This topic is going to be controversial and might hurt a little.
But this is a conversation that needs to be had.
I’m talking about being in love with broken men.
I won’t lie: it’s an uncomfortable subject.
I’m going to be taking a look at the top 16 signs a man is hurt emotionally.
These broken men are everywhere: I used to be one of them. If you’re in a relationship with a man who is hurt emotionally you’re probably wondering about some of his behavior.
You’re wondering if it’s your fault – you’re also just wondering what the hell is up with him in general.
And you’re debating pulling the plug.
In the 16 signs below I’m going to help you figure out if he’s hurt emotionally and then what to do about it.
First off: what does it mean to be ‘emotionally hurt’?
Before I get to the list it’s a good idea to define my term. When I say a man who is “emotionally hurt” what I mean is a man who has experienced significant trauma or psychological and emotional pain that has lowered his ability to be present, honest, or generous in a relationship.
This can come out as being emotionally unavailable, moody, unpredictable, spouting off with anger, or becoming domineering and judgmental.
As a professional counselor and sex therapist Heather Davidson writes:
“Because boys and men are socialized to believe that men are supposed to be strong and fearless, it can be very difficult to acknowledge fear. Men might fear others, but also fear their own reactions (acting out after a triggering or upsetting event). And while fear can be easy to hide in the short-term, it can ultimately lead to problems in long-term relationships.”
Serious underlying emotional damage can also emerge when a man gets lost in his issues and basically stops caring about or contributing to the relationship in any way.
In the best-case scenario, a man who’s been emotionally hurt will be able to consciously work on himself and his problems in order to be with you and have a healthy love.
So, here they are:
The top 16 signs a man is hurt emotionally
1) Past pain still weighs him down
One of the biggest signs a man is hurt emotionally is that he clings to the past.
Even when he says he’s let it go it’s still there in his heart. I know that in my case pain from past rejection, disappointment and depression have been hard to shed.
Many times I think I’ve overcome them but they seem to circle back around like emotional vultures.
This can be stuff from childhood and later experiences.
I know that in my cases it includes childhood trauma and fears of abandonment as well as pain and anger over relationship disappointment and a feeling of other people getting what they want but not me.
This underlying resentment and bitterness have ruined potential new relationships because I let that pain from the past dominate my present.
In trying to protect myself I actually tripped myself up and ruined some good opportunities, hurting the feelings of nice girls in the process.
As psychologist Dr. Gail Brenners writes,
“You hear and read about spiritual awakening, and you think it will solve all your problems. But you keep getting stuck, over and over. You’re hard on yourself with an inner critic that bullies you. You’re caught in thoughts that make you anxious—and they won’t stop. You keep making decisions that don’t make you happy.”
2) He doesn’t give much to the relationship
A man who’s been emotionally hurt is like a wounded animal. He’s running for shelter and trying to find a place to hide.
But he still wants love and to be loved.
He shies away from the site of conflict and tries to protect himself. He will be focused on himself and his needs because he’s still in a survival mode in his inner self.
This does not mean he’s really a selfish guy or that he doesn’t give a shit about you even though he might act like it sometimes.
A person who’s been hurt emotionally will have trouble reciprocating affection and even kind actions.
It can take a long time for a man who’s been emotionally hurt to warm up, and even then he can go cold on you in an instant.
If you’re looking for smooth sailing this isn’t the guy for you.
There could be long stretches of time where he barely communicates or shows up. There may also be times when your attempts to communicate with him are basically stonewalled and you have no idea what to do next.
It’s not ideal, but if you can get through to the other side real love can bloom.
The thing is that in almost every way it is his choice to commit to healing and it is not your job to “fix” him.
3) He gets uncomfortable about opening up
Although he might open up sometimes in moments of vulnerability, one of the top signs a man is hurt emotionally is that he regrets opening up or feels uncomfortable about it.
It’s because he’s been burned before and he feels exposed.
He doesn’t want to tell you what’s really on his mind a lot of the time because he associates this with danger and getting hurt.
He has a problem with trust.
And this manifests in difficulty opening up and him getting in a bad mood after he does, including sometimes lashing out at you or being sulky.
4) He doesn’t seem to trust you
Another of the signs a man is hurt emotionally is him being a control freak.
A guy who’s got serious emotional issues suffers from a lack of trust like I wrote above. And that includes a lack of trust in you.
It can be hard.
As psychologist Melanie Greenberg writes:
“Inability to trust our partners may take many forms, including feeling that they are being dishonest or hiding something from us; not trusting them to be reliable, consistent, and available when we need them; fearing they may take advantage of us; not trusting their values as human beings; or not feeling safe to express who we really are in our relationships.”
Being controlling can take many forms and may include him asking who you’re spending time with, being uncomfortable when you’re texting a lot, and expressing a lot of interest – or even jealousy – about your social media posts.
He wants to trust you, but there’s some instinct in him telling him that he can’t.
As you can imagine this ruins many relationships because at the end of the day it’s his issue, not yours.
5) He’s cautious about expressing his love and attraction
Part of the problem with a man who’s been emotionally hurt is that he doesn’t express his emotions much at all.
