a bunch of lies, if that man I saw beyond his immaturity was a lie, a figment of my imagination. Anyway, thanks for sharing your past and giving insight into the male psyche. I just ask anyone male or female out there to be honest with yourselves before you enter into a relationship. I’m guilty of this too. Are you really ready? Do you value other people and their feelings? Are you in a good place? Cheating and dishonesty are absolutely devastating.

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Joe

I am working through my 10th month of individual therapy and 3rd week of group meetings for Al-Anon and Codependency. Learning to not be ruled by impulse, shame, guilt, self-hate is going to take some time. It’s been 48 years using these “tools” so far. Trying to be and do better…did not work.

My girlfriend tried to coax me out, but what was I hiding? Who was hiding? If I didn’t show or identify how I was feeling, at least I could minimize pain. I destroyed myself so no one else could. (At least I had control of that.) She would ask how I was, and I either struggled or lied because I didn’t know how I was, or even who I was.

I could talk about physical and sexual abuse, little to no support to show weakness (emotions, feelings), two older sisters, no brother, raised by an alcoholic single mother. I had to support her, protect her, never embarrass her…never be a burden. My mother’s mother died because she was driving drunk and got into an accident two weeks after I was born. Recently my mother told me that she went back to work when I was six months to a year and that she couldn’t relax enough to nurse me so she drank beer. 3 of the multiple babysitters I had until I was 7 molested me. I resented my life and the mother I was supposed to protect.

Wit, charm, humor, flirting, sarcasm, deflection, being a great guy, a great listener, with great advice…all tools of deflection, shields….and part of who I am. Nice guy with a sad story…another tool.

I left home at 17 and was married to (you guessed it) an alcoholic. Another one to save , cherish, and resent. Look at me – how noble, how long-suffering. Don’t look at me – insecure, self-hating, self defeating. After 16 years I was on my own with 3 kids. Oh, poor single dad.

After a series of relationships that I had low expectations of, and knew that I wasn’t getting my needs met, She found me and I found her. The one who would call me on my shit and give me room to work on it. But I didn’t trust her. I didn’t trust myself. I needed validation from a quick flirt here and there. I didn’t even know I was doing it. I deleted messages. I hid. I lied. I didn’t realize how messed up I was until she left me. That was hitting bottom. All I’m left with is me. Now I’m working through being present in the moment. Meditating. Working the steps to recovery and sticking with therapy. I may not win her trust or her love ever again, but I can learn to be authentic and real and get out of the cycle of self harm.

I am working towards emotional maturity:

– regulate negative feelings
– live in the present
– say no to temptation
– go with the flow
– form deep bonds

Stop believing that you are unworthy. This will cause you to harm yourself and those you love.

It is your responsibility to to get help. Ask for it! Stop teaching your kids to do the things that you do in hating yourself, trying to be the nice guy, not having healthy boundaries., etc

I hope this helps someone else.

Love yourself.

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Mary

When i read your article it is exactly what i am living now. My spouse wants approval from all the people around him even the things we already decided. I can say our personal life is on public (everyone knows what we plan, when he wants to change his job, our salaries, he tells me back their comments too etc) which we always have an argument. When i first met him i think he really worked on it, ( everyone was talking what a good person he is) he showed me the best part of him too and i was attracted. All in all, he always wants to be praised by others. Even he himself appreciate others on each and every little matters and when i asked him why he is doing it, he said just to make them feel great and this kind of manner is really driving me crazy and when it comes to other people he sacrifies his time and money which seems his priority is people arround him not his family. We have a son together and i am worried what kind of father he could be.

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Soph

I read your article…
What is a plan or questions I can ask my guy to get him to start loving himself more? This relationship is really hurting me. I feel like ive done everything I can for him. But he gets mad at me, is rude, unfriendly, and unkind. I dont know what else to do. I am searching everywhere for help.

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Kate

I read your article. My boyfriend had been married twice. He had a divorce on his first and his second wife passed away. I have always seen his resentment over his first marriage and the way he grew up as a child for the only way he would have moved on from all of what happened to him is wheb he could not say anything bd about it anymore. I believed he had a great relationship with his second wife and her family and he was able to live with them the life he never had with his own family and his first marriage. Only that the second wife passed away after six years of them being together. He vowed the next woman he would date has to be nothing but the best. Then we met. I was decisive and ready for commitment myself we moved together. I saw his lack of trust and has greatly denied it thus resulting us to struggle in our emotional level of connection. No matter how I gave empathy to him and our relationship, the blame goes back to me. He admitted eventually that it’s him at fault and that he lost confidence on himself. He left without any qualms. I was left dumbfounded and shocked. I had to ask repeteadly myself how it happened. The anger was there until such time I realized I need to move on,give him time to find himself and just trust the journey of love we shared together. I love him with all my heart. I believe he does love me too and him moving away is giving himself time to be whole again. I hope when we meet again he’s a better man.

