The Ultimate Guide to Low self-esteem & self-worth [Updated Feb 2021]
For as long as I could remember, right up til my mid-20s, I always struggled with low self-esteem and a poor self-image.
I carried around feelings of low self-worth and inadequacy and spent a crap-ton of time feeling like I could never achieve what I wanted to.
I realised that – low self-esteem is not simply a feeling, it’s a culmination of patterns, behaviours, beliefs, expectations, habits and so much more.
So let’s dive into some of the common signs of low self-esteem, combining my own experiences with research.
Do you constantly put others’ needs, wants and happiness before yours? Do you constantly feel like you need to agree with someone or go along with their plans, even though deep down you don’t want to?
When you are a people-pleaser, you constantly put others before you. You think that if you did ___, you will make mummy/daddy/elementary school teacher/close friend happy and all will be okay.
This can be dangerous, as when paired with more manipulative types, you can find yourself being taken advantage of which will do more damage to your self-esteem.
People pleasers may also harbour a lot of resentment towards others and themselves as deep down, there usually aren’t truly happy doing what they are doing for others.
You might have subconsciously gotten the message that keeping someone else happy is the key to your own happiness and survival.
Settling for less
When you have feelings of low self-esteem, it can alter your perceptions of self-worth and what you think you deserve.
You might unintentionally end up going for friendships, romances or just any sort of situation which make you feel let down. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle.
It can land you in situations and with people where you feel you need to accept bad behaviour because you think that’s what you deserve. NO.
It might also end up with you excusing lots of bad behaviour – possibly even downright abusive behaviour, because you think you can’t possibly find anything better out there.
Overthinking what people do/say/think
People with lower self esteem are hyper-sensitive to what others are thinking or saying about them.
They might even feel like everywhere they go, people are singling them out and judging them. They might be hyper-vigilant and hyper-sensitive and easily get offended or slighted at seemingly innocuous things.
They might even read (negatively) into something that isn’t there, take neutral occurences very personally or project onto someone else’s behaviour and words.
Their interpretations or perceptions are usually personally unfavourable ones – an immediate assumption that people think poorly of them.
Over-apologising or apologising for something you didn’t really do
Do you have a tendency to blame yourself when something goes wrong, even if that had nothing to do with you?
Do you have a hard time letting go of your perceived transgressions against others? Even after the person has totally forgotten about it or probably didn’t even register it in the first place?
Do you also have a tendency to over-apologise when a relatively small issue, for instance, accidentally knocking into someone?
Having a hard time accepting (or believing compliments)
How do you react to compliments? Do you accept them with grace and a big thank you, or do you come up with all sorts of reasons to refute the compliment or deny it outright?
Are you suspicious of people’s motives when they compliment you?
When we are on the lower end of self-esteem, we find it hard to accept compliments because we don’t really acknowledge the good we have that other people see.
We will end up questioning their motives (they didn’t mean it!), think they are being sarcastic or just playing nice.
Having a hard time looking at yourself in the mirror
Another related behaviour, do you have a hard time looking at yourself in the mirror or avoid looking at it altogether? There could be something around your self-worth regarding your looks that you may need to explore.
When we avoid looking at ourselves, it is usually because we do not think we are attractive enough or “worth looking at”.
It may even manifest in not bothering about personal style or fashion, because “I don’t look good anyway, so why bother?”
You compare yourself to others a lot
There is a tendency to always compare oneself with others, be it with looks, height, talent, capability etc. You also tend to make these comparisons in a manner that is unfavourable to you, putting yourself down in the process.
You might also have a tendency to feel inferior to others. There are always thoughts around people being smarter, better looking, nicer etc than you can ever be, and that you can’t match up.
You play down your accomplishments – it’s all luck!
It’s common for people with low self-esteem to ignore or diminish your achievements.
You might have a ready list of your personal weaknesses but struggle to think of any strengths.
Anything you’ve accomplished will be brushed aside quickly, forgotten and attributed to luck or some other external factor and not because you are capable, competent and wonderful in your own ways.
You will also have a tendency to over-assign blame to yourself when things go wrong, but when things go right, you never want to take any credit because you think you don’t deserve it.
You feel reluctant stepping up to challenges and responsibilities
Feeling like you aren’t good enough would mean feeling reluctant in taking on responsibilities or rising to the occasion.
You will feel like you can’t justify doing so and there will be someone better out there. So you end up keeping yourself in a safe, comfortable space and not stretching yourself.
But this actually stops you from learning and growing.
You need external validation to feel good
There is a constant need for affection, praise and recognition from others in order to feel that what you are doing is worth it. You place other people’s opinions above your own.
You beat up on yourself up a lot
You are very harsh on yourself and your inner critic is always turned up to 100%. You berate, scold, judge and pass a lot of critical comments on yourself as you go about your day.
You have a tendency to engage in self shaming, guilting and blaming whenever things do not go the way you want them to.
You second guess your instincts and cannot make decisions
When you are not very confident in yourself and in your decision-making capabilities, you will often find yourself unable to make a decision that will benefit you.
It seems like you often do not know what you want.
You hesitate a lot, overthink things and might even often rely on external parties to help you make a decision about important life choices.
Low self esteem also manifests in ways of keeping yourself small, hidden and invisible.
You hide your personality, self-censor lots of things when you are talking and might even be overly-guarded or private when you get to know others.
Here are some ways in which you may be hiding yourself away:
Do you hide parts of yourself and your personality because you feel like people will judge you negatively and you won’t be accepted?
If you tend to do this, remember that when you think others are secretly criticising or judging you, it is actually really you passing judgment on yourself.
You wear huge clothes to hide your body shape. You slouch.
You cover up a lot sometimes when it’s not even necessary (long pants and sleeves in summer).
You may intentionally dress down or not bother with self grooming because you don’t want to draw attention to yourself.
You have a hard time maintaining eye contact
There was a period of time when I was struggling with my self-esteem and I found it very difficult to look at people in the eye.
I was afraid of what they would think of me, I was afraid of their judgments and afraid of what they thought of me.
I found this decreased over time as I increased in self-assuredness.
Hide your accomplishments
As explained in one of the points above, you play down your accomplishments and are reluctant to accept credit for your work.
You hide in places
At home, small corner/table in office, you are at the fringes in parties and you spend half the time feeling anxious or hoping that no one comes and speaks to you.
Then you bail early for home – where it is safe. You literally, physically hide yourself away from the world. You make yourself feel small and unnoticed.
This sometimes stems from a subconscious fear of not wanting to be heard and not feeling confident in yourself and what you want to express.
What are your thoughts on these signs?
With 10 years of experience as a Researcher (MSc) in Psychology, Neuroscience, Mental Health, Consumer and Organisational Behaviour; I help action-oriented, time-strapped people and solopreneurs crush their inner critics, navigate toxic workplaces and relationships and build their self-esteem so that you can have the freedom, happiness and confidence you desire. I spend the rest of my time daydreaming and downing cups of tea/coffee – my life’s vice. Ask me any question and I will answer it in a post.