Low Self-Esteem In Relationships - Key Signs & Fixes

Every aspect of your life is influenced by your self-esteem. Having low self-esteem affects not only how you treat yourself but how you relate to others.

Things to know

  • Low self-esteem can manifest in negative self-perception, difficulty expressing needs, negative self-talk, constantly apologizing, social comparison, people-pleasing, hopelessness, and being overly sensitive.
  • Low self-esteem can negatively impact relationships, resulting in low satisfaction, insecurity, lower levels of intimacy, obsessive behaviors, and poor relationship decisions.
  • People with low self-esteem may be more susceptible to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and it is important to consult a mental health professional if it is affecting daily life.

Keep reading to learn more about low self esteem in relationships. Here’s what we'll be looking at:

Signs of Low Self Esteem

Self-esteem issues can contribute to mental health problems and make you more susceptible to anxiety and other depressive disorders. If low self-esteem is making it hard to cope with day-to-day life, please consult a mental health professional.

Below are some of the common signs of low self-esteem to look out for:

Negative self-perception

You have negative beliefs about yourself that dictate your behavior. You're fearful of trying new things, and you let negative self-talk dissuade you from challenging yourself. You avoid social situations and isolate yourself because you don’t feel deserving of love and attention.

Problems expressing your needs

You feel like you don't deserve help. The thought of asking for help makes you feel embarrassed or incompetent. You worry about how people perceive you, and you're afraid of being a burden.

Negative self-talk

You aren't satisfied with your looks, personality traits, or abilities. You engage in overly critical self-talk. Instead of focusing on your strengths, you obsess over your flaws. You don't take compliments well, and you always find fault with yourself.

Constantly apologizing

Saying ‘sorry’ is an essential part of restoring and strengthening relationships. However, you apologize for every little thing, including things that aren't your fault.

Social comparison

People with low self-esteem are more likely to engage in social comparison. While this is usually a source of inspiration for most people, for you, it's a stressful experience that leaves you with negative feelings.


You often feel like you need to prove your worth. You may overcompensate or resort to people-pleasing behaviors. Conflict or negative emotions mean disapproval, so you'd rather not be in such situations. You agree with people just to keep the peace.

You lack boundaries and have a hard time saying ‘no’ or speaking up for yourself. You’re always eager to make people happy. It’s not unusual for you to go out of your way for people or buy them gifts to win their approval.


You aren't optimistic about your future. You feel like you aren't built for success and that you're destined for failure. You often give up before trying. Sometimes your negative thoughts are so overwhelming that you turn to substance abuse to cope. You also engage in behaviors like self-sabotage to preserve your self-worth.

Being overly sensitive

You have a hard time not taking negative feedback personally. Because you're sensitive to criticism, you tend to take negative words as confirmation of your negative beliefs. You always feel like you're not good enough, and you live in fear that people will reject you.

How Self-Esteem Affects Relationships

Self-esteem helps us form and maintain romantic relationships. High self-esteem is associated with more satisfying relationships. Here’s how low self-esteem can affect your relationships:

Low relationship satisfaction

Not being confident enough to speak up for yourself means that your needs are often unfulfilled. This lowers your relationship satisfaction. You might withdraw or become irritable.

You’ll also experience all the typical negative mental and physical effects of being in an unhappy relationship. Your emotional state has a knock-on effect on your partner, meaning you'll both be miserable and dissatisfied.


You might question your self-worth and doubt that your partner actually likes you. You'll constantly be plagued by the fear that they will leave you for someone ‘better.’ Unfortunately, this often results in trust and control issues.

Lower self-esteem might drive you to engage in clingy behaviors, such as invading their privacy on social media or attempting to control them. These destructive behaviors can cause your partner emotional distress and damage your relationship.

Lower levels of intimacy

You believe your true self isn't anything special, so you might take on your partner's identity. Their interests, goals, hopes, and beliefs become your own, making you inseparable. Eventually, this stifles your partner and creates relationship problems.

Not being your true self will create distance in your relationship. A lack of vulnerability will make connecting with your partner on an emotional level challenging. This always spells danger for a relationship. In fact, a lack of intimacy is one of the main reasons couples break up.

You might violate your own boundaries just to keep your partner happy. You might even lie to them about major things like your career or finances. Sadly, this never ends well, as no one likes to be deceived.

Obsessive behaviors

You might obsess over your physical appearance and resort to extremes to be attractive. Splurging on expensive clothes, undergoing beauty treatments, and experimenting with fad diets are some of the measures you might take to stay attractive to your partner.

Constantly trying to live up to an ideal you can't reach is exhausting. Eventually, the quality of your mental health and your relationship will take a nose dive.

Poor relationship decisions

Never feeling worthy of love can lead to a lot of questionable relationship decisions. You might seek out unavailable partners or stay in toxic situations. You might tolerate bad treatment, insults, and even abuse.

