Low self-esteem has many causes, from how you were treated as a child to your belief system. However it came about, low self-esteem can cause major problems throughout a person’s life, preventing them from living fully or achieving contentment. It can also cause insurmountable problems in people’s romantic lives. Here are 12 self-esteem behaviors in relationships and how to fix them.
- Testing loyalty. Clinical psychologist Dr. Suzanne Lachmann explains why people with low self-esteem feel the need to constantly test their partner’s commitment. When you don’t feel worthy of love, you will always be suspicious of a partner who professes to love you. This causes you to “test your partner every chance you get so that he can demonstrate his value (which you don’t believe or trust anyway).” Unfortunately, this usually leads to the breakdown of your relationships, even the ones that have great potential. As Dr. Lachmann, explains, this outcome reinforces your low self-esteem because it “allows you to say, ‘See, I told you so. I’m unlovable.'” And thus, the vicious cycle continues.
- Being suspicious. You don’t believe your partner could love you, which makes you think that he/she must either be on the lookout for a better option, or already pursuing a relationship with someone else. The importance of trust in relationships cannot be overstated. Theresa Herring, a licensed marriage and family therapist, states that emotional intimacy and connection “can’t fall into place” without it. If your lack of self-esteem prevents you from trusting your partner, you will never be able to build a stable, meaningful relationship.
- Always keeping your options open. Low self-esteem makes you unsure of every relationship you’re in. You don’t believe that anyone will stick around for long once they get to know you, so you always have a backup option for when your current relationship inevitably fails. There is an inherent paradox in your lack of self-esteem: because you feel worthless, you seek external validation, but because you don’t believe anyone can ever love you, no amount of external validation makes a dent in your low self-esteem. This means that you will always want a backup source of validation for when your relationship fails.
- Arrogance. Sometimes, people who seem full of themselves are actually just over-compensating for their insecurities. They think that bragging and parading themselves around as if they were the most important person in every room will deflect from the imperfections that they see in themselves. In relationships, arrogance often has a distancing effect because the person exhibiting the behavior is trying to hide themselves from everyone, including their partner.
- Relationship sabotage. When a person thinks they’re inferior, they will sometimes try to put themselves out of their misery by preempting heartbreak. Instead of waiting for their partner to hurt them, they will find ways to sabotage the relationship. According to psychologist Valeria Sabater, “low self-esteem and self-sabotage go hand in hand.” Both are centered on a mindset of failure and become self-fulfilling prophecies. When you believe that you are not good enough for the person you’re with, you will ruin the relationship to maintain some sense of control over a situation that you believe is futile.
- Conflict aversion. Disagreements are an inevitable and necessary component of any healthy relationship. Being in a partnership means that you will have to navigate your differences, and this requires difficult conversations and compromise. When you have low self-esteem, you will do anything to avoid conflict because you see disagreement as a personal attack rather than a mere difference of opinion.
- Spending lots of money. People have different ways of inadvertently showing their insecurities. For some, it manifests through overly lavish gifts for the person they’re dating. A person who lacks confidence in their intrinsic value may seek to offer their partner more concrete objects of worth such as expensive meals or gifts, or simply refuse to ever let the other person pay the bill.
- Infidelity. Most people think of cheating as one of the most selfish acts a person can do in a relationship, but Kelly Armatage, a cognitive behavioral therapist and relationship coach, explains that sometimes people cheat not because they feel immune to consequences, but because they are seeking validation that they aren’t getting inside their relationship. People with low self-esteem are a vacuum for affirmation–there is no end to the amount they can take. If they don’t feel constantly validated by their partner, they may turn to someone else for their fix but continue to stay in their original relationship “because they fear being alone.”
- Passive aggression. People who lack self-esteem may be surly and passive aggressive in relationships because they feel incapable of fixing a situation that they are unhappy about. As professor and relationship coach Preston Ni puts it, “At some level, a chronically passive-aggressive individual may be signaling, ‘I’m not good enough to accept responsibly, so don’t ask me or I may fail your expectations.'” In other words, by sabotaging communication, they are preventing their partner from expecting anything of them.
- Indecision. When you have low self-esteem, you never want to impose your desires on the other person just in case they have different opinions. If they say, “What do you want for dinner?” and you’re desperate for pizza, you’ll say, “I don’t know! What do you want?” to avoid inconveniencing them by accidentally choosing something they weren’t excited about.
- Broadcasting the relationship on social media. Yes, some people just really want to post that adorable vacation selfie with their significant other, but there is a difference between the occasional post of appreciation and wall-to-wall coverage of the relationship. Needing others to witness how happy you are with your partner is a sign that you feel defensive about it. You imagine that no one believes you can have a relationship because you project your self-doubt onto them. If you post pictures on social media with a mindset of, “I’ll prove them wrong!” chances are you have a problem with self-esteem.
- Never letting a relationship get off the ground. People who lack self-confidence are always sheltering themselves from judgment. This extends to relationships. They don’t think anyone would love them if they really knew them, so stick to shallow flings and casual arrangements without ever letting anyone in. Whenever they sense that someone is trying to get to know them on a deeper level, they cut the relationship off before they are exposed as a fraud. These people may seem like cool, sexually liberated extroverts, but in reality, they are hiding deep insecurity and struggles with self-worth.
How To Build Self-Esteem And Save Your Relationships
Now that you know the low self-esteem behaviors to look out for, here’s how to fix them.
- Use positive self-talk. It sounds silly, but what you say to yourself matters. People with low self-esteem have a constant, negative inner monologue. They tell themselves that they can’t do anything and are unworthy of love and happiness, and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you want to break out of this cycle, you have to start changing what you say to yourself. Licensed therapist Amy Morin suggests that when catch yourself mentally putting yourself down, you should “[s]peak back to those negative thoughts with a kinder, more compassionate statement, like ‘You can do this! Do your best and look people in the eye!'” Eventually, you will change the way you think about yourself and your abilities, and realize that you are capable and worthy.
- Follow the F.A.S.T. acronym. Leslie Riopel, a professor of Psychology at Northwood University, has developed an acronym for building self-esteem. “F” stands for “fairness.” Being fair to yourself as you would with others will make you more aware of the unrealistic standards you’ve been imposing on yourself. “A” is for “apologizing.” Don’t do it. People with low self-esteem apologize for everything, and it only reinforces their lack of confidence. “S” stands for “sticking to your values.” Do not be a people-pleaser. It makes you lose your sense of self. “T” is for “truth.” People who lack confidence often lie to avoid confrontation with or disappointing others. Being honest about your feelings and your mistakes will ensure that you stand up for yourself.
- Focus on what’s in front of you. People with low self-esteem often fixate on perceived mistakes or anxieties. According to Dr. Tchiki Davis, focusing on the here-and-now can ease concerns about the past and fear of the future. There is nothing you can change about the past and you can’t prepare for the future by worrying about it, so rooting yourself in the present will force you to work on healing and changing your current behaviors.