Low self-esteem in Men – what causes it, how to spot it and what to do about it?
Self-esteem refers to the way that an individual perceives and values themselves. When someone has a healthy level of self-esteem, it’s correlated with positive effects, whereas low self-esteem is linked to an array of negative consequences. Men’s mental health is often overlooked, so if a man has low self-esteem, he might now know it – even if it wreaks havoc on his life. When a man has low self-esteem, it can affect his interpersonal relationships, career success, health, behavior, and overall functioning.
So, what are the signs of low self-esteem in men, and what can men do to raise their self-esteem? There are answers. In this article, we will explore:
- The signs of low self-esteem in a man.
- Causes of low self-esteem in men.
- Long-term effects of low self-esteem in a man.
- How to raise low self-esteem in men.
- Final thoughts.
What are the signs of low self-esteem in men
First, let’s talk about the signs of low self-esteem in men. You can look out for these signs of low self-esteem in yourself or someone else. That way, you can better understand why you or they exhibit certain behaviors. Here are fourteen examples of what you can look out for.
- He is critical of others. A man with low self-esteem may criticize other people so that they feel just as bad about themselves. He may criticize other people’s appearance, work ethic, talents and abilities, or virtually anything else, even if it’s something minuscule. Don’t take his words to heart.
- He can’t take constructive criticism. While he may criticize others, a man with low self-esteem may have trouble taking criticism from others. He may be unable to accept the smallest correction from another person, even if he knows the other person is right.
- He’s jealous. One of the most prevalent signs of low self-esteem in a man is jealousy. Rather than fleeting, manageable feelings of jealousy, this level of jealousy might affect his relationships and other parts of life.
- He is controlling. Often linked to jealousy, a man who doesn’t feel secure with himself may attempt to control other people or have the desire to do so.
- He brags or performs a sense of superiority. In some cases, a man with low self-esteem will brag or act as though he’s superior to others. He may act as though he’s always right and others are below him. This is often a “cover-up,” so to speak, for the low self-esteem underneath. He may avoid learning opportunities because he doesn’t want to be wrong.
- He speaks of himself poorly. While some people brag or attempt to feel superior so that they don’t have to admit low self-esteem to themselves, other people with low self-esteem may criticize or talk about themselves in a negative light. This is an example of how low self-esteem can affect people differently. Some may seem self-obsessed, whereas another could be shy and withdrawn.
- He’s highly sensitive to rejection. Rejection isn’t fun for anyone, but if someone already has low self-esteem, they may take it particularly hard. He may even react with anger.
- He can’t maintain healthy relationships. Insecurity might overtake relationships for a man with low self-esteem.
- He is cynical. When someone has a lack of self-esteem, it is common to have a negative worldview. A man with low self-esteem may be overly cynical.
- He’s perfectionistic. Perfectionism and low self-esteem go hand-in-hand. If someone’s a perfectionist, it means that they’re hard on themselves. It does not mean that they are perfect, nor does it necessarily help a person succeed. Some forms of perfectionism can have the opposite effect, in fact.
- He isn’t motivated. Sometimes, people are harsh on themselves to make themselves work harder, but typically, it has the opposite effect. Someone with low self-esteem might feel unmotivated, wondering, “Why should I even bother? I’ll fail anyway.” Alternatively, the procrastination linked to perfectionism could get in the way of his success.
- He blames himself disproportionately. It’s important to take ownership of your actions, but a man with low self-esteem might either blame himself too often or fail to take the blame at all when due.
- He blames other people disproportionately. If a man with low self-esteem does fail to take ownership when due, he may blame other people disproportionately.
- He doesn’t express himself. Low self-esteem can make a person feel too shy or nervous about being who they really are inside. As a result, a man with low self-esteem might not express himself openly, whether that is related to personal identity, emotions, or something else.
A guy with low self-esteem won’t necessarily experience all of these signs. If a man with low self-esteem is self-aware, he may act very differently from a man with low self-esteem who is not so self-aware. For example, while one man with low self-esteem might exhibit jealousy and controlling behavior, another won’t. Similarly, the causes of low self-esteem vary from person to person. Now, what causes low self-esteem in men?
What causes low self-esteem in men?
Often, low self-esteem begins at a young age, but this isn’t always true. Self-esteem can ebb and flow throughout your life, and this can happen as a result of various life experiences. While it’s not an exhaustive list, here are four examples of what can cause low self-esteem in men.
In childhood, our brains are very literally shaped and influenced by our experiences. This can affect self-esteem and other parts of psychological well-being. It comes as no surprise, then, that adverse childhood experiences heighten the likelihood of low self-esteem. Examples of childhood experiences that can affect a man’s self-esteem negatively as an adult include:
- Bullying. Whether from adults or other kids, childhood bullying is directly connected to low self-esteem in adulthood.
- Abuse. Abuse of any kind, including emotional abuse and neglect, is heavily linked to poor self-esteem.