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Annabelle

Thank you so much for writing this article. I’ve read many and none have been able to sum up a man with low self-esteem as well and concise as you have.

You have basically described my partner to a tee (although if no. 8 applied to him I’d be seriously concerned!). It also explains a lot about his behaviour and personality (which is really eye-opening for me). I never suspected he had low self-esteem when I first met him. He chased me, asked me out etc. and I assumed by doing so he was a pretty confident guy. After the first date though, the picture became a lot clearer and he’s everything you’ve described.

He’s constantly saying how lucky he is and how undeserving he is of me and recently, if either one of us were to cheat or leave the other, I would be the first to do it.

He’s always trying to be “number one” (proving himself to the world). He’s quite volatile, if people praise him he “loves them” and “thinks they’re so nice.” If not, he will make nasty remarks about them constantly to the point where his insecurity really seeps out.

He can be extremely jealous or insecure about other men – yes! In fact, I’ve been banned from seeing a lot of my guy friends and the one time a guy asks me out via phone call and text message, he was so enraged he made sure I replied to the guy write under his watchful eye with a response he approved. I feel sorry for the other guy because I have him a very short reply.

I agree he doesn’t live in the moment, he claims to be future-oriented which I don’t mind. However, he’s let loose many hints that he’s actually past-oriented but in severe denial. Can these guys let go of their painful pasts if they find the right girl?
Or does it still take more time? They’ve been loads of problems concerning this.

He goes through bouts of overconfidence and then low/no confidence, it’s hard to keep up with him.

He definitely enjoys and seeks the company of women outside of our relationship (so far platonic thank God) and I have noticed he always chooses to work with girls or gets powerless around girls (lets them walk all over him and that frustrates me because I can’t save him). This has caused us problems because he’s always done whatever he wanted without thinking about my feelings and after one very nasty incident, finally learned to behave under certain circumstances. I still have my doubts. He’s obsessed with getting me to trust him and though I badly want to his actions make it so difficult. He’s also impossible to get through to, he holds onto his own “truth.”

While this helps me understand him better, I’m also aware that because of this, he has unintentionally brought over a lot of problems into our relationship. I’ve been patient and understanding but I’m only human and he’s very, very good at unintentionally hurting me. I’ve always encouraged him, being his support and at times, caregiver and have forgiven him time after time. I am young and am wondering how much more I can take and hoping that if he really does love me the way he says he does, will he change a bit for me and find some confidence in himself?

xx

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J

Reading these posts brought tears to my eyes. My story is so long but it sounds like all of yours. I am going throught this as we speak.
2 years i was with my ex. He was great at first, (im sure he still) it was different. He would spoil me, treat me almost like royalty. Ive heard so much bad things about his past, but i couldnt see it, i saw only what he showed me. And that was a man who was trying to live life. Hes a broken man. Hes lost. He used to tell me how much he needed me and how he ccouldnt believe i gave him the time of day. We came from different back grounds. Hes older than i am and what i found weird is that he was always obssessed with his looks hr always had to look good and always looked to me to double check. He always had to have the best of everything.
Later on, we broke a couple times throught out the 2 years, but he woulf always find his way back. When we would fught he would push me away and say thibgs like ik too old for you (47 and 34) or im no good. Just stuff to belittle himself. Id talk him away feom that i understood. He would be ok for awhile. Then came the validation he felt he needed with othet women. I couldnt handle that. This time, i believe were really over. He hasnt even tried to contact me one in 4 days. Unusual for him but i am having a hard time accepting things for what they are.
I do truly love him but im not sure he is capable of loving himself.

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Sandra

OMG my friend I feel your pain. Don’t let him wear you down again. I have been going through this with a particular man for over 40 years and I’m just plain tired. I lost my husband of 19 years thinking that this guy was Prince Charming. Once he got me hooked again after this on and off contact for years, the de- valuation began (which I was not even aware of after all these years) and now I’m alone in a small apartment with four cats on Prozac. Save yourself and don’t believe his words. It’s all a scam. Husband I left was wonderful. He was not perfect but we could have worked it out. Unfortunately I believed in the fairy tale and it ruined my life that I’m now trying to get back together. It’s not always greener on the other side… Stay strong and don’t go back. It will make your life a living hell.

