I have not been in a serious relationship with a woman for many years now. It is even rare for me to spend time dating although it has happened. My two biggest problems seem to be self esteem and a fear that I am very inexperienced with even having a relationship. As I get older the feelings just seem to grow stronger.

My issues with self esteem have existed since I was in middle school, most likely due to being overweight. Any teasing or mention of it made me very ashamed of myself. In recent years I have gotten in better shape but I still seem to attach much of my self worth to weight and looks.

If I see someone interesting in life or on a dating site I quickly shoot down the idea of even trying. I see these mature women and feel almost like a boy. Without reason I assume they wouldn’t want anything to do with me and that they deserve someone better, more experienced in life.

Every time I have tried to improve how I see myself I find it difficult to really change or believe what I’m saying about myself. I almost feel anything is a temporary change and that I’m walking around in a lie, just burying how I really feel.

I was once told by someone that they admired how easy I made friends and that people really seemed to want to be my friend. At times I see hints of this, yet never can bring myself to believe it. I’ll find myself even questioning a friendship and if a person really does like being my friend.

A. You’re no longer a young, shy, overweight child. You are an adult, more confident and physically different. I have seen this pattern of thinking develop among individuals who have had very low self-esteem as a youth, particularly when they were overweight. It can be difficult to escape the mindset of the “fat kid” who no one liked and everyone made fun of. It is important to recognize that you are not the same person you were in middle school. The work that needs to be done at this juncture in your life is to correct the line of thinking that has you still believing that you are overweight and inferior to others.

I believe you can address these issues with cognitive therapy. Cognitive therapy focuses on an individual’s thoughts. Think of it as thought analysis and replacement. The cognitive therapist is looking specifically for patterns of illogical thoughts and attempting to replace them with rational thoughts that are based on evidence, logic and reality.

In your situation, for instance, you spend time on a dating website but assume that no one will like you. Your pattern of thinking probably goes like the following. “How could they like me? After all, I’m not good enough, I’ve had no experience with women and they deserve someone better.” Those are the types of thoughts that individuals with low self-esteem often have about themselves.

If I were working with you I would want to know what evidence you have to support your negative self opinion. There’s a very good chance that you have no evidence to support this. In fact, we would most likely find evidence to the contrary. Case in point: at the end of your letter, you wrote about how some people have observed how easy it is for you to make friends. That would count as evidence to the contrary. Someone made that observation about you most likely because they noticed something very good and likable about you. This is evidence to prove that at least some of the negative ideas that you have about yourself are inaccurate. That was an abbreviated example of how cognitive therapy works.

The negative thoughts you have about yourself seem to be holding you back in life. It is likely inhibiting your ability to be in a relationship and to realize your full human potential. I think this is very tragic because you likely have much to offer in a relationship and in life. In every area of your life it is important that your thoughts are based on logic and are consistent with the truth. It is unhealthy to perceive yourself incorrectly and that is what I think you are doing.

I mentioned above that I think therapy could help you but you may also want to consider self-help books. You might find other books helpful but one of my personal favorites is Abraham Maslow’s Motivation and Personality. It’s an expensive book (about $80 on Amazon for a new copy and a little over $40 from Barnes and Noble) but your local library most likely has it available.

I would recommend therapy. It can be helpful to have an objective and knowledgeable person helping you analyze your situation. In addition, it is difficult to be objective about yourself and that is another reason why going to therapy may be beneficial. If you would like to search for a therapist in your community please consult this directory. Thank you for your question. Good luck.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Dec 2009

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2009). Can’t Be in a Relationship Until I Develop Self-Esteem. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/12/21/cant-be-in-a-relationship-until-i-develop-self-esteem/

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