- Poverty. Low socioeconomic status is linked to lower self-esteem.
- Family problems. If your family life was unstable as a child, you may find that your self-esteem and general mental health are negatively affected.
Parents are the first people we interact with on a regular basis. While parents can help kids attain high self-esteem, they certainly have the potential to affect self-esteem negatively, too. Sometimes, this can be true even for parents who mean well. Your parents could’ve shown a lack of interest in your hobbies, achievements, and feelings, or perhaps you were on the receiving end of verbal criticism. Parenting style plays a role here, too: If your parents were neglectful emotionally or had an authoritarian parenting style, it might have a negative impact on your self-esteem.
A quick tip: Alongside other practices, which we’ll get to, the process of re-parenting oneself can be helpful with this.
For a lot of us, school either isn’t or wasn’t easy. In some cases, this contributes to low self-esteem. You might’ve struggled with lessons, felt misunderstood by teachers, or – similar to the possible consequences of a parent’s words – a teacher might’ve said something about you that continues to stick with you to this day.
Conditions that can make school more challenging, like ADHD and learning disabilities, are both correlated with a higher likelihood of low self-esteem. Though this isn’t true in every case, and a person’s schooling experience could have a negative impact on their self-esteem regardless, it is relevant for some.
Research shows a link between trauma and low self-esteem. We talked about this a bit already in the context of adverse childhood experiences, but grief and loss, Sexual assault, including sexually coercive behavior, a bad relationship, bullying in adulthood, job loss, and violent crime are all examples of other possible sources of trauma. Major and minor traumas can both have an impact, so don’t disregard your feelings, even if you think that “other people had it worse.”
These things can have lasting consequences, and it is valid to assert that they affect you. With that in mind, let’s address the effects of low self-esteem in men.
Long-term effects of low self-esteem in men
The long-term effects of low self-esteem in a man can show up in the form of behaviors, physical symptoms, habits, and mental health. Starting with behaviors, here are some long-term effects of low self-esteem in men to look out for.
When a man feels inferior, it can manifest in his behavior. Here are some of the behaviors associated with low self-esteem in men:
- Putting other people down. We discussed this as a possible symptom of low self-esteem in men, and it is true that putting other people down is one way that low self-esteem can manifest in a man’s behavior.
- Substance use and smoking. Low self-esteem is a proven risk factor for substance use, including both the use of alcohol and illicit drugs. Similarly, there’s a connection between low self-esteem and tobacco use.
- Angry outbursts. Low self-esteem makes people unhappy with themselves and their lives. This may be why low self-esteem can lead to irritability or angry outbursts at times.
- Avoidance of new experiences. To avoid situations where he will need the guidance of others, or where he will be imperfect, a man might avoid new experiences.
Did you know that high self-esteem is correlated with better physical health? It’s true. Research confirms that there’s a tie. With that in mind, it only makes sense that low self-esteem can lead to negative physical health effects. Here are some physical signs of low self-esteem one might notice:
- Fatigue. People with low self-esteem may feel tired or fatigued, whether due to the emotional stress from low self-esteem (e.g., the strain of negative thoughts and comparison to others) or from trouble sleeping, anxiety, or depression.
- Insomnia. Insomnia can occur in the form of early waking, trouble falling asleep, or waking in the middle of the night. Low self-esteem is linked to trouble sleeping, and since lack of sleep can come with extreme negative health effects, this is a substantial problem.
- Pain, aches, or tension. For men who experience stress as a result of low self-esteem, muscle aches and body tension may become an issue.
- An increased risk of illness. Low self-esteem comes with an increased risk of heart disease and other illnesses.
Some of these habits might cross over to the signs of low self-esteem in a man we talked about already. That being said, here are some harmful habits that a man might display if his self-esteem is low long-term:
- Poor self-care. Poor self-care is very prevalent for those with low self-esteem. Examples of poor self-care include poor sleep hygiene, not attending to one’s mental health, not taking the time for physical activity (which might be due to fear of judgment), and so on.
- Procrastination. If you worry that you can’t do something right due to low self-esteem, you might procrastinate. Unfortunately, this can cause further stress and self-doubt.
- Nitpicking. In conjunction with criticizing others, a man with low self-esteem might develop a habit of nitpicking other people.
- Comparison to others. For many people, comparison is a vicious cycle when it comes to low self-esteem. Someone might compare due to a lack of confidence in themselves only to find that it makes matters worse.
- Isolation. With low self-esteem, isolating oneself can become habitual.
Low self-esteem is correlated with a number of different negative mental health outcomes. The negative mental health outcomes associated with low self-esteem include an increased risk of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, self-harm, and social isolation. Eating disorders and body dissatisfaction, which can affect people of any gender, are linked to low self-esteem. People with low self-esteem are also more apt to self-report a lower quality of life.
