If you are single, it is important to build awareness around how low self-esteem may be impacting your dating life. As a therapist for over a decade, I have discovered it helps sometimes to work backwards as low self-esteem is not always obvious.
Yet, sadly, whether it’s clear or not, a lack of self-love can impact every single aspect of our lives: our work, our relationships, how we date, and even how we self-care.
Dating and Low Self Esteem
In this article, you will learn 5 primary ways low self-esteem impacts your dating life. The goal is to both validate that if you struggle in any of these ways it may be tied to low self-esteem and to help you heal. In the healing process, a fundamental first step is to identify the problem clearly. You can only solve an issue once you notice it’s there. In other words, as Dr. Dan Siegal says, “Name it to tame it.”
Lets jump into the five common ways low self-esteem impacts your dating life:
Number 1: You May Avoid Dating Completely with Low Self Esteem
A fact in life is that if you want a healthy, long-term relationship, you must date. Unless culturally your marriage is arranged by family, there is no other way to find your person. Of course, it’s true that dating, in general, can absolutely suck. And the pandemic only made things worse. A recent study of single and looking daters found 63% report dating has gotten even harder since the pandemic.
Dating Can Be Triggering
The dating process commonly leads to feelings of rejection, disappointment, setback, and boredom. These feelings absolutely matter and finding ways to cope with them is essential. Yet, sadly, for people with low self-esteem, these feelings may seem unbearable. This is because low self-esteem can lead to personalizing these normal experiences of rejection, boredom, and disappointment.
A person who doesn’t fully like themselves may inaccurately decide that these common dating experiences confirm they are not good enough. This is a false conclusion of course. But believing the common bad experiences of dating “prove” something is wrong with you, may lead to you to opt out of dating altogether because it’s too painful.
Related: Should I Give Up on Dating?
Number 2: You May Attract the Wrong Person by Being a People Pleaser
While American culture often makes it seem like the prize is just getting engaged, and married, it’s not. You absolutely can marry the wrong person for you. You know the statistics: Almost half of all first marriages end in divorce. And it just gets worse. For second marriages, more than 60% will end in divorce whereas, third marriages end about 3 out 4 times!
You Have the Right to Get What You Need
Ideally, to ensure long-term success even after you get married, it’s important that you attracted the right person for you. There are people in this world that you are more, and less, compatible with authentically. Compatibility includes your values, the lifestyle you each want i.e., living in a city, and common goals.
However, when a person lacks self-esteem, they may not be fully clear on their authentic self to begin with. Or, they may believe, inaccurately, that their authentic self is “not good enough.” This leads people to act like a chameleon on dates and in their relationships.
Focusing on The Other Person’s Needs
If you have low self-esteem, when you go on dates, you may find yourself preoccupied with wanting the other person to like you more than you care if they are a good fit for you. On dates, a person with low self-esteem may act like the titular character in the book, Mrs. March by Virginia Feito. In the book, the main character is reflecting on her early dates with her now-husband. She notices she didn’t want to “jinx it with her personality” so she “smiled at him and nodded and flattered him. All for him” (p. 11).
It can be so tempting to adapt, to hide, to focus on pleasing others for approval yet it may lead to attracting the wrong person for you. This is a recipe for future unhappiness. This leads to a marriage in which you feel deeply unseen and lonely and/or a later divorce.
Number 3: You May Feel More Stuck in Toxic Relationships if You Have Low Self-esteem
There is an unfortunate, vicious cycle I have witnessed in my clients’ (and my own) life time and again. When a person feels not good enough, they mistakenly believe that any attention is better than no attention, so they settle for treatment that is disrespectful and even abusive at times. I used to believe, in my low self-esteem, that I was a trash person. I thought then, that spending time with me was such a burden that I should be grateful for crumbs. This was such a bad pattern that one guy I dated told me he didn’t even give me crumbs and I still accepted this.
