Low self-esteem lends itself to a vicious cycle: the worse you feel about yourself, the less respect you feel you deserve, and the less you feel motivated to reach your goals, making you feel even worse about yourself. Low self-esteem can manifest itself in many different ways. Recognizing patterns of low self-esteem in your daily life can be an essential first step in growing your confidence and improving your life.
Here are the top 10 most common signs of low self-esteem.
1. You feel unworthy
Low self-esteem can make you think that you don’t deserve the best in life: true love, respect, a good income, or healthy friendships. A feeling of general unworthiness is a common trait among people with self-esteem issues. This feeling can cause you to ignore or stifle your dreams and avoid setting goals. Which can keep you stuck in one-way friendships (or even toxic, abusive relationships), less-than-satisfying jobs, and other negative situations.
2. You hesitate to speak up for yourself
If you frequently stop yourself from expressing your true opinions and desires, it may signify low self-esteem. You may follow along with what your friends and loved ones are doing, even if it’s not something you agree with. While it’s great to be flexible and accommodating to others, it’s important to know that your desires matter too. You may be afraid to speak up because you are afraid of losing friends or job security or because you just don’t feel like you deserve to have what you want. If you notice a pattern of not speaking up, it could signify low self-esteem.
3. You are a “people pleaser”
It can be rewarding to do things for others, but if you find yourself constantly putting the needs and desires of others above your own, you may want to ask yourself why. If you give gifts or do favors for people who may not appreciate it, is it because you simply want to be generous, or might it be an attempt to seek attention and appreciation from others? It’s wonderful to care for your loved ones but putting too much time and energy into taking care of others can get in the way of achieving your own goals. Teaching yourself to care for yourself as you do for others can help break the cycle of low self-esteem.
4. You have a negative opinion of yourself and your appearance
Most of us find fault with our appearance from time to time. But if you notice that you regularly experience negative thoughts when you look in the mirror, it may be a sign of chronically low self-esteem. This is a very common pattern among people with low self-esteem, and it can feed the vicious cycle of feelings of inadequacy. With support and thoughtful work, these negative thoughts can be turned around, and you can start to focus on your positive qualities.
5. You insult yourself
Are you in the habit of calling yourself names, scolding yourself for minor mistakes, and focusing on traits you find to be negative? This is called “negative self-talk,” and it is a common sign of low self-esteem. These thoughts and self-insults can feed on themselves to contribute to even lower feelings of self-worth. Like other habits that keep the cycle of low self-esteem going, negative self-talk can be overcome with the proper support and tools.
6. You constantly compare yourself with others and find yourself lacking
It’s natural to compare yourself to others. In small doses, comparisons can provide motivation for us to set and reach our own goals. However, spending too much time and energy comparing yourself to others—and feeling like you don’t measure up—can be a sign of low self-esteem. Like many of the other habits on this list, constant comparison is part of the cycle of low self-worth but can be unlearned in the process of breaking the cycle.
7. You reject compliments
Is your natural instinct to deflect or reject any compliment that comes your way? Do you assume that most compliments must be a joke, or in some way not truthful? If you don’t have a generally positive view about yourself, it can be difficult to accept compliments, and you may be suspicious of any compliments you receive. Learning to accept compliments from others can go a long way to helping you see your true value.
8. You apologize often
If your first instinct in less-than-perfect social interactions is to say, “I’m sorry!” it may be a sign that your self-esteem is not as high as it could be. Frequent apologies could signal that you feel guilty for things you have no control over. The guilt often stems from feelings of low worth. Sometimes you may feel like you can’t do anything right. This feeling, and the habit of apologizing, can be overcome with time and patience. Turning “I’m sorry” into “thank you for understanding” may seem like a minor change, but it can help remind you of your worth.
9. You change your mind frequently
Not trusting your own judgment can be a sign of low self-esteem. If you always seek the input of others before making a decision, let others make decisions for you, or have trouble standing by decisions you’ve made, you may need to ask yourself if this habit comes from a lack of self-trust fed by the vicious cycle of low self-esteem. When you learn to appreciate and trust yourself, you will be better able to make decisions, and stand by them confidently.
