Low Self Esteem Partners: Relationships Psychology

Here are 3 cycles I frequently see in people who are having relationships problems. These particularly commonly occur when one or both partners has low self esteem.

Person feels frustrated > Person acts out in relationship (i.e. acts unhelpfully) > Person feels shame and more frustration (at self and partner).


Person feels anxious > Person acts unhelpfully in relationship > Partner responds unhelpfully > Person feels more anxiety and sometimes angry/frustrated, lonely, or ashamed/guilty.


Person’s sense of self as a failure gets activated > Person acts unhelpfully > Partner responds unhelpfully > Person feels more of a sense of being a failure.

Where people get stuck

People typically get stuck because they are working on the assumption that breaking these cycles involves figuring out how not to experience the initial feelings. Not a silly assumption but typically not helpful. The most successful way of breaking these cycles is typically going to be choosing different actions when feelings of frustration, anxiety, failure etc get activated. To do this, you need to have a plan for what alternative coping you could use that would be more helpful than the types of behaviours you currently use.