Low self-esteem usually leads to bad choices that confirm your negative beliefs about yourself and others too. Your insecurities might cause you to be overly suspicious of a partner who genuinely cares about you.


Having a low opinion of yourself might cause you to engage in enabling behaviors to please your partner. You might let your partner make horrible decisions. You might even fund their addictions or unhealthy habits.

To avoid making waves, you might not speak up about your partner's actions or motivate them to work on themselves. Your relationship will simply grow more toxic by the day and implode, causing you both serious harm.

Acts of sabotage

Because you don't love or value yourself, you might find it hard to believe that your partner does. Instead of letting the facts guide you, you might rely on your insecurities.

You might subject your partner to various tests to prove their love or loyalty. And because you don't believe them or trust their intentions even after testing them, you'll push them away.

You may even resort to other acts of sabotage and ruin a perfectly healthy relationship. After all, it's doomed anyway. Typical acts of sabotage include abandoning a relationship before it gets serious, refusing to commit, and cheating.

How To Improve Low Self-Esteem

Seeing a professional will allow you to undergo cognitive behavioral therapy and other proven methods to increase self-esteem. There are also a few things you can do yourself:

Practice self-acceptance

Self-acceptance is the first step to understanding yourself. With increased self-awareness, you'll be able to stop destructive behaviors in their tracks. Accepting yourself means choosing to value yourself. Instead of agonizing over your shortcomings, simply accept that you behave and react in certain ways.

This is liberating and highly motivating. This mindset will help you appreciate your positive qualities while giving you the confidence to work on your negative traits.

Take responsibility

Self-responsibility means taking control of your existence and your happiness. It means becoming a solution-oriented person. Whenever you face a problem, ask yourself what you can do about it. Avoid blaming others and take responsibility for your actions.

Focus on taking the necessary steps to achieve what you want. Start small and remember to be kind to yourself. Be intentional about the company you keep, and let go of people who put you down. The same goes for toxic relationships and work situations. This will empower you and raise your self-esteem.

Increase self-assertiveness

You matter, and your authentic self deserves to be valued and respected. Self-assertiveness means having the conviction that your values and beliefs are important. It's about having the courage to take up emotional space and express yourself.

The fear of asserting yourself is quite normal and comes down to instinct. You’re afraid that asserting yourself will have a negative impact on how people perceive you. However, the opposite usually happens. People will start to respect you and your boundaries. When you are able to truly be yourself, you’ll experience improved self-esteem.

Live purposefully

To combat low self-confidence, it's important to start living purposefully. Volunteer, take up new hobbies, and explore your interests.

Higher self-esteem also comes from making sure that your actions match your goals. It’s important to figure out what you want. Keep in mind that knowing this is not enough; you've got to be proactive. This means focusing on achieving your goals one step at a time.

What’s one thing you can do today to push you closer to your goals? Do it, then do it again tomorrow and the day after that. The key is to show up every day and do your best. Your efforts will add up, and you'll achieve your goals. Doing so is all the positive feedback you need to finally silence your inner critic.

Develop personal integrity

To have confidence in yourself, you must develop personal integrity. Make sure your behavior matches your words. Take pride in keeping your word and living according to your values. You’ll be happier and more confident as a result.

How To Deal With Low Self-Esteem In A Relationship

Dealing with low self-esteem in a relationship is never simple. It involves a multi-faceted approach.

What you can do if you have low self-esteem

If you struggle with low self-esteem, figure out how low self-esteem rears its ugly head when you're in a relationship. Do you put your partner through tests? Do you sabotage your romantic relationships?

Develop enough self-awareness to be able to recognize when you’re engaging in destructive behaviors. You can then get a handle on them before they destroy your relationship. Confide in your partner and make them aware of your struggles. Having your partner's support can help you cope with poor self-image.

You’re also giving them the chance to treat you with compassion. While your partner can’t do the heavy lifting for you, they certainly can support you.

What you can do if your partner has low self-esteem

While your partner must work hard on their own self-esteem, there are lots of things you can do to help them out. Encourage them to take care of themselves and do the things that make them happy.

You’re head over heels for your partner. So tell everyone who’ll listen just how awesome they are. If it ever gets back to your partner, it’ll give them a major confidence boost.

Accept your partner, flaws, and all. Show them that you care and that they have your support even during difficult times. Help your partner love their body just as much as you do. Inspire them to stop comparing themselves to others and embrace their authentic self.

Lastly, don’t lie to your partner or dismiss them. Create an environment where they feel comfortable showing their vulnerability.

What you can do together

Self-esteem is closely tied to body image. So when it comes to each other’s bodies, no body shaming or negative self-talk. Stick to positive things. Focus on fighting fair. This means no personal attacks or finger-pointing. Issues should be kept as factual observations or ‘I’ statements.

Celebrate each other. But here’s the thing, don’t just celebrate success; celebrate effort too.

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