Dating a Man With Low Self Esteem: Is It Worth It?

Dating Tips
10 Mar 2024
12 min read
14 Signs of Dating a Man With Low Self-Esteem (+6 Ways to Help)

You’ve never met such a man before. He’s kind, hardworking, funny, and makes you feel amazing. That’s the good part. The bad part is that it becomes clearer you’re dating a man with struggles with low self-esteem. What can you do to help him?

Before getting the answer, let’s check what signs in his behavior hint at self-esteem issues. Then, we’ll show what are empowering and wrong ways to help him overcomee this problem.

14 Signs You’re Dating a Man With Low Self-Esteem

A person has low self-esteem when they lack confidence in themselves and their abilities. Men with low self-esteem don’t believe they are capable of doing things, question their value in relationships, and feel unlovable. Many also deal with sadness, self-loathing, anxiety, and mistrust.

There are many signs that a man has low self-esteem. Some of these are red flags and should be dealt with through professional help. Others could indicate abuse. It’s important to understand that while low self-esteem may contribute to certain behaviors, men are still responsible for how they treat others.

If you see these behaviors in a man you are dating, there are probably self-esteem issues.

1. Constantly Seek Validation

This isn’t just limited to men. People with low self-esteem seek out external validation to feel better about themselves. You may see evidence of this in his social life.

He may aspire to always be the best dressed among his friends or overspend so that he’s seen as being generous.

Such behavior can lead to toxic relationships with others, as men with low self-esteem often put themselves out there for people who end up taking advantage of them. Additionally, the need for validation can be offputting for others. It may have even become an underlying issue in your relationship.

2. Jealousy

According to research, jealousy is associated with these personality traits:

  • Anxious attachment style
  • Feelings of relationship inadequacy
  • Dependency on the relationship partner
  • Insecurity and possessiveness
  • Neurotic/emotionally unstable
  • Low self-esteem

Not only is low self-esteem featured here, but many of these other traits are also common characteristics of people who have issues with their self-worth. Just be aware that someone who is extremely jealous may be controlling or even abusive. The only relationship worth saving is a safe one.

Related reading: Envy Vs. Jealousy: What’s the Difference?

3. Envy

Jealousy is the feeling that a partner will betray you in the relationship. Envy is bitterness towards other people whom your partner perceives to have more than they do.

If your partner has low self-esteem, they may feel envious when other people have things they don’t believe they will ever attain for themselves. That may be a romantic success, job promotions, money, a nice car, you name it.

That said, most people with low self-esteem won’t acknowledge feelings of envy directly. Instead, they may say denigrating things about the individual they envy.

“Bill only made partner at the law firm because he’s an absolute brown noser.” or “That Chad only gets all the women because he’s got good genes. Nice guys deserve a good relationship too and can’t land one.”

4. Social Withdrawal

You can’t feel the sting of rejection or encounter things that hurt your self-esteem if you keep to yourself. Also, a man with low self-esteem might assume that he isn’t wanted in social situations.

Social withdrawal can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Whenever he avoids social situations, people assume he isn’t interested and stop inviting him. As a result, his insecurity is ramped up even more.

If he cannot take good things from you, chances are you're dating a man with low self-esteem

5. Trouble Accepting Compliments

Yes, this happens with men too! You pay him a sincere compliment, and he says something seld-deprecating. He may even misinterpret it or assume you have ulterior motives.

It’s frustrating that his lack of self-esteem makes it difficult for you to compliment or encourage him, especially if your love language is words of appreciation and you value compliments a lot.

Related reading: Words of Affirmation – How to Make Them Into Love Language?

6. Mood Swings

You may notice that his low self-esteem tends to come and go depending on his moods. If he’s in a dark depression, he practically hates himself. When his mood is elevated, he seems quite confident.

This is called mood-reactive self-esteem, and it’s one of the clearest and most exhausting signs you’re dating a man with low self-esteem to deal with.