He keeps it all inside, including his love for you.
When he lets out how he feels it makes him feel exposed and reminds him of past rejection. This is why he keeps it in.
Showing affection to you increases his feelings of attachment and he becomes even more scared you’ll leave.
His inner feelings of inadequacy flare up and the next thing he knows he’s convinced himself that he’s “losing” in terms of the balance of power in the relationship and that you’re going to destroy him any moment.
This lack of vocalizing his feelings can be really hard, especially if you’re a woman who wants clear communication about where things stand.
Sometimes with patience and love, this can be resolved, but in many cases, his own problems overshadow the chance at romance.
6) He craves attention and validation
I know as a man who’s been hurt emotionally that the craving for attention and validation never seems to go away.
It’s one of the biggest signs a man is hurt emotionally.
His low self-esteem constantly tells him he’s not good enough. It’s like an angry judge constantly sentencing him to life inside his mental prison.
He is ashamed of himself and feels inadequate – often for no good reason.
I’m sure all of us can point to awful people we’ve met who believed they were the absolute king of the world – in fact, many have been leaders of nations and corporations.
My point is that this guy who’s been hurt emotionally doesn’t hate himself because he’s bad, but because his inner dialog tells him he’s bad.
For this reason, he’s going to be insecure and crave praise and validation. There’s also a good chance he’ll dump you once the thrill of showing you off and “having” you wears off.
Because once that validation wears away he’s left craving something – or someone – new to fill that void inside.
Life coach Greg Audino puts it well when he explains some of the roots of needing validation.
Just remember: if you were to start getting all the praise from everyone that you hope for and were to become happy because of it, you still wouldn’t be the one controlling your life. The true control and security you seek go beyond getting credit from others…
Amen to that.
7) He’s addicted to work and career success
One of the signs a man is hurt emotionally is work addiction.
He may chase career highs and achievements as a way to run from his own feelings of low self-worth and his own intimacy issues.
Work addiction can seem like a cliche. Some mid-life crisis thing of a guy pushing down his emotions with long nights at the office.
Often movies will show him having an affair as well, drinking heavily or using drugs.
Even if this guy isn’t going that far, it’s likely that his addiction to work is his way of protecting himself from the vulnerability that he feels around you and in intimate relationships.
He’s using work as therapy, but instead of resolving and facing some problems, he’s just trying to escape.
The good news is he might start making more money.
The bad news is that his emotional issues aren’t going away anytime soon.
8) He doesn’t seem to appreciate you but he’s terrified of you leaving
Under the broken man’s calm-looking surface is a raging tempest.
He hesitates to show you any affection or tell you he loves you, but he also feels deep fear inside that you’ll leave.
This paradoxical combo is a relationship-busting nightmare. And he knows that, too, but he can’t seem to stop himself.
A lot of it is due to buried trauma that he doesn’t know how to work through and keeps running from and recreating in his life.
I know that for me, shamanic breathwork has also been a game-changer.
Our respiratory systems are a powerful link between our conscious and unconscious, and it took breathwork for me to realize just how shallowly I had been breathing for years.
My lack of trust and fear of being abandoned was physically impacting my breath.
I was locked in a pattern of shallow, hesitant breathing. I hadn’t been allowing myself to live.
It was a profound realization, to say the least.
Rudá Iandê is a shaman from Brazil whose breathwork lessons I’ve found especially helpful and clear. He talks about the massive difference breathwork has made for him, writing that:
“I started studying breathwork 28 years ago and since then I haven’t stopped learning. What I’ve learned has completely changed my life. I was able to heal my body and mind, balance my emotions, and develop a lot of my personal power, creativity, and awareness.”
I invite others to also try it out and work on rebuilding trust with yourself and your body as a building block for rebuilding it with others.
9) He has a negative narrative about his past
If this guy’s life were a movie it would be all grey and full of betrayal and sadness.
He doesn’t notice or appreciate the good things because the narrative in his head tells him his life is shit.
Sadly, this helps create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It’s not that positive thinking is always a good thing, but the stories we tell ourselves about why we’re here and what we can accomplish make a big difference.
This guy is his own worst enemy.
When something goes right he gets over-attached and chalks it up to blind luck. He doesn’t feel he deserves it.
And then he runs it into the ground.
I know about self-sabotage all too well, and even just writing that brings up some very bad memories.
10) He tries to use sex and seduction to cover up the pain
Just in the way, he may try to use work as a band-aid, one of the surefire signs a man is hurt emotionally is when he tries to sue sex and seduction to cover up the pain.
He can be an absolute charmer in the right environment: witty, sensitive, and appealing.
His layers of hurt and trauma don’t often come out until months into dating him.
You may just think he’s a guy who’s very in touch with his sexuality and enjoys time in the bedroom. And he can come across as very sensual and attentive sexually.
But in many cases his craving for sex isn’t even physical: it’s his way of trying to self-medicate and run from anything deeper so that he can still feel safe and get gratification and release.
Using sex and seduction as self-medication is unhealthy that’s for damn sure, but it’s a habit that can start early in life and continue on.
