5 ways men try to compensate for their low self-esteem

When you hear the word ‘low self-esteem,’ you might picture someone who doesn’t speak up and tries to blend into the background. 

While it can look like this, this isn’t the case with many men. Often, they attempt to mask their low self-esteem with certain behaviors. 

Ever wondered what these behaviors are?

Wonder no more; today, we dive into five of them. 

Curiously, we often associate many of these with toxic masculinity. Is this a mere coincidence, or is there more to it? 

I’ll let you decide that. 

Let’s get to it.

1) They obsess over their physical appearance (especially muscle)

Picture this: a man, meticulously counting every calorie, spending hours in the gym sculpting his muscles, constantly checking his reflection for any sign of imperfection. 

He rarely goes to any social events and only eats Chicken and broccoli (which he makes at home and brings with him in several Tupperware containers). 

You might know this guy; I know I have met a few. 

This sort of obsession isn’t surprising, considering the plethora of coaches, articles, and research advocating the gym as a pathway to increased confidence for men. 

Perhaps less discussed, however, is that it has been shown that an overemphasis on physical appearance, particularly muscle mass, can also be a sign of a man whose self-esteem is based on the approval of others or on social comparison.

I am not discouraging anyone from hitting the gym. Exercise can help us to live longer, have a better memory when we get old, improve our sleep, and boost energy…the benefits are endless. 

And if you know a man who is fit and keeps himself in good shape, it’s usually a good sign, not a bad one. 

However, when the pursuit of physical perfection becomes an all-consuming quest, it often masks deeper issues of self-esteem.

The gym, instead of being a place for health and wellness, transforms into a battleground where every additional muscle is a shield against feelings of inadequacy.

2) They become excessively competitive 

Ever come across the kind of guy who turns everything into a competition, whether it’s sports, work achievements, or even the trivial aspects of daily life? 

We all have.

It’s generally accepted that men, on the whole, are more competitive than women, and we often put it down to this. However, at an extreme level, it’s often more than just a drive to be the best; it’s a sign of something deeper – low self-esteem. 

This behavior is not just a cultural observation; it’s backed up by science. Research has shown that people who are overly competitive tend to have comparatively low self-esteem. 

In short, the relentless pursuit of victory for men with low self-esteem becomes a way to validate one’s worth, both to themselves and to those around them.

This trait can often result in this next compensatory behavior.

highly intelligent undervalued at work 1 5 ways men try to compensate for their low self-esteem

3) They become workaholics

Have you been on a date with a man who constantly took work calls, checked emails, and seemed to have no interests at all outside of his career?

Or are you that person who is constantly on the grind, unable to switch off from work? 

While a strong work ethic is admirable, this kind of relentless drive to succeed professionally can sometimes be a mask for deeper insecurities. Often, it’s not just about ambition; it’s about filling a void of self-worth.

But don’t just take my word for it. Studies have pointed out a direct correlation between low self-esteem and workaholism. 

One researcher put it well when she wrote that some results suggest that “individuals characterized by work addiction have an intense desire to work to compensate for their low self-worth, and they try to increase feelings of self-confidence by obsessive work.” 

That said, it would be wrong of me not to mention that this one is a bit of a double-edged sword.

While overworking can indeed be a sign of low self-esteem, other research would also suggest that a closely related trait, insecurity, could also be one of the reasons people become successful. 

Yale researchers identified three traits common to successful Americans. These were as follows:

  • A superiority complex 
  • Insecurity 
  • Impulse control 

Yes, their research suggests that successful people feel like they are better than other people while at the same time feeling like, as put by Psychology Today,  “that they or what they have accomplished so far is not good enough.” 

This next one is pretty obvious, and with social media, it only seems to be getting worse. 

4) They make flashy displays of wealth

If you have spent any time on social media, you have probably seen young men, barely out of their twenties, cruising in supercars, wrists gleaming with the latest Rolex, showcasing a lifestyle that screams luxury and affluence. 

This display is not just about wealth—it’s deeply intertwined with self-esteem.

As noted in a 2019 research article, studies consistently suggest that this sort of materialism might be a strategy to cope with low self-esteem. 

For men, accumulating and flaunting expensive items often stems from an underlying need to validate their worth and establish a social standing.

There’s nothing wrong with making money; we all need money to live. But should we use possessions to make up for a lack of self-esteem?

I’d bet most of us would say “no”. 

So, for you men reading this, it’s worth considering: are these displays of wealth a true reflection of your success, or are they a shield masking insecurities? 

And for women, it might be wise to look beyond the surface of material wealth.

The man behind the luxury car and designer clothes might be grappling with self-esteem issues, using material possessions as a façade for deeper emotional needs. 

5) They over-assert their opinions

We have all come across that guy who seems overly insistent on asserting his opinions, regardless of the context or the views of others. He tries to dominate conversations, forcefully express his viewpoints, or dismiss contrary opinions without consideration. 

It’s pretty hard to be around. 

However, what many of us fail to consider is that this sort of over-assertion can be a way for men to compensate for their low self-esteem. It’s an attempt to overshadow their insecurities by establishing intellectual or moral superiority. 

This behavior, often perceived as arrogance or stubbornness, can actually be rooted in an inner lack of confidence.

The bottom line

So there you have it. You may have expected some of these signs, but others were probably a surprise. 

Or maybe you already knew them all.

Anyway, as always, I hope you found this post enjoyable to read and that it has given you some food for thought. 

Until next time.




Picture of Mal James

Mal James

Originally from Ireland, Mal is a content writer, entrepreneur, and teacher with a passion for self-development, productivity, relationships, and business. As an avid reader, Mal delves into a diverse range of genres, expanding his knowledge and honing his writing skills to empower readers to embark on their own transformative journeys. In his downtime, Mal can be found on the golf course or exploring the beautiful landscapes and diverse culture of Vietnam, where he is now based.

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