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9 Signs of Low Self-Esteem

Signs of Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem is a common struggle that many people face, often without realizing it. It is a persistent, negative perception of oneself that can affect every aspect of life, leaving you feeling unworthy, unlovable, and incapable.

Many people grapple with feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy, often due to past experiences or societal pressures. The good news is that with the right tools and mindset, you can begin to boost your self-esteem and rediscover your inherent worth.

Some common signs or symptoms of low self-esteem include:

  • Negative Self-talk
  • Difficulty Accepting Compliments
  • Fear of Failure and Avoidance of Challenges
  • Lack of Boundaries and People-Pleasing
  • Negative Social Comparisons
  • Self-Doubt and Indecisiveness
  • Sensitivity to Criticism
  • Neglecting Self-Care
  • Negative Body Image and Self-Perception
SignDescriptionPossible EffectsStrategies for Improvement
Negative Self-talkRelentless inner voice that constantly criticizes and undermines.Feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, depression.Challenge negative thoughts, practice positive self-talk.
Difficulty Accepting ComplimentsDifficulty accepting positive feedback, often deflecting or minimizing it.Cognitive dissonance, low self-worth.Say 'thank you', internalize positive feedback.
Fear of Failure and Avoidance of ChallengesAvoiding new opportunities or challenges due to fear of failure.Missed opportunities for growth, lack of confidence.Set small goals, embrace challenges.
Lack of Boundaries and People-PleasingStruggling to set healthy boundaries, often prioritizing others' needs.Resentment, exhaustion, burnout.Practice saying 'no', set healthy boundaries.
Negative Social ComparisonsConstantly comparing oneself to others, leading to feelings of inferiority.Feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt.Focus on personal growth, avoid negative comparisons.
Self-Doubt and IndecisivenessChronic self-doubt, struggling to trust one's own decisions.Paralyzing indecision, lack of confidence.Trust instincts, make decisions independently.
Sensitivity to CriticismOverreacting to feedback, taking constructive criticism as a personal attack.Fear of rejection, low resilience.Separate feedback from personal attacks, view as growth opportunities.
Neglecting Self-CareNeglecting personal needs and self-care, prioritizing others instead.Burnout, lack of self-care.Incorporate self-care into daily routine.
Negative Body Image and Self-PerceptionConstantly critiquing appearance, focusing on perceived flaws.Distorted self-view, low self-worth.Cultivate gratitude for your body, focus on inner qualities.

Negative Self-talk

Negative self-talk is that relentless inner voice that constantly criticizes and undermines your every thought and action. It’s like having a personal bully living inside your head, always ready to pounce on your self-esteem and blame with harsh judgments and self-deprecating remarks.

This internal dialogue can sound like this:

  • “I’m so stupid. I can’t do anything right.”
  • “Nobody likes me. I’m just not good enough.”
  • “I’ll never be successful. Why even try?”

When you engage in negative self-talk, you’re reinforcing negative beliefs about yourself, which can lead to feelings of worthlessnessanxiety, and depression. It’s a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break free from, but recognizing this destructive habit is the first step towards silencing that critical voice. Evidence suggests that self-talk mediates between significant others’ statements and children’s self-esteem (Burnett & McCrindle, 1999).

Pay attention to your thoughts and challenge those cognitive distortions. When you catch yourself thinking, “I’m a failure,” ask yourself, “Is this really true? What evidence do I have to support this belief?” By questioning your negative self-talk, you can start to replace those harmful thoughts with more positiverealistic ones.

Remember, you are not your thoughts. You can change the narrative and cultivate a kinder, more compassionate relationship with yourself.

Difficulty Accepting Compliments

When someone compliments you, do you quickly brush it off or even feel uncomfortable? Accepting praise can be a real challenge if you struggle with low self-esteem. You might:

  • Deflect the compliment by saying something like, “Oh, it was nothing.”
  • Minimize your achievements, thinking, “Anyone could have done that.”
  • Feel suspicious of the person’s motives, wondering if they’re just being nice.

This inability to accept positive feedback stems from your negative beliefs about yourself. When someone says something kind, it clashes with your self-perception, causing cognitive dissonance. Your mind can’t reconcile the compliment with your low self-worth (Lemay & O’Leary, 2012)

However, learning to accept compliments graciously is crucial in building healthy self-esteem. Start by saying “thank you” when someone praises you, even if it initially feels uncomfortable. Gradually, you can practice internalizing these positive messages, allowing them to chip away at your negative self-image.