As EMDR clinician Scott Kampschaefer writes:
“Some people use sex as their outlet. They may use other substances and behaviors as well, but for some sex is one of their primary sources of pleasure or gratification. We have this as something we carry around in our bodies, so it’s one of the simplest go-to’s for relief of emotional pain whatever the reason may be.
If this becomes a habit that starts early enough in someone’s life, it can become compulsive or problematic. One of the primary signs of this is when the person has trouble stopping themselves even when their better judgment tells them it would be best not to do it.”
11) Your suffering always comes second to his
This one is hard to take, but it’s something I know I’ve done many times – especially back when I hadn’t processed a lot of the emotional issues that were saddling me.
I would dismiss the suffering and emotions of my partner as less than mine.
And inside I would only listen with one ear, convinced that what they were saying was nothing compared to what I’ve been through.
It was pretty humbling to realize that I was wrong and other people I know have been through way more than I could have imagined.
Coming face to face with that through a friend who got cancer and still remained positive showed me that my own negativity and self-centered attitude wasn’t realistic.
I was building up a negative zone where I was the only one who suffered.
And the indifference that led to in my relationships still depresses me to this day.
12) He has a poor self-image
One of the worst things about having a poor self-image and poor self-esteem is that it infects everything.
Psychotherapist Christine Webber notes that:
“Self-hate is characterized by feelings of anger and frustration about who you are and an inability to forgive yourself for even the smallest of mistakes.”
This plague makes everything a drag.
You never feel good enough, and if you’re a guy who has this issue then even outward confidence or bragging is usually to cover up deep feelings of not being good enough that are buried inside.
It’s a deep pain.
I used to think these kinds of topics were wishy-washy and silly, but now I can see how much of the breakups around me and my own past issues were because of things like low self-image.
It really ruins so many things, including an inability to receive the love that others try to give you.
13) He gets uncomfortable when you tell him your problems
Part of feeling that his suffering is always the worst is being awkward when you open up.
One of the signs a man is hurt emotionally is when he’s locked in his own pain.
If you open up to him about something you’re going through he may even look confused as if he can’t fathom that someone else is also dealing with some serious stuff.
This can come across as a major dick move and lead to all sorts of breakups.
But it’s important to know that the root of it isn’t just selfishness. It’s his survival mechanism kicking in and him having pain tunnel vision.
He can only see and live in his own suffering and disappointments so it’s hard for him to accept that others are also there to support him and also suffering badly themselves in many cases.
It is sort of like he’s in a trance.
The root is deep emotional hurt and issues, but the result can be what looks a lot like manipulative narcissism.
14) Dating him is difficult
As you can imagine from this list, dating this broken man is difficult.
You may be deeply in love, but learning to look out for the signs a man is hurt emotionally can end up saving you a world of heartache.
Even if you stick things out and start to work through these issues with him there is never a guarantee.
The heart is unpredictable, and the level of his past trauma can be hard to figure out from the get-go. This guy might be genuinely great at heart but just about impossible to date in day-to-day reality.
That’s the sad truth.
But if you’re up for a difficult challenge and don’t take things personally then I’m not necessarily saying to throw in the towel.
15) He’s a relationship arsonist
Just the way he self-sabotages, a broken man will also burn down relationships.
There are two main reasons:
The first reason is that he feels not good enough and believes that if things are going well it’s a fluke. He will then subconsciously do things to start fights or make the relationship turn sour in order to confirm his inner dialog.
The second reason is that he is scared to get hurt. When you are falling in love he will start to feel he is entering a no-exit situation and could fall in too deep and then get his heart broken again.
Many of these beliefs will be below the surface, not in his conscious mind.
But they can make him behave in truly odd ways and start fights about nothing.
This is him being a relationship arsonist.
16) He’s got cruel intentions
Some guys have bad intentions because they’re insensitive or like to play around.
But a man of worth can be a fuckboy for different reasons, too.
He may use sex to self-medicate like I wrote, but he can also plan to “pump and dump” you as part of a self-protection pattern.
He chases sex and some kind of emotional intimacy, then cuts it off quickly as soon as things get too real.
This is him protecting himself.
How is that protecting himself, you might ask?
And it’s a fair question.
Basically, some part of him feels that if he ends things first and fast then he still has control and is the “stronger” one of you who doesn’t get hurt.
It’s a losing formula for sure, but you’d be surprised how many guys are trapped in doing this over and over.
Should you date a man who’s hurt emotionally? Here’s the deal
Obviously, you’re the one who has to decide in the end.
But I can tell you that codependency can become very toxic. This is where both partners have a victim-savior relationship and you are together based more off your mutually-intertwining issues than real love.
If you do have the patience and love to stay with him as he processes his pain you can discover a rich love.
But you should never believe it is your fault or your job to “fix” a broken man.
One of the signs a man is hurt emotionally is that he will seek out a savior or a girl to fix him. But if you fall into that trap you will only become more broken yourself.
Instead, be supportive and present as much as you can and offer love, but never think of yourself as his savior or someone responsible for him.
You are worthy of love. So is he.
But neither of you is obligated or needs to stay in an emotionally unhealthy holding pattern.
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