7. Risk Taking

Not every risk-taker has self-esteem issues. But it’s common enough.

Some guys with low self-esteem take risks to impress others. There’s that whole external validation thing again. Others may enjoy that rush they get by taking a risk and stepping outside of their comfort zone.

Related reading: How to Get Out of The Friend Zone: A Jerk-Free Guide

8. Difficulty Setting Boundaries

Problems with setting boundaries can manifest in many ways:

  • Some men who lack self-esteem come in too hot and heavy early in the relationship because they want a commitment right away.
  • Others may not set good boundaries with friends, family, or even their employer. They need to be seen as helpful, dependable, “go-to” guys. Otherwise, they feel they won’t be seen as worthy.

If your man isn’t spending time on your relationship, he may be letting others encroach on his time to please them.

9. Sexually Aggressive or Coercive

Conquest culture is all about men with low self-esteem gaining false confidence by getting women to sleep with them. Sadly, many of these men will engage in aggressive, coercive, or deceptive behavior to achieve their conquests.

If his self-esteem is deeply rooted in his perception of his masculinity, he might believe he’s only man enough if he takes on an aggressive or domineering relationship role.

Aggression is a vivid sign of low self-esteem

10. Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorder is quite common among people who lack self-esteem. Drugs and alcohol can make a man with low self-esteem feel more confident in social situations. They can make him forget all about his lack of self-love too. It may also help him get over his fear and be able to approach a potential partner for romance.

11. Perfectionism

You could be dating someone with low self-esteem if he has perfectionist tendencies. He may be hyperfocusing on a few things he can control and perfect to feel better about himself. For example, your partner may be fanatical about keeping his apartment clean.

12. Lack of Confidence in His Movement

His lack of self-love may also manifest physically:

  • His insecurity might show up in a slumping posture or inability to make eye contact.
  • He may visibly make himself smaller or move out of the way in situations where he clearly has the right of way.

If you notice some strange body language signals from him, chances are it’s not you making him uncomfortable but his low self-esteem demonstrated in your presence.

Related reading: Is He a Body Language Guy? How to Read The Subtle Signs

13. Hypercritical

A man with low self-esteem might find it intimidating to go on a personal journey of self-improvement. So, they lash out and criticize you and your relationship with them. This may give them a momentary boost at your or another person’s expense.

However, this is just destructive to your relationship and your partner will likely feel even worse later.

14. Refuses Accountability

When you already feel bad about yourself, criticism really stings. Admitting you were wrong is just another way to remind yourself of your failures.

No, your partner shouldn’t be excused from accountability because of his feelings of low self-worth. But it’s helpful to know where those are coming from.

6 empowering steps to improve his self-esteem

6 Empowering Ways to Help a Man With Self-Esteem Issues Build Confidence

You can help your man, but remember: your first priority should always be your own physical safety and mental health.

Men with low self-esteem must take ownership of their struggles. They need to do their own self-work, seek out therapy if they need it, and take steps to feel good about themselves. You should avoid doing the work for them, and instead put yourself in a supporting role. Care about your own self-esteem and support him in his journey to build his.

Remember, you can’t fix him. Treating him like a project to fix will only make him feel less worthy. Instead, try some of these strategies to help someone with low self-esteem become more empowered.

1. Encourage Him to Reframe Negative Self-Talk

All of us have that voice of self-doubt that causes us to think poorly of ourselves and undermine our confidence. When you are dating someone with low self-esteem, you must understand their internal critical voice is loud and constant. You may even hear them repeat that kind of self-talk out loud.

It can be disheartening to hear his negative talk. Sometimes, you may get frustrated with your partner. This self-criticism can come off as a way to seek attention or fish for compliments. Instead, wait until neither of you is stressed or emotional, and ask him if he’s noticed his tendencies.

There are things he can do to intercept and reframe his own self-talk:

The decision is on him. You can just hint at possible problems and solutions here.

2. Prioritize Your Own Needs

Don’t get lost in his problems. Your partner needs someone who is emotionally healthy and has a lot of mental energy. So, to help him, put yourself first.

