Living with a self-loather

When your partner lacks self-love, you need to maintain the delicate balance between managing her feelings and yours

Upset couple man talking with her

It’s often said: “You have to love yourself before you can love others”. But there are many individuals, who do not love themselves, yet, are in romantic relationships [or are seeking one].

Whether these feelings of inadequacy or self-loathing are caused by unreasonably high standards, a pattern of negative and bipolar thinking, or even a consciously developed attitude of extreme humility, they can cause hardship for both partners.

If you’re in a relationship with a self-loathing person, what can you do to strengthen your relationship while helping your partner—and yourself? I’ll tell you.

At the most basic level, self-loathing people feel they are not good enough for their partners. To some extent, this is natural: love is often accompanied by feelings of awe and admiration, but people who don’t love themselves take these feelings too far.

“Why should this person be with me when there are so many better people out there?” is what they think. If this sounds like your partner, your first impulse is to praise her, to reassure her of her worth. While this is admirable and kind, self-loathing people are likely to dismiss or deflect such praise, feeling that they don’t deserve it.

They may even interpret it as patronising rather than sincere if you repeat it often. It may also intimidate the self-loathing, who may look at the praise as something they have to live up to while worrying that they can’t. This only compounds their feelings of inadequacy.

Self-loathing people are sensitive to wording; they are naturally disposed to take things badly, so they project their own feelings of inadequacy onto what other people say to them. This puts an extra burden on you, the partner, to be especially careful when giving criticism.

Any criticism you give is often blown out of proportion. It also reinforces your partner’s feelings of inadequacy. Furthermore, because of a lack of faith in herself, your partner takes even minor criticism as a sign that you are reconsidering the relationship, and fears that every little mistake may be the last straw.

To make things worse, this ‘crisis of faith’ suffered by the self-loathing person may also show up in expressions of paranoid jealousy. Every person they see you talking to [especially of the opposite gender] seems better in comparison to themselves.

This makes them worry constantly that you will abandon them for somebody else. [This can be especially maddening for self-loathing people when coupled with their guilt over preventing you from meeting other people!]

It is natural for you to interpret these displays of jealousy as distrust and take it as a reflection of you. But remember, it’s more likely based on how your self-loathing partner perceives his or her low worth and value to you.

It is natural to think that self-loathing people are needier than most, but the truth is more complicated. Some self-loathing people seek out in their partners what they find lacking in themselves: success, good looks, intelligence, or confidence. [Ironically, this backfires as they later find themselves tortured by feelings of inadequacy when they compare themselves to the ‘superior’ partners!]

At first you may be flattered by this admiration, but over time you come to realise that your partner values you not for yourself, but rather for his or her own perceived shortcomings—and that probably isn’t what you want in the long term.

There’s another way in which many self-loathing people do not fit the picture of the needy partner: they often reject help when it is clearly needed and sincerely offered. They are reluctant to seek out or accept help for the same reason they reject praise: they do not feel they deserve it, and they don’t want to impose on anyone else, especially you.

Dealing with a self-loathing partner can be a delicate balancing act. You deserve to express your own issues and concerns, but you must also keep in mind how sensitive your partner is.

You have to assure your partner that small problems are not important in the big picture, that you both botch up from time to time—and that none of these issues signal the end of the relationship [though continued friction over them might].

Many of us desire sensitivity in a partner, of course, but dealing with extreme sensitivity can be both frustrating and exhausting, and may be more than you want—or deserve—to handle.

If you’re with such a person, his or her reluctance to accept help may be especially hard on you. However, the fact that you are with such a person means that you are caring and patient. You understand who you’re with, and you naturally want to help your partner deal with his or her issues.

But the very nature of these issues causes your partner to push you away, refuse help, and possibly alienate you. Out of all the difficulties that partners of the self-loathing face, this may be the most fatal to the long-term health and success of the relationship, since your essential caring nature is being denied. It’s natural to feel frustrated.

While your self-loathing partner has her issues with which you naturally want to help [even if you can’t], you must not forget to take care of yourself as well. Your partner must keep in mind that, as selfless as you may seem, you also have needs that deserve to be met.

