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How does low self-esteem affect relationships?

Written by Karl Perera BA, MA, DipLC
Updated: August 18th, 2020

relationships and self esteem

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As a qualified life coach and success mentor, I often hear from people who are having issues with their relationships. Although there are many factors that can influence the quality of our relationships with others, self esteem is a major part of it.

So, how does low self-esteem affect relationships? 

When a person has low self-esteem, they can be bullied or manipulated by others. This may lead to excessive dependence on another person. Also, low self esteem can cause jealousy which is toxic to relationships.

The effects self esteem may have on your relationships can only be addressed once you are aware of them. To help you with this, I will help you understand the patterns of behavior in your relationships that low self esteem may cause and what to do about it.

Essentially, there are two major problems that can occur:

  • Low self esteem can affect your relationships negatively.
  • It may make you attract negative people into your life.

What are the signs that low self-esteem is affecting your relationships?

A person with healthy self-esteem feels calm, confident, and self-assured 90% of the time. It is possible that things can go wrong when you suffer stress, but generally positive self esteem is good for your relationships.

Signs that self esteem is causing problems can include anxiety, nervousness, inability to communicate, jealousy or lack of honesty. We’ll look at these more closely in a short while.

If your relationships are not going the way you want there are two possibilities to consider. The first is that you might be experiencing the effects of low self esteem yourself. The second is that the person you are in a relationship with could be suffering from low self esteem issues. Either way, you need to act if you want to improve your quality of relationships. In the second case, there still many things you can do to help the other person.

You can understand if the other person has low self esteem if they act with unwarranted anxiety, fear, reluctance to talk or nervousness. If this is the case, then if you want to improve the relationship you will have to act carefully and with consideration.

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If you suffer from low self esteem you may feel shy, anxious, and even fearful. This is very likely to affect your relationships and your ability to communicate with others.


This can easily become a vicious circle as your poor communication and relationships suffer, you lose even more confidence and your self esteem continues to drop further. At some point, you need to address this problem and work on your self esteem and communication skills, before your relationships deteriorate too much.

Contrasted with a person with a healthy self esteem, that sees themselves as the creator of their own destiny. Who feels as though they are in charge of their lives, and take action accordingly. This mentality will enable them to communicate confidently and with purpose. They will not be afraid of being honest and are much more likely to have rewarding relationships.

Relationship problems that occur as a result of a low self esteem

If you have low self esteem you won’t be able to relate to others well. You may feel a lack of confidence in social situations. Your body language may be negative and you will not respond to others positively.

It has been shown, (see this study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology), that those with low self esteem react negatively in difficult moments in relationships. This behaviour can threaten the relationship.

The response from others may be to take advantage of you, or to criticize you. You need strength and confidence to respond to this negative reaction but if you suffer from low self esteem you will probably lack this. Below we will take a look at possible steps to take to develop this strength and higher self esteem you’ll need to improve your relationships.

A lack of confidence and self esteem can make you preoccupied with pleasing others rather than attending to your own needs. This is not helpful at all.

Low self worth can also become tiring to friends who may see you as unable to help yourself. Good friendships require mutual respect so if this is damaged then your friendships will suffer.

Another consequence of low self esteem might be a victim mentality. This is when you begin to blame everything and everyone for your problems and failures and fail to take responsibilty for your situation.

How does low self-esteem form and how do you fix it?

Low self-esteem is formed by patterns of behavior that have been learned from those you have interacted with throughout your life. Parents are believed to have a major effect on a child’s self esteem according to Emler’s article published in 2001.

They are absorbed below your level of awareness, and result in behaviour that doesn’t serve your happiness and wellbeing. An example of this is negative self talk.

These behaviours are difficult to change when you have a self esteem problem or lack self confidence, but change them you must. When you attempt to change the way you behave in your relationships by not responding in the expected way, you will initially get a lot of pushback.

The best solution is a slow step by step approach. Make small gradual changes to minimize this pushback.

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Negative flashbacks and memories can hurt your relationships

Researchers such as Jones et al. (2018), and authors such as Leslie Raddatz, have looked into the effect of flashbacks on a person’s mental health and ability to form healthy relationships.

Any traumatic event you’ve experienced can lead to the formation of flashbacks. If you are struggling with low self esteem, these memories can impact your interaction with others and hurt your relationships.

Eliminating flashbacks enhances the quality of your life and enhances communication with others..