Remember, people usually compliment them because they genuinely mean to them. Embrace the kind words, and let them remind you that you are valuable and deserve appreciation.

Fear of Failure and Avoidance of Challenges

Do you find yourself shying away from new opportunities or challenges, worried that you might not succeed? The fear of failure can be paralyzing if you struggle with low self-esteem. You might:

  • Avoid trying new things, thinking, “I’ll never be good at it anyway.”
  • Give up easily when faced with obstacles, believing you don’t have what it takes to overcome them.
  • Procrastinate on important tasks, fearing you won’t be able to meet expectations.

This avoidance stems from a lack of confidence in one’s abilities. Taking risks feels like setting one up for failure when one doesn’t believe in oneself. However, playing it safe and staying within one’s comfort zone misses valuable opportunities for growth and success. 

Research shows that individuals with low self-esteem are less motivated to repair negative moods after failure (Heimpel et al., 2002).

To break free from this pattern, start by setting small, achievable goals for yourself. Celebrate each accomplishment, no matter how minor, to build your confidence. Embrace challenges as opportunities to learn and develop, not threats to your self-worth.

Remember, failure does not reflect your value as a person. It’s a natural part of learning; every successful person has experienced setbacks. By facing your fears and persisting through difficulties, you’ll prove to yourself that you’re capable of more than you ever imagined.

Lack of Boundaries and People-Pleasing

Do you constantly say “yes” to others, even when sacrificing your needs and well-being? If you struggle with low self-esteem, setting healthy boundaries can feel impossible. You might:

  • Agree to take on extra work, even when your plate is already full
  • Cancel plans with friends to accommodate a last-minute request from someone else
  • Struggle to express your own opinions or preferences, fearing disapproval

This lack of boundaries often stems from a deep-seated belief that your own needs are less important than those of others. You may fear that setting limits will lead to rejection or abandonment, so you prioritize pleasing others above all else.

However, constantly putting others first can lead to feelings of resentmentexhaustion, and burnout. It’s essential to recognize that your needs and desires are just as valid as anyone else’s. Setting boundaries is not selfish; it’s a necessary form of self-care.

Start small by practicing saying “no” to minor requests that don’t align with your values or priorities. Remember, you are not responsible for managing other people’s emotions or reactions. By setting healthy boundaries, you show yourself the respect and compassion you deserve.

Negative Social Comparisons

In the age of social media, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others. If you struggle with low self-esteem, you might constantly measure your life against the highlight reels of friends, colleagues, or even celebrities. You might:

  • Scroll through Instagram, thinking, “Everyone else seems so successful and happy. What’s wrong with me?”
  • Feel inadequate when you see a coworker’s professional achievements or a friend’s picture-perfect relationship.
  • Believe that others are more attractive, talented, or deserving of good things than you are

While social comparison can occasionally inspire self-improvement, more often than not, it leads to feelings of inferiority and self-doubt. It’s important to remember that people tend to present the best versions of themselves online, and these curated images rarely reflect the full reality of their lives.

Instead of falling into the negative social comparison trap, focus on your journey. Celebrate your unique qualities and accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem. Unfollow accounts that consistently make you feel bad about yourself, and seek out content that inspires and uplifts you.

Remember, your worth is not determined by how you compare to others. You are valuable and deserving of happiness, regardless of what anyone else does or achieves.

Self-Doubt and Indecisiveness

Do you constantly question your judgment, second-guessing your decisions, and struggling to trust your instincts? If you battle with low self-esteemself-doubt and indecisiveness can be all-consuming. You might:

  • Agonize over even the smallest choices, fearing you’ll make the wrong one
  • Seek constant reassurance from others before making a decision
  • Doubt your ability to handle challenges or solve problems on your own

This chronic self-doubt often stems from a deep-seated belief that you are not capable or intelligent enough to navigate life’s complexities. You may fear making mistakes or being judged by others, leading to a paralyzing cycle of indecision.

However, it’s essential to recognize that everyone makes mistakes and that no one has all the answers. Trusting yourself is a skill that can be developed with practice. Start by making small, low-stakes decisions independently and gradually build your confidence.