It is each partner’s choice to be in a relationship, but it is also each partner’s prerogative to end it—and you have every right to leave if you’re not getting what you need because you’re always thrust into the position of dealing with your partner’s problems.

Despite your natural kindness and patience, please keep this in mind: Don’t let your partner’s failure to love herself make you forget to love yourself.

Magnifying lens over an exclamation markSpot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!

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Mark D White is a professor in the Department of Political Science, Economics, and Philosophy at the College of Staten Island/CUNY, where he teaches courses in economics, philosophy, and law. He has written and edited a number of scholarly and popular books, and blogs.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I am self-loathing. It stems from childhood, I think, where my mother told me I was “bad” all the time. When she got stressed out, she says “Stop being bad!”. If you would just BE GOOD! She would say. I could never figure out what being good meant, really – sitting in my room reading a book. Never getting dirty. Or hungry. Or sick. Or scared. All bad for mommy. She later admitted she was overwhelmed after having me, and I empathize with her. It’s not her fault. I am a parent now too and I am overwhelmed. But I won’t tell my kids they are bad. My boy wet the bed the other day and he was crying and looked afraid as if he was in trouble and I was very sad that he felt that way and I grabbed him and hugged him pee and all and told him that daddy peed the bed too and that it was normal and he said “Really, daddy?” So maybe I can stop this cycle by not repeating what my mother did. I guess I am not so mad at her anymore but I am having a hard time in my life. I found an emotionally unstable/abusive household to cause:

    -Lack of autonomy, trouble with decision making
    -Low self-esteem, self-worth, self-confidence.
    -Dependence on others, letting others make decisions
    -More than average meloncholy, mood issues, depression
    -Perpensity for addiction, self-soothing behaviors, eating, sex, drugs, etc.
    -Considerable anxiety and avoidance of people and things
    -Trouble dealing with anger constructively
    -Lack of direction, wandering, stuck
    -Unable to say no, set boundaries, have limits
    -Constant people pleasing
    -Avoid social situations
    -Trouble taking criticism (even constructive)
    -Trouble accepting gifts, compliments, or even thanks

    I’ve spent most of my adult life in therapy and just when I think I have made some progress I feel I slip back. Lately it feels like the more alone I am the better off I am. Relationships (marital, family) are very strained and my social circle is non-existent.

    So, next time you see someone who is self-loathing, or defiant, or stubborn, or resistive, or negative… just say “Hey, c’mon, it’s not that bad… if anyone can do it you can!”

    Because maybe when they were kids they didn’t hear that and maybe it’s not too late if they hear it now.

  2. Thank you for writing this article. Two days ago, I asked for a divorce from my wife of nearly 5 years. It was difficult to pinpoint or even explain to her why I’m absolutely spent and out any love to give. She is unmistakably a self-loather and I’m just now justifying my actions after having read this article. Consistent criticism from her, along with her ability to take things the wrong way from what I’m actually saying along with her consistent obsession with her appearance and how she hates the way she looks as finally broken me down. It’s like a subtle virus that just chips away at you taking the form of many other little issues…they fade and then it’s something else…at one point I went to therapy to make sure it wasn’t me who had the problem…my issue was I was losing interest with sex and intimacy…I’m pretty sure now I’m all good there, and it’s just the unattractive nature of this type of behavior…it was to the point for awhile where she completely withdrew from sex because she didn’t feel pretty, etc…and required SO much reassurance from me, instigating the first move, etc..that I withdrew as well because it became so difficult and uncomfortable.

    Trying to explain to her that my leaving is to help her was difficult. She’s spent the last 5 years trying to meet every need I have in my career and dreams, while placing hers on hold, all the while I’m trying desperately to encourage her to be excited about anything, an art, hobby, new career, anything – but now according to her, I’m the bad person for leaving BECAUSE SHE chose to not pursue her dreams…I can see she’s been unhappy, but claims she never complained and doesn’t understand why I’m leaving. I travel when I work so it’s been so difficult being able to enjoy my profession while knowing the pain it’s been causing her, that I can clearly see, but that she would never confess to having – I think it’s from guilt she carries from her last relationship or perhaps from her childhood. At this point, it’s too late for me. I need to move on..but this article just made my day..now I know I’m really not a selfish jackass..thanks!

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