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Signs of Low Self-Esteem

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 23, 2020

What is Low Self-Esteem?

Low self-esteem is when someone lacks confidence about who they are and what they can do. They often feel incompetent, unloved, or inadequate. People who struggle with low self-esteem are consistently afraid about making mistakes or letting other people down.

Having self-esteem issues can be detrimental to your health and negatively affect your personal and professional relationships. There are many reasons why you may have low self-esteem — your genes, how and where you grew up, and other life circumstances all play a role.

A major factor of low self-esteem, however, comes from your own mental state. Your inner voice, or the thoughts in your head, can be constantly telling you that you are not good enough or worth anything, even if there is evidence to the contrary. Negative thinking in general is linked to low self-worth and low self-esteem.

Signs of Low Self-Esteem

There are several signs that either you or someone you know may be struggling with low self-esteem. Those signs of low self-esteem include:

Sensitivity to Criticism

If you have low self-esteem you may be extra sensitive to criticism, whether from others or yourself. You see it only as reinforcing your flaws and confirming that you are incapable of doing anything right.

Social Withdrawal

Declining invitations to go to a party or meet up with friends, canceling scheduled plans last-minute, and generally not wanting to be around others are signs of low self-esteem. You may not have any desire to hold a conversation or talk about your life because it will only reinforce the depression and anxiety you are already experiencing.

Hostility

For someone with low self-esteem, lashing out or becoming aggressive towards others is a defense mechanism. If you feel that you are about to be exposed or criticized, attacking whoever might criticize you can be a sign of low self-esteem.

Excessive Preoccupation with Personal Problems

Consistently worrying about your own personal issues takes up a lot of time for someone with low self-esteem. You may struggle to help or empathize with someone else’s problems because you are too preoccupied with your own.

Physical Symptoms 

Low self-esteem has been shown to lead to mental and physical health issues like depression, anxiety, and anorexia. It can also lead to unhealthy habits like smoking tobacco, alcohol abuse, or drug use.

Dealing with Low Self-Esteem

You can overcome low self-esteem with the right support, mindset, and change in behaviors. Start with these steps to begin improving your self-esteem:

Identify Troubling Conditions and Situations

Take a moment to think about certain conditions and situations in your life that seem to always deflate your self-esteem. It could be giving a work presentation, dealing with a difficult family member or friend, or facing a life-changing event, like a job loss or a move.

Become Aware of Your Thoughts and Beliefs

After you’ve identified the times in your life where you have felt low self-esteem, evaluate your thoughts about them. How are you interpreting what happened? These thoughts could be either positive, negative, or neutral. They can be based on facts or irrational and false ideas. 

If you take a moment to notice what you are thinking, you can begin to understand whether or not your reactions to what has happened are appropriate and useful.

Challenge Negative or Inaccurate Thoughts

It is important to ask yourself whether your thoughts are consistent with facts or logic. There could be another explanation for a situation that is truer than your interpretation. Sometimes it is hard to break from long-held beliefs that have become part of your reality. Understand that it can take time and patience to overcome any negative preconceived notions toward your life that you’ve built up.

Adjust your mindset

You’ve been able to identify the times where you’ve felt a blow to your self-esteem. You’ve become self-aware about how and why you have the thoughts and feelings towards those events. Now you can take a step back and analyze those thoughts and emotions. You now have the power to change your thought patterns to raise your self-esteem. 

Remember to think and feel hopeful statements, focus on the positive aspects of all situations, and not be afraid to relabel upsetting thoughts. And most importantly, don’t hesitate to forgive yourself. No one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. It doesn’t make you a bad person—it just makes you human.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: “How to Turn Your Negative Thinking Around.”

Goodman, N.; Stryker, S.; Owens, T. Extending Self-Esteem Theory and Research: Sociological and Psychological Currents, Cambridge University Press, 2006. 

Mayo Clinic: “Self-esteem: Take steps to feel better about yourself.”

National Health Service for England: “Raising low self-esteem.”

PsychAlive: “Critical Inner Voice.”

Psychology Today: “5 Reasons People Have Low Self-Confidence.”

Schiraldi, G. The Self Esteem Workbook, New Harbinger Publications, 2001.

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