An expert on recovery from flashbacks is Richard Grannon, who works with olympic level athletes. He has a free pdf download that gives you step by step instructions on how to deal with flashbacks. You can give it a read by clicking here, to go to his website.

You won’t always manage this perfectly, especially not at first. But, if you persist you will develop greater self-esteem, and enjoy better quality relationships.

Low self esteem can attract negative people into your life

You’ve probably heard about the law of attraction which says that what you focus on and think about becomes your reality. So, if you’re thoughts are negative, which is likely if you have a lack of confidence or self esteem, you are attracting negative people who are not likely to be helpful for your mental health.

Tips For Improving Your Self Esteem And Relationships

You can take steps each day to build confidence and feel better about yourself. Let’s look at a few of the most important steps you can take to build your self esteem:

  • Understand that the way someone treats you says more about the other person than it does about you. If a person is abusive or treats you badly it shows that they have a problem. Maybe they are angry at the world or at themselves and are taking it out on you. They need help to sort this out.
  • Look for positive things in others. It may be that your problems may have made you act negatively towards others, even criticising or rejecting them as a response to your own failure to communicate. To change this you need to look for what is good about you and your life and focus on those things. Perhaps you have been subconsciously encouraging others to reject you.
  • Stop finding fault in your friend or partner. Expect others to behave better and be the person you know they can be. Finding fault only encourages them to do the same and that is no way to live.
  • Accept who you are and understand what makes you unique. Ask yourself: “What talents and strengths do I have?” When you understand that there is so much good inside you and that you are a uniquely gifted person then you will feel so much better about who you are. This will enable you to face the world more positively and your relationships will reflect this amazing change.
  • Work out hard. Not to the point of injuring yourself. But, challenging yourself on a run, sprinting, lifting weights releases endorphins into the bloodstream which lasts for one to two days. This has the added benefit of improving your physique which further increases your self esteem.
  • Get the right amount of sleep for you. Getting enough sleep for your unique body improves your mood. This has a knock on effect of improving your relationships with others. When you are in a good mood, people will treat you better, and perceive you as a nicer person. Which increases the quality of your relationships with others.
  • Get outside and enjoy nature and fresh air. Take a break from the stresses of relationships and enjoy some “you” time for a change.
  • Pay attention to your appearance and body language. If you look confident, you’ll feel confident and others will interact with you more positively.
  • Optimize your diet. Experiment with different foods and different combinations of food. The physiological effects of this can have a positive impact on your emotions and mood. 
  • If you are dreading interaction with someone, take some time to imagine a positive outcome from the interaction. Doing this will alleviate your feelings of anxiety, and make it much more likely that you have a better interaction with the person. This is known as visualisation and is a form of self hypnosis. In a recent study published in Frontiers of Psychology, researchers tested the hypothesis that what you believe creates your reality. It was found that using positive images of your future when a stressful event is coming up in the future relieves anxiety.


Low self esteem can cause unhealthy or toxic relationships. Building your self esteem will result in a better quality of relationship and will definitely make your life more rewarding.

A person who creates drama in their relationships with others has psychological issues that they need to address. It is not enough to just try to build self esteem, you need to get at the root causes of this behaviour. If you suffer from this you may need to seek guidance and help working through your issues. There is plenty of support available, so don’t go it alone! 


  • Emler, N. (2001). The costs and causes of low self-esteem. Youth Studies Australia21(3), 45.
  • Jones, E., Vermaas, R., Mccartney, H., Beech, C., Palmer, I., Hyams, K., & Wessely, S. (2003). Flashbacks and post-traumatic stress disorder: The genesis of a 20th-century diagnosis. British Journal of Psychiatry, 182(2), 158-163. doi:10.1192/bjp.182.2.158
  • Kanda, T., Tsujino, N., Kuramoto, E., Koyama, Y., Susaki, E. A., Chikahisa, S., & Funato, H. (2016). Sleep as a biological problem: an overview of frontiers in sleep research. The journal of physiological sciences : JPS, 66(1), 1–13.
  • Marigold, D. C., Holmes, J. G., & Ross, M. (2010). Fostering relationship resilience: An intervention for low self-esteem individuals. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology46(4), 624-630.
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Website Author and Editor Bio

Photo of Karl Perera, MA, DipLC Karl Perera is a fully qualified Life Coach (DipLC), Teacher (MA) and author of Self Esteem Secrets. He has taught at various universities including Durham, Leicester and Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge. He has run since 1997 and is an expert in Self Esteem and Self Confidence.