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Dawn

How can I understand him better. I loved him the first time i had met him. He left and came back and seeing him again made me happy so. I took the first step

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Roop

Hi, my husband has similar issues , so he is always on this mission to prove his family he is worthy! He wants to achieve things that are unreal , so hard on himself that he pushes himself to extremes ! When we talk about bad day at work (he works with his dad, and major issue is he works really hard but messes up , n his dad talks to him rudely , shows no faith that he cld do things , also when he does something good no appreciation, he doesn’t take a single day off :() I see him tensed , he feels may be he really is not capable , it’s sad , he has a brilliant mind but he can’t see it .
We are married since 8 years and dated for 3 .5 yrs before marrying . I love him a lot ! He had become violent with me twice ,he wld regret n feel tht he ain’t worth my love ! N be sorry n not repeat it for months together ! 2015 I left him ! I said enough of u destroying me ! He was devastated! Sad ! Did try crying n asking me to come back but I did not ! He wld say I don’t want to hurt u ! Y do I do this ! When I hurt u it makes me feel miserable about my self , I love her n I’m not capable of keeping her happy , that breaks me ! 1 yr we stayed separate! He was in touch with me and was letting me go n supporting my decision meanwhile working on his anger ! After a yr I saw a changed man ! Anger under control ! But he still becomes sad n doesn’t like himself ! Too hard on himself ! I don’t know how do I motivate him ! He is filled with guilt and lives in past ! I want him to reaallllly see himself ! He is kind hearted and amazing soul ! It pains me to see him like this ! He realises I’m in pain , and he feels he ain’t making me happy , but thts not the case … I’m so happy with him , I really want to help him out What do I do please help !

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Confused

I recently got engaged to a man that I had loved for most of my life. We dated in school but due to a serious misunderstanding we broke up. Now 30 years later after extremely painful failed marriages on both sides, we found one another again.

Within weeks after our meeting up again we were right back in love. We got engaged 3 weeks ago and started planning the wedding. It was like a dream come true and he treated me like I was a princess.

However I am noticing that he started to criticise literally everything I do. Things that attracted him to me now irritates him and what I hear from his explanations is that I am smothering him by doing most of the chores myself. I started doing this because he injured his rib and could not really do anything. Also spoiling him is my love language.

The following happened and it is confusing me:

*One day he came to pick me up after work. He didn’t greet me as usual and was in a terrible mood the entire night. We had an event to attend so we couldn’t go straight home. He was really disrespectful towards me the entire night and never even touched me until we were on our way home. I was completely blown away and I honestly didn’t know how to act. When I asked him about it he said that he was in pain from his injury, apologized and went to bed.

*The other night he asked me if I was going to take a shower and I asked him jokingly if I seemed dirty to him. He went completely off the handle saying that he asked a simple question and that he was ecpecting a simple answer. He said that I always tell him to but out when he asks me questions. Prior to this event telling each other to but out was an inside joke between us hence his reaction shocked me. After this I tried to appolohize for making him feel like he can’t ask me questions which is when he told me he wants a woman in the house and not a maid and a cook. However he asks me every night what is for dinner????

*Yesterday he complained about a painting that I had dusted previously saying that I used the wrong cleanser and that it should be cleaned with window cleaner.

*Apparently his socks didn’t match the day before because I had mistaken dark blue lines with black lines.

* I put a bag into his car to put waste in to make it easier to clean. He was upset that I did not tell him that I’m going to do that…this after he told me the week before that the house and the car was now also my house and my car and that I should stop asking permission before I do things.

He did tell me that he had never had a woman who took care of him and wanted to spoil him and that he would have to get used to it. So I am wondering if he may be feeling unworthy?

He still holds me close and tells me he loves me daily. But something is not right.

I am really confused and hurting right now. I have worked to hard to get myself to be strong and independ to let a man just trample all over me again even if I do love him so much.

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Jo

don’t stay confused too long. Listen to your intuition,
Don’t get married so quickly.
give yourself and him a lot of time to figure this out.

you owe it to both of you.

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Deb

His behaviour sounds like signs of narcissism rather than ‘just’ low self esteem – the two can be intertwined but you are describing being in the devaluing stage of the narc cycle — read up about it & pay attention to the long term damage that being/staying in that type of relationship can do ….