Writing this is sad because I now see the truth: I was always worthy of respect, but my low self-esteem led me to pick people who were abusive. This treatment reinforced my false believe that I was less worthy than others which led me to keep accepting poor, even abusive, treatment. This vicous cycle happens all the time with low self-esteem. If you relate, please know regardless of your feelings of low self-esteem, you are inherently worthy and deserve respect in all of your relationships.
Related: Is it your fault if you’re abused?
Number 4: You won’t set healthy boundaries with poor self-esteem
When a person lacks self-esteem, they often feel like they don’t have the “right” to set boundaries with others. It’s common to feel like other people are doing you a favor by being in your life and so, you may think you have to take what you can get. This happens, of course, in dating relationships but other relationships like friendships too.
The inability to set boundaries, of course, perpetuates unhealthy relationship cycles. Furthermore, it detracts from your self-respect and mental health. Fundamentally, boundaries are limits we set in our relationships to feel safe. For example, you may need others to not yell around you because that makes you anxious – this is a boundary.
Healthy Boundaries Deepens Self-Respect and Self-Love
Without a sense of safety in your life, and relationships, you will naturally struggle with intense anxiety at times. After all, the need for safety is a primary need. Furthermore, without healthy boundaries, you will not feel self-respect.
When you set boundaries, while you may not control if another person respects them, you may ensure you protect yourself. This willingness to protect yourself with healthy boundaries allows you to cultivate self-respect. This is a powerful, and empowering, feeling. This feeling allows you to be more confident than ever before. But without healthy boundaries, you will continue to feel disrespected and unprotected which reinforces low self-esteem.
Number 5: You May Reject Healthy, Loving partners due to Low Self-Esteem
There is a theory called social verification theory which proposes people prefer when others see them the way they see themselves even if it’s negative. This means, if a person struggles with feelings of unworthiness, they will prefer dating partners who treat them with disregard. Even while it’s painful to be treated with disregard, this treatment is familiar to a person with low self-esteem. And unfortunately, we tend to equate familiarity with safety even if it’s an inaccurate connection in our primal brain.
Dating What’s Familiar
Going further then, someone who treats you kindly when you lack self-esteem, may seem completely foreign and thereby, “bad.” You may then reject potential partners for being “too boring” or “too nice” when in reality, they make you uncomfortable because they like you more than you like yourself. Of course, there are absolutely people who will express interest in you that you won’t feel a spark with but low self-esteem confuses this.
Related: Am I too picky?
When I was dating, for years I joked that I was like Groucho Marx who infamously said, “I refuse to join any club who would have me as a member.” If a guy treated with me excitement by scheduling dates and being consistent, I immediately thought something was wrong with him. The fact he liked me when I didn’t like myself made me think there was something truly messed up about him.
You Can Develop Better Self-Esteem
While poor self-esteem hurts, and leads to vicious cycles, including in dating, it is fortunately possible to heal from this. There are many strategies to improve your self-esteem and become more confident. As a therapist, I have a few recommendations to begin to improve your self-esteem immediately.
Your relationship with yourself is like any other relationship. It requires care, and attention, to thrive and for feelings of love to deepen.
Self-Care Leads to Greater Self-Esteem
Therefore, a great place to start to improve your self-esteem is by committing to a self-care plan. I know it’s easy to fall into all or nothing approaches to self-care like going to the gym daily for two weeks but then not going again for months so my article, How to Take Care of Yourself: 6 Simple Self-Care Strategies, is a great place to start.
Self-Protection Leads to More Self-Love
Also, since it is impossible to feel totally awesome and worthy when you allow others to mistreat you, it’s fundamental to develop healthy boundaries. My article, How to Set Healthy Boundaries in a Relationship, provides a good overview.
Therapy is also an amazing strategy to develop better self-esteem. If you want to find a therapist, you may do so at this directory.
About The Author
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes. She does this by teaching the skills and tools necessary to have a life filled with healthy and loving relationships.
This passion led her to write her best-selling books and create courses. Her books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many people heal.
Her third book, Therapy Within Reach: Setting Boundaries, will be released September, 2023.
If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to email@example.com or DM her on Instagram. Your name and any other identifying information will always be kept confidential.
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