11 Signs of Low Self-Esteem

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Self-esteem refers to a person's overall sense of self-value. It is essentially your opinion about yourself. It can encompass a range of factors such as your sense of identity, your self-confidence, feelings of competence, and feelings of belonging. It plays an important role in a variety of areas in life, which is why having low self-esteem can be such a serious problem. 

Self-esteem is about more than just generally liking yourself—it also means believing you deserve love and valuing your own thoughts, feelings, opinions, interests, and goals.

Having self-esteem not only impacts how you feel about and treat yourself—it can also play a role in how you allow others to treat you. It can affect your motivation to go after the things you want in life and your ability to develop healthy, supportive relationships.

Signs of Low Self-Esteem

Poor self-esteem can affect a person’s thoughts, emotions, and patterns of behavior. Sometimes these signs can be more apparent, but in some cases that can be much more subtle.

Some people with low self-esteem talk negatively about themselves, while others go out of their way to make sure that other people are pleased with them. In either case, this lack of personal worth and value can have a serious negative impact on a person's life and wellness.

Some common signs of low self-esteem are outlined below.

Poor Confidence

People with low self-confidence tend to have low self-esteem and vice versa. Being confident in yourself and your abilities allows you to know that you can rely on yourself to manage different situations.

This self-trust means that you feel comfortable and confident navigating many different things you might encounter in life, which can play an important role in your overall well-being.

Low self-esteem can play a role in causing this lack of confidence, but poor confidence can also contribute to or worsen poor self-esteem. Finding ways to gain confidence in yourself and your abilities can be helpful. Acquiring and practicing new skills is one tactic you might try to boost your confidence and self-esteem.

Lack of Control

People who have low self-esteem often feel that they have little control over their lives or what happens to them. This might be due to the fact that they feel that they have little ability to create changes either in themselves or in the world. Because they have an external locus of control, they may feel that they are powerless to do anything to fix their problems.

Research has found that in situations where people do have little control over what happens, having higher self-esteem can help relieve some of the negative effects of this loss of control, which ultimately benefits mental health.

If you are struggling with feeling like you have no control over your life or situation, finding ways to improve your self-esteem may be helpful for your well-being.

Negative Social Comparison

Social comparison can sometimes serve a positive function and enhance a person's sense of self. However, comparing yourself to others can also play a role in damaging self-esteem. People with low self-esteem may be more likely to engage in what is known as upward social comparison, or comparing themselves to people who they think are better than themselves.

Upward social comparison isn't always bad. Sometimes these comparisons can be a source of information and inspiration for improvement. When people are left with feelings of inadequacy or hopelessness, however, it can inhibit self-esteem.

Social media may also play a role in such comparisons. If you often compare yourself unfavorably to people on social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram, your self-esteem may begin to take a hit.

Problems Asking for What You Need

When a person has low self-esteem, they may struggle to ask for what they need. Because their self-regard is low, they may feel that they don't deserve help. They might also feel embarrassed or incompetent by their need for assistance and support. Because they don't prioritize their own desires, they struggle to assert themselves when they are in need.

Worry and Self-Doubt

Even after making a decision, people who have low self-worth often worry that they’ve made the wrong choice. They doubt their own opinions and may often defer to what others think instead of sticking to their choices.

This can often lead to a great deal of second-guessing and self-doubt, which make it harder for people with low self-esteem to make decisions about their lives.

Trouble Accepting Positive Feedback

One 2017 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that low self-esteem is directly correlated to not being able to accept or capitalize on compliments from others.

Because they don’t have a positive opinion about themselves, people who have low self-esteem find it difficult to accept compliments from others.

This positive feedback is often met with suspicion and distrust. These complimentary words do not align with their beliefs about themselves, so people with self-esteem issues may even feel that the other person is being flippant or even cruel. 

Negative Self-Talk

Low self-esteem causes people to focus on their flaws rather than their strengths. Rather than build themselves up with positive self-talk, they always seem to have something negative to say about themselves. They blame themselves when things go wrong and always find some fault with some aspect of themselves, whether it is their appearance, their personality, or their abilities.

Fear of Failure

Because they lack confidence in their abilities, people with low self-esteem doubt their ability to achieve success. While they might fear failure, they tend to either avoid challenges or give up quickly without really trying. 

This fear of failure can be seen in behaviors such as acting out when things go wrong or looking for ways to hide feelings of inadequacy. People might make excuses, blame external factors, or try to downplay the importance of the task. 

Poor Outlook

Low self-worth also causes people to feel that there is little chance that the future will be any better. These feelings of hopelessness can make it hard for people with low self-esteem to engage in behaviors that will bring about positive changes in their lives. 

Self-sabotage is also a common way of coping with such feelings. By finding obstacles to prevent success, people with low self-esteem are able to find something else to blame for what they see as their own shortcomings.

Lack of Boundaries

The ability to create boundaries is often established early in life. Children who have caregivers that show them that they are respected and valued are more likely to be able to create good boundaries in adult relationships. They are also more likely to have a more positive view of themselves in general.