All of this may sound like bad news, but it’s actually quite the opposite. There are ways to raise low self-esteem in men, and awareness is the first step. What’s next? Let’s talk about how to raise low self-esteem in men.
How to raise low self-esteem in men
Low self-esteem doesn’t have to stay low. Once you realize that low self-esteem affects your life, you can start working to overcome it. It’s a process that doesn’t happen overnight, and there will be ups and downs, but the benefits are worth it. Follow these steps to boost your self-esteem and improve your quality of life.
a. Practice gratitude and positive self-talk
Research proves that the way we talk about ourselves matters, as does gratitude. Gratitude is linked to better physical and mental health, as well as positive relationships with others. Here are some ways to practice gratitude and positive self-talk:
- Use positive affirmations
- Keep a gratitude journal
- Write a list of things you’re grateful for
- Express gratitude to other people in your life,
- Reframe negative thoughts to make them more positive.
To target self-esteem specifically, jot down what you appreciate about yourself. It’s possible to change your inner voice, and that starts by addressing the automatic negative thoughts that show up, challenging them with positive thinking, and focusing on gratitude.
Nature is associated with a range of positive outcomes, including higher self-esteem and lower stress. When you spend time outdoors, it is grounding. It lets you clear your mind and is an excellent way to appreciate the world around you. It is also necessary to appreciate your own achievements and to remember that achievement can come in many forms. Cleaning, working, earning a degree, being kind toward another person, or even the choice to get out of bed in the morning on a hard day are all achievements. If a visual reminder is helpful for you, you might write out a list of these achievements.
Low self-esteem can make it difficult to trust yourself, so it makes sense that learning to do so again would be part of the healing process. When you can listen to your inner voice, you develop confidence. What people say might get to you less, and if you are someone who experiences signs of low self-esteem in men like jealousy or controlling behavior, this could dissipate, too.
A mental health provider may help with this, as well as other parts of your trajectory. In fact, mental health providers such as those who use the emotional freedom technique can become a crucial part of a man’s support system as they overcome low self-esteem. If you don’t have a support system, make an effort to create one. Other people can help build you up on low days.
d. Work with an emotional freedom technique (EFT) practitioner, to help release energy that weighs him down
The emotional freedom technique, or EFT, is an energy therapy. It works to remove the emotional charge attached to negative self-beliefs and memories as well as maladaptive patterns (such as maladaptive behaviors or recurring negative thoughts).
Low self-esteem often functions as both a pattern and a cycle. As discussed, it’s something that weighs on you mentally and physically. An EFT practitioner can help you release what bogs you and your self-esteem down so that you can make changes in your life with greater ease, feel lighter, and embody a more positive outlook overall. First, you’ll talk about what’s going on with an EFT practitioner, and then, they’ll use the tapping technique to help you process and release what’s hurting you. EFT techniques can be used at home, but it’s ideal to work with a professional.
Remember that low self-esteem is learned. It’s not intrinsic, and it doesn’t mean that something’s wrong with you. If you can allow someone to help you let it go, it can change your life.
It’s not uncommon for those who battle with low self-esteem to live in the past. You might find yourself regretting something that you did or beating your past self down, which is unhelpful and can even be disruptive to self-esteem. It can be tough to internalize that it’s time to move on and that past sources of pain don’t have to feel so significant forever. Again, this is a pattern, and it’s possible to break it. Forgive your past self, and remember that you aren’t attached to that person forever. You have more knowledge now, and you can be whoever you want to be.
Comparison to others is not just the thief of joy but also self-esteem. Remind yourself that we tend to see the highlights of other people’s lives. Some people don’t openly discuss it when they feel down about themselves or are facing a personal battle. This doesn’t mean that flaws and problems aren’t there. You might just not know about them.
Even in the case that someone has something you want, you are you. Focus on what you have and what your (realistic) goals are. We all have different strengths, including you, and we all start in different places. If you tend to compare yourself to others through social media, it may be advantageous to spend more time offline. It can also help to think critically about the content you see and to tailor the content you see to make it healthier for you.
Increasing self-esteem is a process, and a combination of multiple techniques is the best approach. Rather than take one of these tips on their own, make it a habit to do all of the above. Take a broad look at all of the things you believe will be beneficial for you as a unique person – this is part of learning to listen to yourself, after all! Then, put it into action. It doesn’t matter where you start; it is possible to get to a better place, and you deserve to feel good about yourself.
Low Self-Esteem in a Man: Final Thoughts
Low self-esteem is something you have the power to change. Often, helping ourselves includes asking for help from others. A combination of the support of an EFT practitioner and working on oneself is an excellent anecdote to low self-esteem. Regardless of how long low self-esteem has been present in your life, it doesn’t have to continue.
Do you or any of the men in your social circle struggle with low self esteem? If so, have you ever spoken to them about this?
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Body satisfaction examined in American study of men: Results of national study examining how men feel about their bodies, attractiveness. (n.d.). ScienceDaily.