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Nat

Yes, definitely become well informed on all of this. I entirely agree with trusting your intuition. It is what will lead you to exploring everything and bringing you to things like this. I felt things going a very similar way to you at the end of my first year and after 3 years of being spun around, confused, exceptionally hurt – I am stepping away. Even if you cant nearly place your partner under a heading of low self-esteem or narcissism, do consider the behaviours you would like for yourself in a romantic relationship and stand firm on them. Gaining insight into how to clearly communicate with these people is very powerful and the knowledge holds your mind in a safer place.

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Jamie

I dated a man for 7 yrs ( with some break ups and re-uniting again. He definitly had low self esteem and would rage if he felt he was being done wrong by anyone. I looked at many articles and I thought it was Narcissistic Personality Disorder. But now I’m thinking it could be this. Our last breakup was bc I got very sick and couldnt be there at an event with him. He wanted to call me all the time but I could barely hold the phone. He sId I was cutting him off. He flew into a tage and said vile things about me. I’ve seen him do this with people in his family and rage all night. But then they just get over it and act as if it didnt happen. I dont want this to be my normal so after he raged on the phone and called me names I went into no contact. I love him still and cry often but dont want to be beat down. He also was very manic in always having to go out. Constantly! Come home for a minute and we’d both have to go right back out. His Mom told him once when he was raging thT he was disassociating. What disorder or problem does all of this behavior sound like to you? I know you cant diagnose but what might it be. I need to know how to crame it in my mind, or it will keep me in tears. Thank you Jamie

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learningtochill

Oh I’m pretty sure you are barking up the same tree as I am. These are all classic examples of the things me and my boyfriend have been through, plus more. Much more. He’s never tried to hurt me, at least on purpose. There’s been times he got too far out too fast and threw something or pushed me away so hard I fell in the floor. I was shocked, mortified, couldn’t believe the man I loved so incredibly much it hurt could be so cavalier and reckless with me, he loves me! Oh my heart is so beaten, it hurts, aches every other day. I’ll have the original for a day or two, then comes a trigger..and there are so many of them. Some from my actions directly, most (lately) are from being out in public or watching something emotional on television. We ALL need a support group for couples trying to overcome this together or something, this is the hardest and most cherished relationship I’ve ever been in and losing him is NOT an option. I will die before I will leave him, doesn’t matter if it’s from a broken heart or the fallout from a meltdown. Lately we’ve both been having them and that’s making it even worse. He’s agreed to go to counseling together (when he makes enough money..don’t say it..) Either way there’s only two ways this will ever end and they both end with the end of me. I try to remind him he’s accomplished so much and what a gentle soul he is inside so he’ll know I’m on HIS side but it’s hard not to take it personally up till now. Paul has opened my eyes and mind in a way I haven’t been able to on my own. I can understand now that it isn’t because he hates me but he does resent me because he thinks people just love me and hate him. He is blatant and direct and spares nothing on describing his feelings and what he’s going to do about them and for what or who. He’s never denied he had problems, much to the contrary actually. If I can get a handle on my own insecurities again, once and for all, I know I can help him. He challenged me on mine and helped me get over them, if he can do it, so can I. He thinks I want to change him but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I just want to be his peace and help him to be happy knowing life can be fulfilling again and filled with love and happiness, adventures and long vacations, because of his unique talents and abilities. He just needs to find peace and I want to help him and be that for him. He’s a wonderful man, always reaching out to people and trying to help them get a leg up. I’m redecorating our den with Asian decor and playing the Zen meditation soundtracks on youtube at night as a preliminary step. He’s yet to ask me to turn it off 🙂

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Private

Soul ties. Look it up and you’ll find information that can help you to figure out what is wrong with the relationship and situation will change when you identify the problem and learn how to work thru the solution carefully. You may want to look into some free counseling also. Sometimes you have to find out info alone b4 introducing it to your partner because it could be messy. Sometimes things are more serious than you’ll ever know until you do your research. God bless you and hope God gives you clarity and discernment to navigate through the advice and information and experiences of others to help you get the help you deserve.

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Thea

Hi. I have experienced the same before. I would suggest you to don’t contact him and move away. You cannot change him unless he want to do something with that. I tried to help my ex and ended up being so heard. Remember that those people are selfish and cannot believe that u are saying the truth. He should not know that he have you and that u will accept anything just to be with him. He do not appreciate you. At the end It is you who is going to be heard. Take care of ur self and let him Deal with his problems. If he become better one day and want u back, I am sure he will find you :).