People who don't value themselves can have a difficult time setting boundaries with other people. They may feel guilty or fear that people will stop liking them if they try to establish or maintain a boundary.

This can create problems when people don't respect a person's space and time. The lack of respect not only adds to stress but may make a person feel less valued. 

Trying to Please Others

People-pleasing can also be another common symptom of low self-esteem. In order to gain external validation, people who don't feel good about themselves may go above and beyond to make sure that other people are comfortable and happy. This often involves neglecting their own needs, saying yes to things they may not want to do, and feeling guilty about saying no. 

Impact of Low Self-Esteem

Research suggests that low self-esteem is linked to a number of mental health problems including:

Low self-esteem can make it more difficult to achieve your goals and form healthy, supportive relationships. It can also play a role in the development of certain mental health problems and conditions including anxiety and depression.

Research has also shown that people who have low self-esteem are also more likely to be at risk for suicidal thinking.

Having low self-esteem can also make people more sensitive to criticism or rejection. Where someone with high self-esteem is likely to be able to shake off negative feedback, someone with poor self-value might take it more personally. This can also make people with self-esteem problems more likely to give up when faced with challenges or obstacles.

Research has found that people with low self-esteem often engage in behaviors that are designed to help preserve their limited self-worth. Actions such as acting sad or sulking are designed to try to garner support from others.

Unfortunately, these behaviors tend to backfire. Instead of getting the support and encouragement that they need to boost their self-esteem, they end up generating negative reactions from other people.

Coping

Low self-esteem can take a toll on your emotional well-being, so it is important to take steps to address your sense of self and get the support that you need. Building your self-esteem takes time, but there are things that you can do to help protect your mental well-being while you are taking steps to improve your self-regard. Things that you can do that may help include:

Focus on Hopeful Thoughts

Spend a little time each day focusing on positive, hopeful thoughts. Notice the little things that you are good at and allow yourself to feel proud of them. Think about times in the past when you have made it through something really difficult and remind yourself that even though you might not feel your best right now, you have the ability and strength to get through it.

Care for Yourself

Poor self-esteem can sometimes leave you feeling like you don’t deserve care and consideration. Work on reminding yourself that you need care and look for things that you can do to show kindness to yourself, no matter how small they may be. Spend some time doing something that you enjoy. Give yourself moments of rest and relaxation.

Investing in your own care and comfort isn’t an indulgence or reward you have to earn—it’s absolutely vital to both your physical and mental health.

Get Some Outside Support

Share your struggles with someone else who can offer unconditional support. This might be a friend or family member, but it can also be a person such as a doctor, therapist, teacher, or clergy member.

Having a network of caring people who value you and want you to value yourself can be helpful as you work toward improving your self-esteem.

How to Build Self-Esteem

If you are struggling with low self-esteem, there are things that you can do to help improve how you feel about yourself. Some of these strategies include:

Notice Your Thoughts

Start paying attention to the automatic negative thoughts you have each day. When negative thoughts take hold, it is important to work to actively identify cognitive distortions and replace unhelpful thinking with positive thinking.

Forgive Yourself 

If you tend to ruminate over your mistakes or failures, it is important to learn how to forgive yourself and move on. Doing so can keep you focused on the things you can do better in the future instead of the negative things that have happened in the past.

Practice Self-Acceptance

It is important to let go of the idea that you need to be perfect in order to have value. Work on accepting who you are today. This doesn't mean that you don't have goals or things that you might want to work on changing, but it is important to recognize that you are worthy of love and esteem—from yourself and from others—exactly as you are right now.

Value Yourself

Spend time thinking about the things you have accomplished and the things you take pride in. Allow yourself to appreciate your worth and your talents without making comparisons or focusing on things that you’d like to change.

You don’t need to be better in order to value yourself—but learning to value yourself can help you work toward your goals.

It can be helpful to think of yourself as you would a friend. How would you treat someone you care about who was in the same situation? In many cases, you may find that you would give them understanding, patience, empathy, and kindness—so it is important to show yourself the same unconditional support instead of beating yourself up. 

Ways to Boost Low Self-Esteem

Here's some tips on how you can build your self-esteem:

  • Do something that makes you feel good.
  • Stay physically active—exercise can help improve mood.
  • Think about something you are good at.
  • Keep a gratitude journal.
  • Challenge a negative thought.
  • Spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself.
  • Volunteer to help others.
  • Remember that everyone makes mistakes.
  • Celebrate your accomplishments, both the big and the small achievements.

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how you can become the best version of yourself.

A Word From Verywell

Self-esteem plays an important role in your ability to pursue goals, develop healthy relationships, and feel good about who you are. While everyone struggles with their confidence once in a while, low self-esteem can affect your ability to feel happy and can even make you more susceptible to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

If you are experiencing symptoms of poor self-esteem, there are ways that you can get help. Consider talking to a doctor or mental health professional. A therapist can help you change the thought patterns that contribute to low self-esteem and boost your confidence and opinion of yourself and your abilities.

Changing your view of yourself may take some time and effort, but over time you can learn to better see and appreciate yourself for who you are.

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