Remember, your opinions and instincts are valid. Embrace the idea that there is rarely one “perfect” choice and that making a decision – even if it’s not the optimal one – is often better than remaining stuck in indecision. With time and practice, you’ll learn to trust your judgment and make more easily and confidently choices.

Research shows that individuals with low self-esteem often have a heightened sensitivity to failure, exacerbating their indecisiveness (Brown & Dutton, 1995).

Sensitivity to Criticism

Do you overreact to feedback or take constructive criticism as a personal attack? Even the most well-intentioned suggestions can feel like a crushing blow if you struggle with low self-esteem. You might:

  • Become defensive or argumentative when someone offers a different perspective
  • Internalize criticism and ruminate on it for days or weeks
  • Assume that any feedback is a reflection of your worth as a person

This sensitivity to criticism often stems from a deep-seated fear of rejection or failure. When your sense of self is already fragile, any perceived criticism can feel like a confirmation of your worst fears about yourself.

However, it’s crucial to remember that feedback – even when it’s difficult to hear – is often an opportunity for growth and improvement. Separating constructive criticism from personal attacks is key to building resilience and self-confidence.

When you receive feedback, take a moment to breathe and consider the intention behind the words. Is the person offering a genuine suggestion for improvement, or are they simply lashing out? If it’s the former, try to focus on the specific behaviour or action being addressed rather than internalizing it as a judgment of your character.

Remember, when given and received healthily, criticism can be a powerful tool for personal and professional development. By learning to approach feedback with an open mind and a growth mindset, you’ll be better equipped to handle challenges and reach your full potential.

Neglecting Self-Care

Do you often put your own needs last, prioritizing everyone and everything else above your well-being? If you struggle with low self-esteem, you might believe you don’t deserve care and consideration. This can manifest in various ways:

  • Skipping meals or settling for unhealthy food choices
  • Not getting enough sleep or rest
  • Neglecting personal hygiene or appearance
  • Avoiding activities that bring you joy or relaxation

Evidence suggests that self-care is essential for maintaining mental health and well-being (Marshall et al., 2015).

This lack of self-care often stems from a deep-seated belief that you are not worthy of love, respect, or attention. You might feel guilty for taking time for yourself or believe that your needs are less important than those of others.

However, self-care is not selfish – it’s essential. Just as you would care for a struggling loved one, it’s crucial to extend that same compassion and kindness to yourself. Start small by incorporating simple acts of self-care into your daily routine, such as:

  • Nourishing your body with healthy, balanced meals
  • Prioritizing sleep and creating a relaxing bedtime routine
  • Engaging in activities that bring you joy, such as hobbies or spending time in nature
  • Practicing good personal hygiene and wearing clothes that make you feel confident

Remember, taking care of yourself is not a luxury—it’s a necessity.

Negative Body Image and Self-Perception

Do you find yourself constantly critiquing your appearance, focusing on perceived flaws, and comparing yourself unfavourably to others? If you struggle with low self-esteem, you might have a distorted view of your physical appearance. This can manifest in various ways:

  • Obsessing over specific body parts or features you dislike
  • Avoiding mirrors or constantly checking your reflection
  • Engaging in negative self-talk about your appearance
  • Believing that others are judging you based on your looks

Research shows that negative body image is closely linked to low self-esteem and various mental health issues (Trzesniewski et al., 2006).

This negative body image often stems from a combination of societal pressures, past experiences, and internal beliefs. It’s easy to feel like you don’t measure up in a world that often promotes unrealistic beauty standards.

However, it’s crucial to remember that your physical appearance does not determine your worth. Your body is merely a vessel for your unique spirit, talents, and contributions to the world. Instead of focusing on perceived imperfections, try to cultivate gratitude for the incredible things your body allows you to do, such as:

  • Experiencing the world through your senses
  • Engaging in activities you enjoy
  • Connecting with others through physical affection
  • Overcoming challenges and growing stronger

Remember, true beauty radiates from within. Nurturing a positive self-image and focusing on your inner qualities will help you see yourself in a more compassionate and accepting light.