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Lexxi

I just ended a very similar seeming situation as you describe. I tried to make it work and could see his pain but it was relentless the seeking outside attention and validation. He hit a deal breaker and I needed to look out for me.
So did you and “Mary” work it out?

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Amalie

Dude it sounds like NPD. Just because you can understand what they’re going through and what’s behind what they do it still doesn’t give them the right to treat you badly, it sounds like an abusive toxic relationship. You have to be able to see them at their worst point to be able to see if it’s really NPD and it’s not worth hanging around for that. The fact he can’t empathise with you being sick sounds narcissistic and if he wants you to be able to drop everything instantly for him quite a bit it’s not a good sign. People with NPD also have a lot of up/manic and down/depressive moments and it’s based on their ever shifting self esteem, making it feel like they’re maybe bpd/bipolar but always try to look at what’s behind what they do and say. You may have times where you feel like you want him back so badly but give yourself some time and space from him, if you start feeling lighter and better about yourself after the grieving process and a ‘decent’ amount of time then you know he’s not good for you and either way if he’s treating you that badly he probably needs to do some healing within himself in order to have a healthy relationship.

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Hey Warrior - A book about anxiety in children.








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The need to feel safe is primal. We’re wired to The need to feel safe is primal. We’re wired to fight or flee anything that presents itself as a threat - and shame, punishment, judgement, exclusion, humiliation all count as threat, even if they come with loads of love.
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When our kids or teens mess up - which they will, because they’re humans not robots - the way we respond can open them up to our influence or shut them down to it. It can expand the fight and the disconnection, or it can shrink it. In time they will learn to be more in control of their urge for or flight, but for now, we will need to lead the way. (Of course, we are also human, and sometimes despite our biggest efforts to stay calm, we will step into the ring rather than wait for them to step out. We’re human. It’s going to happen. And that’s okay.)
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If we want them to be open to our influence, we first need to calm their active amygdala (the seat of anxiety and big emotion) by sending the message that we aren’t a threat. We can do this by validating their feelings or the need behind their behaviour (if we know what that is).
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Validation doesn’t mean agreeing with them, and it doesn’t mean approving of their behaviour. What it means is letting them know that we want to understand the world through their lens. ‘I can see you’re really upset about this.’ ‘It sounds as though you’re worried I’m going to get in your way. I can see this is important to you. I really want to understand. Can you talk to me about this?’
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When we do this, it sends a message to the protective, powerful, emotional amygdala that it’s safe and that it can back down. This will start to switch off the need to fight us or flee (ignore) us and open them up to our influence, support, warmth and guidance.
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It also doesn’t mean giving them a free pass on ‘unadorable’ behaviour. What it means is letting them know that we see them, and that we understand there is something important they need. When things are calm, they will be much more open to exploring their decisions, their behaviour, the consequences of that (including any consequences for them), and what they can do differently in the future.
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The need to feel safe is primal. We’re wired to fight or flee anything that presents itself as a threat - and shame, punishment, judgement, exclusion, humiliation all count as threat, even if they come with loads of love.
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When our kids or teens mess up - which they will, because they’re humans not robots - the way we respond can open them up to our influence or shut them down to it. It can expand the fight and the disconnection, or it can shrink it. In time they will learn to be more in control of their urge for or flight, but for now, we will need to lead the way. (Of course, we are also human, and sometimes despite our biggest efforts to stay calm, we will step into the ring rather than wait for them to step out. We’re human. It’s going to happen. And that’s okay.)
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If we want them to be open to our influence, we first need to calm their active amygdala (the seat of anxiety and big emotion) by sending the message that we aren’t a threat. We can do this by validating their feelings or the need behind their behaviour (if we know what that is).
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Validation doesn’t mean agreeing with them, and it doesn’t mean approving of their behaviour. What it means is letting them know that we want to understand the world through their lens. ‘I can see you’re really upset about this.’ ‘It sounds as though you’re worried I’m going to get in your way. I can see this is important to you. I really want to understand. Can you talk to me about this?’
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When we do this, it sends a message to the protective, powerful, emotional amygdala that it’s safe and that it can back down. This will start to switch off the need to fight us or flee (ignore) us and open them up to our influence, support, warmth and guidance.
.
It also doesn’t mean giving them a free pass on ‘unadorable’ behaviour. What it means is letting them know that we see them, and that we understand there is something important they need. When things are calm, they will be much more open to exploring their decisions, their behaviour, the consequences of that (including any consequences for them), and what they can do differently in the future.
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