15 signs a man lacks self-esteem, according to psychology

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Do you know the signs a man lacks self-esteem? Maybe this describes a friend you have in mind, or perhaps even yourself. 

It can be useful to recognize these signs, because only then can you step in and help — whether it’s yourself or someone else. 

And psychology shows there are specific signs we should look out for.

So let’s dive into what they are.

1) He’s sensitive to criticism

For one of the first signs a man lacks self-esteem, look at the way he responds to feedback — particularly criticism.

Nobody loves being criticized, but science shows a man with low self-esteem will take it especially harshly. 

He sees it as confirmation of his worst fear — that he’s not worthy or incapable.

So even if he rationally knows he can improve, his subconscious mind does everything possible to reject this identity. 

As such, he might:

  • Tense up his body
  • Give justifications or explanations
  • Get in a bad mood
  • “Return” the criticism to you

2) He withdraws socially

It takes guts to put yourself out there in social settings. You expose yourself to other people’s opinions, and more importantly to your own perception of yourself that you project onto others. 

And when you lack self-esteem, this perception can be too much to handle. 

“They must think I’m an idiot…” “Everyone can see I’m way out of my league…” “It’s obvious that I’m not cut for this.”

That’s why men who lack self-esteem will try to protect themselves by withdrawing from social situations

You might see them:

  • Declining invitations to go out
  • Canceling plans last minute
  • Generally keeping to themselves in social settings 

This is not to be confused with people who enjoy their own company – social withdrawal is when social interactions cause strong negative emotions.

3) He lashes out at others

When we think of men with low self-esteem, we often imagine a reserved man who isn’t able to stand up for himself.

And that’s often true. But there’s another side to the coin: hostile behavior. This is a defense mechanism for low self-esteem

It’s the result of accumulated anger from being mistreated or taken advantage of over and over again.

When someone doesn’t know how to set healthy boundaries to make it stop, the body learns to make you lash out instead. 

This reaction often comes out when men feel they’re about to be criticized or exposed in some negative way. 

4) He’s wrapped up in his own problems

Does this man tend to fixate on his life and what’s wrong in it?

Psychology shows that this is a common habit for people with low self-esteem.

Thinking poorly of yourself tends to cause a lot of unpleasant emotions — so many that they take up all your attention.

As a result, you may have little emotional capacity left to empathize with other people’s challenges. 

5) He takes rejection harshly

Above we mentioned sensitivity to criticism — and this goes hand in hand with sensitivity to rejection.

It’s not just when a romantic interest doesn’t want to date you anymore. Other examples include being rejected from a job opening, passed over for a promotion, or not invited to go out with friends. 

As research shows, men with low self-esteem are often scared of rejection, and so they look for signs of it everywhere. 

This may cause them to interpret even some neutral events as rejection, such as when you take a long time to reply to a message. 

So it helps to be sensitive to this to minimize worsening his distress. 

6) He feels out of control of his life 

This is one of the signs a man lacks self-esteem that’s a little harder to pinpoint.

You can’t always easily tell if a man feels out of control of his life — but watch his language and his reactions to problems.

  • Does he tend to find blame in external sources?
  • Does he look for what he can do to improve a situation?
  • Does he tend to talk as if things happen “to him”?
  • Does he focus on his own involvement in situations, whether or not he played a central role?

These are questions that can help uncover if this proven sign is true for him. 

7) He has trouble asking for help

What does this man do if he finds himself in a pickle?

Researchers found that people with low self-esteem tend to have difficulty asking for what they need. 

This could be because they feel embarrassed, or they’re afraid of looking incompetent — or perhaps that they don’t deserve it.

Either way, knowing about this sign can help others around offer help when needed and make sure that even men with low self-esteem get what they need.

8) He puts others on a pedestal

When you have low self-esteem, it can seem like everyone around you is much better than you are.

This is a sign I struggled with myself, before I started working on my self-confidence.

I would be constantly second-guessing myself, wondering if I did or said something wrong.

But when other people did or said something funny, I’d think it must be okay, because they wouldn’t do something irrational.

Another way this sign shows is that they fixate on their own negative qualities, while overlooking those of other people. 

9) He has trouble accepting compliments 

While a man with low self-esteem is sensitive to criticism, he also unfortunately resists compliments.

Why’s that? The mind tends to look for feedback that’s congruent with what you already think about yourself. 

If you believe you’re unworthy, then only that kind of observation will hit home for you. 

So when someone compliments you? They must be lying to you, or even being cruel. 

This creates a double edged sword where it’s very difficult for anything positive to truly get through to him.

10) He talks very negatively to himself 

Did you know we all have an inner narrative in our minds? Every second of every day, there’s a train of thought commenting on everything you do.

And for men with low self-esteem, this voice is really not the cheeriest one.

On the contrary, it tends to focus on their flaws and always has something negative to say about them. 

This was found by a study which pointed out that in this way, low-self esteem can both contribute to depression, and result from it. 

What a terrible negative spiral — it highlights the importance of learning to be kind and compassionate, starting with ourselves. 

11) He blames himself when things go wrong

‘Tis human to err, so no matter if your self-esteem is at rock bottom or higher than the Empire State Building, you will make mistakes.

But men with low self-esteem tend to see many more of these in themselves than they actually make. Even when something wasn’t their fault at all.

They’ll find fault with some aspect of themselves, and unfortunately some people can take advantage of this to dump blame on these men rather than taking accountability for their own actions. 

If you see this happening, be sure to stand up for the man and set the record straight.  

12) He’s afraid of failure

Failure feels scary no matter your opinion of yourself — nature intended it that way in order to keep us from flinging ourselves head first into danger.

But for men with low self-esteem, this fear can take on paralyzing proportions.

Taken to an extreme, even things like making a presentation or going on a date can feel too risky — what if I make a fool of myself? What if they don’t like me?

This can make these men avoid challenges or give up quickly without really trying.  

13) He has thin boundaries 

Just as men with low self-esteem have trouble asking for help, they also have difficulty enforcing boundaries.

They may feel guilty or afraid that people won’t like them if they do, and so they just let people do whatever they want.

At the end of the day, it’s his responsibility to communicate his boundaries — but as a caring person, you can understand his struggles and help him out by being extra attentive to his comfort levels. 

14) He tries to please others

You’ve surely heard of people-pleasing — and this is another one of the signs a man lacks self-esteem, according to psychology

This is a side effect of him trying to get validation from others — because he’s unable to give it to himself. 

He wants to know other people like him in order to feel worthy, and will do anything he can to make others happy. 

15) He fiddles with his appearance

As you talk to a man, do you notice him adjusting his shirt or touching his hair a lot? 

This behavior is one of the subconscious signs he lacks self-esteem. Science shows it stems from social anxiety, where the man is constantly worried about how others perceive him. 

Recognizing the signs a man lacks self-esteem

Do you recognize someone you know in these signs a man lacks self-esteem? Maybe it’s even yourself.

Though it isn’t the most pleasant realization, it’s a positive step — it gives you the awareness to do something about it.

The trick is not about covering up these signs, but digging deep to the root of the problem, and building up healthy self-esteem from within. 

This website has plenty of useful resources to help you do so — so you’re in a great place to get started!

Silvia Adamyova

Born in Slovakia, raised in Canada, with a translation degree from University of Ottawa and an editing certificate from Simon Fraser University. Now based back in Slovakia (if you’re wondering why - have you seen Canadian winters?). Full-time freelance English teacher, translator, editor, and copywriter. Part-time avid reader, self-development junkie, and cake addict. I hope my writing inspires you in some way — if it does, find me on LinkedIn or Instagram and let me know!

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