Low Self-Esteem and Unhealthy Relationships Link


Self-esteem is a critical subject in the context of social relationships. The health of a relationship may depend on the level of self-esteem where high self-esteem improves relationships while low self-esteem degrades them. This relationship has been expressed in many studies, as expressed in the literature review. The current study will be a qualitative study intended to test the hypothesis that people with low self-esteem are more likely to be in an unhealthy relationships. To test this hypothesis, the research will use 100 participants from both genders. The main inclusion criterion is that they must be in intimate relationships. The measures of both self-esteem and the health of relationships are implemented. For self-esteem, the researchers use the Rosenberg self-esteem scale (RSES). For the health of the relationship, various constructs are measured using relevant scales, including satisfaction and happiness, as well as regrets and perceived support. The main conclusion is that it is hard for people with low self-esteem to maintain healthy relationships.

Introduction and Literature Review

The subject of low self-esteem has been studied extensively from both psychological and cognitive perspectives. By definition, self-esteem implies the feeling, consideration, and appreciation that individuals have for themselves (Tavares et al., 2016). In the context of relationships, self-esteem can affect how happy people are, which in effect tends to affect the quality of life. For example, romantic jealousy among intimate partners, as discussed Martinez-Leon et al. (2017) means people in a relationship are anxious, unhappy, and prone to such behaviors, heightened levels of aggression, and substance abuse. This research seeks to explore the links between low self-esteem and happiness in relationships. The research hypothesis is that people with low self-esteem are more likely to stay in unhealthy relationships.

Multiple studies have expressed that the concept of self-concept determines how happy people are in life. According to Fazaldad et al. (Hassan, 2020), happy and contented life is one of the aspects of human existence. Therefore, anything that negates these aspects can be termed as unhealthy, which includes all relationships where the individuals are unhappy or subjected to other negative emotions. Self-esteem has been associated with jealousy and subjective happiness for people in all forms of social relationships. The emphasis on jealousy is based on the observation by Fazaldad et al. (Hassan, 2020) that low self-esteem is the cause of jealousy. In intimate relationships, both explicit and implicit self-esteem affect how partners perceive themselves about others, and the resulting emotions and the health of the relationship depend on the level of self-esteem.

From a theoretical perspective, low self-esteem causes interpersonal difficulties, especially where people who fear rejection tend to deploy self-protection goals. In other cases, low self-esteem may cause partners to sacrifice personal preferences for the sake of their relationship. Such behaviors could be detrimental to both the health of the relationship and the quality of life of the individuals (Righetti & Visserman, 2018). Negative mood, stress, and dissatisfaction with life can all be characterized as features of an unhealthy relationship. The Sociometer theory described by Erol and Orth (2016) can be used to explain the causal relationship between self-esteem and the health of romantic relationships. The theory holds that humans tend to have an inherent desire for interpersonal relationships due to the need for acceptance and belongingness. Therefore, self-esteem can be perceived as a gauge that checks the individuals’ interactions with others. The main assumption in sociometer theory is that self-esteem is subject to the individuals’ interpretation and perception of other people’s reactions towards the self. Therefore, people with low self-esteem are more likely to be worried about their acceptance, which affects their happiness in the relationship.

In extreme conditions, the effects of low self-esteem can become clinical. A study by Doron and Szepsenwol (2015) examines partner-focused obsessions, and the role played by self-esteem. The scholars find that relationship-related obsessive-compulsive disorder (ROCD) is a common case observed in clinics. The main cause of this disorder is the individuals perceiving the flaws and failures of their partners as a reflection of their self-worth. Low self-esteem means that people in relationships can cause individuals to start focusing and developing doubts about their partners. Most importantly, a preoccupation with such flaws as physical features, social qualities, or personal attributes can be detrimental to how people feel about themselves. The quality of the relationship often depends on acceptance and favorable self-perceptions. Therefore, the preoccupations with flaws cause feelings of vulnerability and attachment anxiety, as well as amplified self-sensitivity. The interactions between the partners can develop into unhealthy relationships where individuals are not happy with themselves and their partners.

Among the key features of a healthy relationship include support, acceptance, and relationship warmth. According to de Moor et al. (2021), self-esteem affects people’s subjective evaluations of their self-worth and abilities. Satisfaction in social relationships can only be achieved when these subjective evaluations are positive. The link between self-esteem and social relationship can work in both ways where relationships can influence self-esteem. However, the focus of this research is the reverse interplay between these variables, where self-esteem is expressed through social behaviors that can be observed by and reacted to by others. Therefore, scholars have established that people with higher self-esteem tend to experience more positive relationships. Additionally, high self-esteem makes individuals engage in more relationship-enhancing actions and behaviors. Therefore, it can be argued that the health of social relationships depends on the ability of the partners to develop the relationship. The reverse scenario is also expected among people with low self-esteem: individuals with low self-esteem tend to engage in actions and behaviors that could undermine the health of the relationship. Examples include perceived rejection and withdrawals from relationships, which reduce the interpersonal closeness and the overall satisfaction with the relationship.

While most of the studies focus on relating low self-esteem with unhealthy relationships, there is a need to appreciate the underlying issues affecting an individual’s self-esteem. A study by Clasen et al. (2015) explores the systems of mood-reactive self-esteem and depression vulnerability. Cognitive theories have been used in this study to suggest that mood-reactive self-esteem, which can be described as a pattern of cognitive reactivity, is an indication of depression vulnerability. Depression involves multiple symptoms that include persistent mood of sadness and low self-esteem. These symptoms tend to fluctuate within people across time, meaning they are not permanent. The need to integrate these views in this research is to provide an understanding of how the individuals’ problems with self-worth are transferred to social relationships. The mood-reactive self-esteem can be perceived as the equivalent of low self-esteem, where people fail to appreciate their worth. Additionally, persistent episodes of depression or the vulnerability to easily become depressed can be an indicator that people are unable to maintain healthy relationships. These views can support the idea that low self-esteem prevents people from building their relationships.

