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.
[Editor's Note: Paul Graves (pictured left) is a heterosexual male who suffered from low self-esteem, but feels his male perspective also holds true for gay men and same-sex couples.]
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.
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 fromthose 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’s 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.
This is also an opportunity for me to unload some of my Mary baggage on you. Enjoy!
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.
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 "gotten 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 jaded. 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 had gotten 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 dog-shit. 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 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 (or guy) 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.
Paul Graves is a recovering a-hole, narcissist and sufferer of low self-esteem. He blogs about pain, shame and better living through self-awareness at TakeTheLemons.com. He lives in Ohio with his daughter and two cats.
Paul is on Twitter and Instagram: @paulegraves