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10 Signs of Low Self-Esteem And How To Gain Confidence

Anna is the Editor-in-Chief & Content Strategist of Lifehack.
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Self-confidence can be defined as a belief in one’s abilities in maintaining a sense of competence. On the other hand, low self-esteem can be defined as a lack of faith in one’s abilities and competence.

Someone who has high self-confidence will take on challenges eagerly. Meanwhile, a person with low self-confidence will be the first one to reject challenges.

This is because one’s perception creates his or her reality. People who have low self-esteem are always hard on themselves. Sometimes, they even cannot truly accept compliments because they would second guess people’s intentions.

In fact, a study shows that low self-esteem is correlated to not being able to capitalize on other people’s compliments [1].

Knowing the different signs of low self-esteem is extremely beneficial for those who want to take action and gain back control of their life.

In this article, we’ll look into 10 signs found in someone with low-esteem and what you can do if you find yourself having self-esteem issues.


10 Signs of a Person With Low SelfEsteem

Some symptoms of having low self-esteem are obvious, while others are hidden. The common signs of low self-esteem look like the following:

1. Being a Workaholic

Even if there’s pressure in the workplace, work is more straightforward. Therefore, some people with low self-esteem would shift their focus to work and put all their energies there.

2. Overachieving or Underachieving

Many of us have already heard that people with low self-esteem tend to be underachievers as they’re too afraid to take on new challenges, and are not confident enough to fully utilize their talents.

However, there’s another extreme. Some of them are too anxious about failure and being rejected. As a result, they will try their very best to be outstanding to prove their worth.


3. Unable to Leave the House Without Make-up

This is one of the most common signs of low self-esteem in a woman. You gain a false sense of self-esteem from wearing make-up. Instead of feeling self-esteem from within, you feel a need to doll yourself up in order to feel good about yourself.

4. Checking Your Phone While Alone in Social Situations

You find yourself unable to sit still during social situations with little or no friends. Instead, you find yourself desperately checking your phone to appear more socially connected.

5. Being Indecisive in the Midst of Simple Decisions

You change your mind after coming to a simple decision, such as what activity to do with a friend or what food to eat. Then once you come to another decision, you change your mind over and over.

6. Taking Constructive Criticism Too Personally

This is one of the most common signs of low self-esteem in a man. You tear up in the bathroom after a coworker gives you constructive criticism about your job performance; you wind up yelling at friends when they criticize your choices.

Instead of taking criticism objectively, you react emotionally.

This is because people with low self-esteem have a tendency to give up immediately when they face obstacles or challenges [2].

7. Slouching

You display a low body stance: you do not stand tall, but instead let your body slouch downwards, sending the message that you are not proud of yourself.

8. Backing Down During a Disagreement to Appease Another Person

You find yourself backing down in conversations often; you negotiate your views so as to avoid conflict. You would rather avoid experiencing rocky waters than express yourself honestly.

9. Overthinking

If you’re experiencing low-esteem, you may overthink often. You may not be able to own or trust your own opinions. This can be exhausting and cause an anxiety spiral.

10. Being Hard on Yourself

You are hard on yourself but lenient with others. This can show up in a number of ways including the need for constant reassurance from others, seeking perfectionism, and self-punishment.

Causes of Low Self-Esteem

Most of the time it stems from our childhood. Here’re some negative early experiences that lead to low self-esteem. [3] 

  • Frequent punishment
  • Frequent neglect
  • Chronic abuse
  • Harsh parental standards
  • Being bullied/boycotted
  • Being on the receiving end of someone else’s stress or despair
  • Lack of praise, warmth, and affection
  • Staying in a family or group where other members are prejudiced towards

Childhood is when we form our “Bottom Line” and “Rules for Living” which affects the way we think. That’s why all the negative early experiences can have a very long-lasting effect on our adulthood.

How Our “Bottom Line” Affects Self-Esteem

“Bottom Line” is how you usually feel about something, based on your early experience. For example, “how you felt when you first left home becomes the emotional bottom line for when you leave other things in your life,” according to therapist Robert Taibbi [4].