This is his journey, and there are limits to what you should be dealing with. When you ensure your own needs are met, you’re in a better place for both of you. If you don’t take care of yourself, you will end up resenting your relationship instead of enjoying it.

Related reading: How To Maintain Your Individuality While In a Relationship

3. Encourage Him to Focus on the Journey

Speaking of journeys, a partner with low self-esteem may only focus on outcomes. If they don’t achieve exactly what they want, they focus on failure. You can be understanding of their emotions and validate their disappointment in this scenario, especially if they were working towards something that was a big deal. But it’s also important to encourage them to move forward, in the softest words possible.

It’s okay to remind them that life isn’t about binary outcomes. It’s the work and small benefits that matter as well. If he has missed the promotion, highlight a worthy effort he made:

  • Overcoming his fear of going in front of a selection committee
  • Earning certificates or developing skills to be a qualified candidate
  • Advocating for himself

4. Give Him Specific and Meaningful Compliments

Let him know that his efforts in your relationship are appreciated. But don’t slather on vague or low-bar compliments. Be specific instead; don’t tell him, “You’re smart,” “You’re attractive,” or “You work hard.” These are so vague as to be meaningless. Try something that speaks to something helpful he did instead.

I was dealing with so much extra work last week. Thank you so much for being proactive and doing more than your share around the house. I love that I never have to live in fear that things are going to fall apart around here when my work gets crazy.

Related reading: Complimenting Men: How to Make Them Feel Great?

5. Manage Your Anger

Low self-esteem can damage relationships because people with self-esteem issues tend to be toxic. There’s more to it than someone simply feeling bad about themselves. Their feelings can come out as anger, jealousy, and bitterness. You may feel as though you are being blamed for their feelings.

Understandably, you would get frustrated or angry over something like this that’s causing damage to your relationship. If you feel anger, it’s okay to acknowledge that and be open about your feelings. However, it would be best if you balanced that by expressing yourself in a way that doesn’t contribute to making things worse. Sometimes, that’s going to mean disengaging and stepping away.

6. Acknowledge Their Feelings as Valid

Feelings are not logical. When you are in a relationship with someone who has low self-esteem, you may not “get” why they feel that way. You may see them as capable and accomplished. When they talk about themselves as failures or not measuring up, you may be tempted to “correct” them.

That isn’t helpful. Every negative thought he has about himself makes sense to him. When you deny those feelings, you’re telling him that he isn’t even competent enough to understand and express his own emotions. You won’t make him feel better if you don’t validate their “wrong” feeling as a right one – in his unique circumstances and self-perception.

4 wrong ways to deal with his issues

4 Self-Esteem “Fixes” to Avoid

The worst parts of pop psychology and toxic self-help culture have combined to give us a lot of low self-esteem fixes, techniques, and insights that are absolute crap. These things do nothing to boost a person’s self-confidence meaningfully.

Don’t play a psychologist to put diagnoses on him. Instead of helping, these expressions lead to building self-esteem that is shaky and unfounded. They may even encourage selfish behavior or create neediness, like a desire for constant reassurance.

Check out the most common attempts to fix someone’s low self-esteem you’d better avoid.

1. Meaningless Affirmations

Constant self-criticism is bad. But replacing that with vague platitudes about being special, smart, or better than other people isn’t a solution.

This just leads to an artificially inflated and fragile ego that isn’t based on meaningful work or admirable character traits. Instead of helping them, you just manifest their self-criticism as something good.

2. Look at What You’ve Accomplished!

Be careful when you create a direct connection between self-esteem and accomplishment. That’s the kind of thing that can make a guy who has worked very hard to make small strides feel unworthy. It’s also a way to make someone who started life off at third base feel as if they hit a home run.

Of course, every person deserves to have a good opinion of themselves, self-worth, and dignity. But for people who have suffered from trauma, the accomplishment you’ve recognized doesn’t always mean something good.