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The Relationship Between Low Self-Esteem and Mental Health

Low self-esteem and mental health issues often go hand in hand. Constantly putting yourself down and feeling unworthy can seriously affect your emotional well-being. Research has shown that people with low self-esteem are more likely to struggle with:

  • Anxiety: Low self-esteem can fuel excessive worry, fear, and anxiousness about being judged or not measuring up.
  • Eating disorders: Poor self-worth and negative body image increase the risk of developing unhealthy attitudes and behaviours around food and weight.
  • Emotional distress: Constant self-criticism and feelings of inadequacy take a major toll on emotional well-being.
  • Internet addiction: Some turn to excessive internet use to escape feelings of low self-esteem in the real world.
  • Panic disorder: The fear of negative evaluation that comes with low self-esteem can trigger panic attacks.
  • Risky behaviours: With a diminished sense of self-value, some engage in self-destructive or dangerous behaviours.
  • Social anxiety disorder: Worries about being judged negatively by others due to feelings of inferiority.
  • Substance use: Drugs and alcohol can become a way to numb painful emotions related to low self-worth.
  • Stress: The unrelenting self-doubt and self-criticism of low self-esteem create chronic stress.

It’s important to recognize that low self-esteem is not a personal failing but a treatable condition. Challenging negative thought patterns can build a more positive sense of self and improve mental health.

pareen sehat quote on low self esteem

Strategies for Building Self-Esteem

If you’re struggling with low self-esteem, know you’re not alone. The good news is that there are many strategies you can use to boost your confidence and start seeing yourself in a more positive light. Here are some powerful techniques to try:

  1. Challenge negative thoughts

    • Question the validity of negative self-talk
    • Look for evidence that contradicts negative beliefs
    • Replace negative thoughts with balanced, realistic ones
  2. Practice self-compassion

    • Treat yourself with kindness and understanding
    • Be gentle with yourself when facing mistakes or imperfections
    • Remember that everyone makes mistakes and has flaws
  3. Celebrate your successes

    • Acknowledge your accomplishments, no matter how small
    • Keep a journal of your daily wins
    • Share your successes with supportive friends or family
  4. Surround yourself with positivity

    • Spend time with people who lift you up and make you feel good
    • Seek out supportive, encouraging, and accepting relationships
    • Set boundaries or limit contact with people who bring you down
  5. Engage in self-care activities

    • Make time for hobbies and activities you enjoy
    • Prioritize sleep, a healthy diet, and regular exercise
    • Recognize that you are worthy of care and attention
  6. Consider therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT can be an effective strategy for improving self-esteem. CBT helps individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns contributing to low self-esteem. Through CBT, a therapist can work with you to:

  • Identify negative core beliefs about yourself and develop more balanced, realistic thoughts
  • Interrupt the cycle of negative self-talk and self-criticism that maintains low self-esteem
  • Develop coping strategies and safety behaviours to protect and improve your sense of self-worth
  • Engage in behavioural experiments and gradual exposure to challenge fears and build confidence

Research has shown that CBT is one of the most effective treatments for low self-esteem.

When to Seek Professional Help

If you’ve been struggling with low self-esteem and it’s taking a toll on your life, it may be time to seek professional support. Some signs that it’s time to reach out include:

  • Persistent negative feelings about yourself that don’t improve with self-care
  • Hurting yourself, misusing drugs or alcohol
  • Being in relationships that make you feel worse about yourself

Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. A registered therapist can provide the tools, therapies and support you need to build a more positive sense of self and improve your overall well-being.

Closing thoughts

Low self-esteem is closely linked to several mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. The vulnerability model, which posits that low self-esteem contributes to depression, is strongly supported by the evidence. Additionally, low self-esteem has long-term negative consequences on various aspects of life, including mental health, economic prospects, and behaviour. 

Protective factors such as self-compassion and positive engagement can help buffer these negative effects, highlighting the importance of interventions to improve self-esteem and foster supportive environments.

Remember, you are worthy of love, respect, and happiness, just as you are. Embrace your unique qualities, celebrate successes, and learn from challenges to achieve higher self-esteem.

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Picture of Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen’s career began in Behaviour Therapy, this is where she developed a passion for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approaches. Following a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Psychology she pursued a Master of Counselling. Pareen is a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC) with the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors. She specializes in CBT and Lifespan Integrations approaches to anxiety and trauma. She has been published on major online publications such as - Yahoo, MSN, AskMen, PsychCentral, Best Life Online, and more.

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