When we talk about self-esteem, the bottom line is about how people treat you, especially people who are significant to us. Did they say you’re adorable, or you’re always not good enough? Did they neglect you and as a result, made you feel worthless?


That largely affects the way you view yourself and hence affects your self-esteem.

How “Bottom Line” Determines Your “Rules for Living”

Based on the “Bottom Line”, we would form our “Rules for Living,” which are the strategies for dealing with life. For example, if you have the belief that you are always inferior to others, your “Rules for Living” would be “better not to speak up and to keep a low profile.”

How Low Self-Esteem Affects Every Aspect of Your Life

So what are the consequences of having low self-esteem?

1. It Makes You Confuse Love with Low Self-Esteem

When experiencing low self-esteem, you expect people to treat you badly.

When people are being just quite nice to you, you feel overjoyed and have unrealistically good feelings for them. This can be easily mistaken as love and also scare people away who might be just interested in being friends with you (at first).

This also includes bearing things that you shouldn’t stand for in actual relationships. Sometimes you even confuse love with self-esteem.

Are you giving in because you love your partner or would you rather not speak up or bargain?

2. It Makes Your Employers Feel That You’re Not Talented

People with low esteem sometimes are actually gifted. But they don’t know how to show it and “sell” themselves.

During meetings and presentations, they speak weakly, and during daily conversations, they often say “sorry” and “maybe” too often. As a result, employers and other colleagues perceive people with low esteem as people without much talent.


3. It Can Lead to Depression

Over time, low self-esteem can lead to depression according to a study done by University of Basel researchers.[5] Psychologist Dr. Lars Madsen added that low self-esteem is “a key factor in both the development and maintenance of depression”.

How to Improve Self-Esteem

As we can see, low self-esteem is a deeply rooted issue and leads to lots of consequences. Solving it is not an easy task, but it’s possible. Here are some tips on how to overcome low self-esteem.

1. Move Past “Positivity” Comments

Very often, we hear people say “stay positive” or “hey cheer up!” People with depression know all these do not help. It just makes them feel worse.

Same for low self-esteem. Simply telling people “to me you’re wonderful!” or “hey you should be more confident” does not improve their self-esteem. Instead, they would feel inadequate or even guilty about their behavior.

2. Focus Elsewhere

“Healthy self esteem needs to emerge subtly.”[6]

Same as happiness, you don’t immediately feel happier when you tell yourself to be happier. You need some concrete ways to do so like pursuing a goal that truly matters to you, like spending quality time with your loved ones.

When you want to improve your self-esteem, don’t try too hard on thinking of ways to do so. There’s no direct way to improve it. It should be a by-product of our overall life satisfaction.

According to psychologist Abraham Maslow,[7] to live a fulfilling life, you should take care of the five levels of human basic needs. To help you understand more about this psychological model we made a video to explain it:

Or you can refer to the graph below:

5 Levels of Human Basic Needs

10 Signs of Low Self-Esteem And How To Gain Confidence

    To focus elsewhere, we’ve summarized the above items and put them into this list for you:

    • Deep connection with loved ones
    • A healthy body
    • Sense of control
    • A meaningful life purpose
    • Recognition and respect from others
    • Sense of security
    • Creativity

    As you gradually equip yourself with the skills to fulfill the above needs, you’ll forget about self-esteem and suddenly you’ll find that you just feel proud of yourself when you know so much that others don’t.

    Bonus Tools to Help Increase Your Self-Esteem

    To help you gradually build your self-esteem, here’s a list of the best self-help books that can help you fulfill your goals:

    1. How to Win Friends & Influence People
    2. Outliers: The Story of Success By Malcolm Gladwell
    3. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
    4. Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time
    5. The Paleo Manifesto: Ancient Wisdom for Lifelong Health
    6. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
    7. The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts
    8. Thinking, Fast and Slow
    9. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
    10. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

    The Bottom Line

    If you find yourself having low self-esteem, don’t be hopeless. Have faith in yourself that you can regain self-esteem and become a confident and successful person.

    How? Understand the root causes of your low self-esteem and overcome these causes with the advice in this article.


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