10. Your relationships are one-sided or unhealthy
Low self-esteem can cause problems with intimacy and trust. Part of what makes good relationships—whether romantic or platonic—is the ability to set boundaries and speak up for what you need. If you have a healthy sense of worth, you will know your value and set limits accordingly. If you fear that you are unworthy, you are more likely to have problems with intimacy and trust and fear losing someone by setting boundaries.
The Impact of Low Self-esteem
Having a low sense of worth can have serious consequences for all aspects of life, whether your an adult or a teenager. If you are struggling with an abusive relationship or need help with a serious mental health issue, call for emergency help right away.
These are some of the most commonly recognized impacts of low self-esteem:
- Limits in professional growth, based on a fear of failure or feeling of low self-worth
- Unhealthy or one-sided relationships, fueled by the inability to set personal boundaries and ask for what you need
- Lacking the motivation to reach goals based on a fear or expectation of failure
- Less resilience: people with low self-esteem are less able to recover after a setback or move on after negative feedback
- Increased risk of severe mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and substance abuse.
How to Cope With Low Self-esteem
1. Be kind to yourself
Rather than feeling like low self-esteem is a problem to contend with, you should know that you are not alone and that change is possible. Self-esteem is constantly evolving over the course of a lifetime, shaped by internal and external forces you can’t always control. Be patient with yourself, and know that you can improve it, but changes will not happen overnight.
2. Seek professional help
With the variety of options available, there is no need to go it alone.
If you are in danger because of an abusive relationship or thoughts of self-harm or suicide, you should seek help: call 911 immediately.
Licensed therapists—with professional degrees in clinical psychology and social work—are trained to work with clients who struggle with self-esteem issues. There are many options for working with therapists, including in-person and telehealth therapy. With telehealth therapy, you can meet with a professional through phone or videoconference methods, with options to text or email a counselor to check in between visits. BetterHelp has 25,000 licensed and accredited therapists, and the company matches you with a therapist within 24 hours.
To learn more about other companies that provide telehealth therapy, check out our list of Best Online Therapy Services.
If you have recognized patterns of low self-esteem in yourself and would like to boost your confidence, there are strategies to consider when thinking about breaking the cycle of low self-esteem.
How to Build Self-Esteem?
1. Explore the root causes
What are some of the messages you’ve received that have made you think poorly of yourself? Getting to the bottom of this can be an important step in improving your self-worth, changing negative patterns, and moving forward.
2. Pay attention to thought patterns
Do you have an insult ready for yourself every time you look in the mirror? Every time you compare yourself to others? Recognizing this habit will help you start to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
3. Set attainable goals
Small adjustments can make a big difference in how you see yourself and how you interact with the world. Do you always reject compliments? Maybe your goal can be to say “Thank you” to those who compliment you.
4. Practice positive self-talk
Try treating yourself the way you would treat a good friend. Remind yourself regularly of your great qualities and the need to accept yourself just as you are. The next time you want to insult yourself, ask yourself: “Is this what I would say to a good friend?”
5. Find self-love habits that work for you
You may find that regular meditation opens you up to appreciating yourself more. Other ideas include writing sweet notes to yourself or repeating a kind mantra to yourself, like “I am worthy of love.”
6. Take time to move your body
Exercise boosts levels of pleasure chemicals in your brain, which can improve your mood and help you feel better about yourself. It’s extremely important not to compare yourselves to others if you are trying a new kind of exercise. Focusing on your own consistency and achievements will keep you going more than comparisons with other people.
7. Get support from people who know and love you
Make sure the people you spend time with are worthy of your time and know your true worth. Supportive people can make a world of difference in helping you see your own value. If you are looking for an online therapist who can help you support a relationship, check out Regain. They specialize in couple’s therapy.
Everyone has moments when they struggle with low self-confidence. But repeated patterns of dismissing your own value, insulting yourself, and comparing yourself unfavorably to others can be a sign of consistently low self-esteem. This can have negative impacts across all aspects of your life, from your career to your relationships and mental health. If you recognize patterns in yourself that may signal low self-esteem, it may be time to take action to rebuild your confidence. You could benefit from seeking professional help and instituting practices that remind you of your true worth. Once you recognize the signs of low self-esteem, you will be better equipped to change your patterns and grow in confidence. It takes time and patience, but you are worth it.