It is important to understand that many constructs can be used to describe the health of relationships. Such constructs as quality have been used by Mund et al. (2015) to imply overall satisfaction and a balance between independence and connectedness to a partner. The balance is manifested through the fulfillment of fundamental human needs. These needs may not be met when the individuals engage in behaviors that damage intimate relationships. Examples offered by Don et al. (2019) include support-seeking behaviors, including whining, sulking, and displaying sadness as a means of eliciting support. However, such efforts often tend to backfire, whereby the support-seekers become rejected by others. It can be argued that such behaviors will be likely to ruin current healthy relationships and, when the relationships do not end, the individuals get themselves trapped in unhealthy relationships.


The current research uses a qualitative approach to examine the link between low self-esteem and unhealthy relationships. Primary data will be collected and analyzed using the relevant tools and techniques. Based on the hypothesis, the main research question will be how low self-esteem affects the health of social relationships. The literature review above highlights that there are several constructs of both self-esteem and relationship health, which will be used in this study as the variables.


The study will use 100 individuals in intimate relationships where each is questioned to determine their levels of self-esteem. The selection of participants may follow several criteria, one being all individuals who perceive their relationships as unhealthy. The participation will be voluntary, and all interactions between the researcher and respondents kept anonymous. Both males and females will be included at the ratio of 1:1 if that will be possible.


There will be two primary variables that will be measured: self-esteem and relationship health. As explained in the relationship, there are several constructs associated with the health of a relationship. Happiness and satisfaction with the relationship can be measured using simple scales, for example, 1 to 5, with 1 being very unhappy/very unsatisfied and 5 being very happy/very satisfied. Other variables may include regrets, perceived support, and the level of connectedness. Regarding self-esteem, the study may use the Rosenberg self-esteem scale (RSES), which uses a scale of 0-30 where scores below 15 show problematic low self-esteem.


Much of the procedures have been highlighted in the above sections involving the selection of participants and measurement of variables. However, it is important to state that the study begins with the preparation of the questionnaires to be used in the study. The measurement scales will also be prepared in advance before the questionnaires are administered online. The data collected will them me complied with and subjected to the measurements, and the outcomes analyzed.


This proposal described research to establish the relationship between low self-esteem and unhealthy relationships. The literature review has already helped identify the connection between the two variables. The current research will offer empirical evidence on the subject by using primary data from people in intimate relationships. The outcomes from the measurements are used to test the hypothesis that low self-esteem is positively associated with unhealthy relationships, which will support the contrast of the current literature.


Clasen, P., Fisher, A., Beevers, C., & Lui, S. (2015). Mood-reactive self-esteem and depression vulnerability: Person-specific symptom dynamics via smartphone assessment. PLoS One, 10(7), 1-16. Web.

de Moor, E., Denissen, J., Emons, W., Bleidorn, W., Luhmann, M., Orth, U., & Chung, J. (2021). Self-esteem and satisfaction with social relationships across time. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 120(1), 173-191. Web.

Don, B., Girme, Y., & Hammond, M. (2019). Low self-esteem predicts indirect support seeking and its relationship consequences in intimate relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 45(7), 1028-1041. Web.

Doron, G., & Szepsenwol, O. (2015). Partner-focused obsessions and self-esteem: An experimental investigation. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 49, 173-179. Web.

Erol, R., & Orth, U. (2016). Self-esteem and the quality of romantic relationships. European Psychologist, 21, 274-283. Web.

Fazaldad, G., Iqbal, S., & Hassan, B. (2020). Relationship between jealousy and subjective happiness among university students: Moderating for the role of self-esteem. Pakistan Journal of Psychological Research, 35(2), 493-509. Web.

Martinez-Leon, N., Pena, J., Salazar, H., Garcia, A., & Sierra, J. (2017). A systematic review of romantic jealousy in relationships. Terapia Psicologica, 35(2), 203-212. Web.

Mund, M., Finn, C., Hagemeyer, B., Zimmerman, J., & Neyer, F. (2015). The dynamics of self-esteem in partner relationships. European Journal of Personality, 29, 235-249. Web.

Righetti, F., & Visserman, M. (2018). I gave too much: Low self-esteem and the regret of sacrifices. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 9(4), 453-460. Web.

Tavares, D., Matias, T., Ferreira, P., Pegorari, M., Nascimento, J., & Paiva, M. (2016). Quality of life and self-esteem among the elderly in the community. Science & Public Health, 21(11), 3557-3564. Web.

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PsychologyWriting. (2023) 'Low Self-Esteem and Unhealthy Relationships Link'. 14 September.


PsychologyWriting. 2023. "Low Self-Esteem and Unhealthy Relationships Link." September 14, 2023. https://psychologywriting.com/low-self-esteem-and-unhealthy-relationships-link/.

1. PsychologyWriting. "Low Self-Esteem and Unhealthy Relationships Link." September 14, 2023. https://psychologywriting.com/low-self-esteem-and-unhealthy-relationships-link/.


PsychologyWriting. "Low Self-Esteem and Unhealthy Relationships Link." September 14, 2023. https://psychologywriting.com/low-self-esteem-and-unhealthy-relationships-link/.