3. Dismissal of Valid Criticism

Verbal abuse can lead to low self-esteem. So can constant, baseless criticism. It can fuel negative self-talk and lead to constantly feeling shameful.

That said, everybody gets things wrong sometimes. A good person can be on the receiving end of valid criticism that highlights things they need to work on. More importantly, genuine self-esteem can come when someone recognizes their flaws because they are willing to engage in open communication about difficult topics, take constructive feedback, and do better.

Nobody is helped when they are encouraged to dismiss all negative feedback or dismiss anyone who ever takes issue with them as a hater. Instead, men with low self-esteem can benefit from taking a stoic’s view of criticism by looking at it objectively without taking it as a personal insult.

4. Toxic Positivity

Toxic positive is the knee-jerk denial of all negative feelings, along with an expectation that those be replaced with something positive and uplifting – regardless of how someone actually feels. People who engage in toxic positivity are unable to handle negative emotions, even those being experienced by other people.

It can be very hard to have a long-term relationship with someone with low self-esteem. They are overly critical of themselves, struggle to accept compliments, and may have a persistently low self-perception, even when it doesn’t make sense to you.

Yes, you want them to feel better about themselves. But you aren’t doing anything for their emotional health when you make them feel as if they must wear a mask of positivity for your benefit. Instead, be a safe space for them to be honest about how they feel. Your love and acceptance of them, regardless of how they feel, does more to make them feel worthy than your insistence that they only express positive feelings.

Know the Difference Between Low Self Esteem and Toxicity

  • “I will behave like a responsible adult when you successfully build up my self-esteem.”
  • “It isn’t my fault I haven’t held a job or paid my bills. My ex was constantly critical, and she never believed in me.”

Maybe your man hasn’t said these things to you verbatim, but do these statements sound familiar? If so, they could be red flags. Toxic men will use low self-esteem to justify being inconsiderate or irresponsible. They may blame others for convincing you that you can “earn” things like their respectful behavior or basic responsibility as long as you say and do everything they require.

Related reading: 14 Red Flags in Your New Male Squeeze

Have you ever found yourself justifying objectively toxic or irresponsible behavior from him to yourself or others? Do you ever explain away his inability to “adult” by blaming his ex or his other? Do you tell yourself that he has the potential to be a responsible person, but he needs you to be supportive and understanding?

Toxic men will use the concept of low self-esteem to:

  • Get you to excuse their bad behavior
  • Make you blame yourself for their irresponsibility
  • Convince you to blame others for their shortcomings
  • Lead you to equate having expectations of him with attacking his self-confidence
  • Require gratitude, positive affirmations, or even “payment” for basic tasks

It isn’t a personal attack to expect another adult to be responsible and emotionally mature. Don’t let low self-esteem become his tool of manipulation.

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Is It Worth Dealing With the Challenges of Dating a Man With Low Self-Esteem?

It’s a struggle to have a relationship with a partner who struggles with low self-esteem. His destructive ways may cause you great stress. You may worry about him endlessly but also be frustrated that his overly sensitive nature leads to pointless fights.

If things are toxic or abusive, you should prioritize your life and safety first. However, even if things aren’t that bad, you may struggle to have a healthy relationship with someone jealous, needs the constant attention of others, or just tries too hard.

Remember: your own life and emotional well-being matter. You aren’t his counselor or therapist. Ultimately, it’s his job to care for his own mental health. You can be supportive, but you shouldn’t take on this labor for him. It’s okay to set boundaries and take a break when this becomes emotionally draining or you feel as if your own worth has become too dependent on your ability to “fix” him.

You need to engage in self-care to have a healthy relationship. That’s much more important than fixing them against their will.

Relationships Author
Geoffrey Williams
After taking a required Intro to Psychology course as an undergrad, I have never looked back. Since my doctoral program, I have specialized in adult relationship therapy. Through my studies and clinicals, I wrote several articles for professional journals and currently in the midst of writing a book.
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