9 Signs that you have Low Self-Esteem – and How to Turn It Around

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By Anna Marikar

Do you ever feel like you don’t belong? Like you’re not good enough? Like you can’t do what others can do? These are all signs of low self-esteem.

You are not alone. It’s estimated that up to 93% of people have low self-esteem at some point in their lives, and it can become a lifelong struggle.
If you’re reading this, then you might be one of them. But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can take the first step to change your life by recognising the signs and taking steps to turn it around. Read on for tips that will help you overcome your low self-esteem today.
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Low self-esteem is practically an epidemic. We’re bombarded with images of impossible success and beauty on a daily basis. It’s hard to avoid making comparisons, and those comparisons never seem to work out in our favor.

Add to that a few mean comments received in childhood, a workplace bully or parents and family members who were often critical, and over time your self-esteem can take a real hit.

When you doubt yourself, remember – you are stronger than you think!

Recognise the signs of low self-esteem

signs of low self esteem: difficulty accepting compliments

1. Difficulty accepting compliments.

If you have a hard time hearing someone say something nice about you, you might be suffering from low self-esteem. Most people enjoy receiving a genuine compliment, but those with a low opinion of themselves feel very uncomfortable being on the receiving end of praise.

In some cases, you may even feel a strong sense of guilt and shame from receiving positive attention. This can happen among people with developmental trauma because compliments are so discordant with the internal sense of self, that you are left feeling as though you have committed deceit.

Solution strategy:

Start by giving yourself compliments in the mirror. At first this may feel so difficult and unnatural but keep doing this each day until the discomfort starts to diminish.

start by giving yourself compliments in the mirror

Start by giving yourself compliments in the mirror.

If it is too hard to say these things out loud at first, you could even start by writing them down – as a letter to yourself, or just a list of the things that you like and appreciate about yourself.

Next, ask people if they like your shoes, new haircut, or even your brand-new quirky coffee mug. People will almost always say they do. Enjoy the compliments.

Push yourself to compliment others too. Even this can feel uncomfortable at first when you are not used to dealing in compliments, but taking the time to point out things that you appreciate in others can help you start to appreciate these little things about yourself too.

2. Overly sensitive to criticism.

signs of low self esteem: overly sensitive to criticism

This may sound like a contradiction, but those with low self-esteem can’t handle criticism either. They tend to overreact and to take criticism too personally.

If you feel negatively about yourself, it’s likely that you will take any negative remarks to heart and internalise them much more than someone who has a positive view of themselves and can easily brush off other people’s opinions.

When you’re suffering from low self esteem, even constructive criticism is often taken badly. Do you feel hurt when someone offers a helpful suggestion for improvement? If so, your lack of self-esteem might be the reason.

Solution Strategy:

Ask a close friend or trusted person for advice about how you could improve the way that you currently do something. Then, thank them for that advice and make use of their valuable feedback.

Remember, criticism of one of your actions is not a judgment on your worth overall. Sometimes people give us constructive criticism out of love, and sometimes people just want to bring us down. If it is the latter – don’t even give them the pleasure of wasting your mental energy!

3. Fear of failure.

Low self-esteem and avoidance are commonly found together. If you have low self-esteem, then you often expect to fail, and who is going to try to do something if they expect failure?

signs of low self esteem: fear of failure and fear of embarrassment

Solution Strategy:

Do things that will likely result in failure and realise that it isn’t so bad. The more we become comfortable with failure, the more we can have the courage to take chances. This is also linked to fear of embarrassment.

Apply for jobs you have little hope of landing. Ask out a stranger for coffee. What’s the worst that could happen?

4. People-pleasing behavior.

signs of low self esteem: people pleasing

While compliments are hard to handle, who doesn’t like the gratitude of others? When people show appreciation to someone with low self-esteem, that appreciation and validation is soaked up like a dry sponge soaks up water. People-pleasing is done to feel a sense of value and worth.

The need to be liked is a deeply rooted human need. We want to feel wanted and needed. But people-pleasing can also lead to feeling resentful, burned out, and exhausted.

the need to be liked is a deeply human need, we want to feel wanted and needed

The need to be liked is a deeply rooted human need. We want to feel wanted and needed

It’s hard work to keep up with the demands of others while neglecting your needs. If you recognise this behaviour in yourself, it is worth exploring the roots of why people-pleasing is done in order to figure out how you can break this cycle.

People pleasing is often linked to a fear of rejection abandonment. You may worry that if you are not ‘useful’ then people will no longer need you or want you around.

This ties in with our next two signs of low self esteem.
Solution Strategy:

The people pleasing cycle is extremely hard to break. It can help to make a conscious effort to do something that makes YOU happy. The key to conquering people-pleasing is to regain a sense of identity that is rooted in self-worth.

People pleasing is driven by the belief that one’s own happiness and well-being are less important than the happiness and well-being of others, so to combat the behaviour these harmful beliefs need to slowly be broken down.

Do what needs to be done for you without trying so hard to make others happy. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider the negative impact your words or actions can have on other people.

5. Difficulty prioritising your own needs.

signs of low self esteem: difficulty prioritising your own needs

This sign goes hand in hand with the people pleasing habits that we just talked about.

When you think you don’t matter, you put everyone else above and ahead of yourself. If you’re regularly getting the short end of the stick, ask yourself why you continue to allow it to happen.

Solution Strategy:

Put yourself first for a change. That doesn’t mean you have to take advantage of anyone but think about what would be best for you and your life and give that a try for a while.

Release any guilt you feel for prioritising yourself, rather than tending to other’s needs. After all, what use are we to anyone if we are totally burnt out and un-replenished? Filling our own cup is essential.

6. A lack of boundaries.

signs of low self esteem: a lack of boundaries

People with high self-esteem have boundaries that they enforce religiously, but calmly.

If people are walking all over you and disregard any boundaries you attempt to enforce, then you may need to look at how to set healthy boundaries, and there is a high chance that your self-esteem needs a little work.

Solution Strategy:

Begin by saying “no” more often. Prioritise your time and your life by turning down requests that don’t fit in with your plans or are too burdensome.

you have the right to set boundaries with others including how much time they get with you and what they are allowed to do with you

You have the right to set boundaries with others, including how much time they get with you and what they are allowed to do with you

You have the right to set boundaries with others, including how much time they get with you and what they are allowed to do with you.This applies to family members just as much as to anyone else.

7. Critical self-talk.

signs of low self esteem: critical self talk

Do you speak kindly to yourself or are you hard on yourself?  People with a healthy level of self-esteem tend to be much more kind, encouraging and forgiving to themselves. Whereas, those with low self-esteem tend to be much more critical.

We all have an inner voice. If yours speaks harshly and meanly in a way that you would never speak to anyone else – that has to indicate a problem.

Solution Strategy:

Monitor your self-talk and stop yourself when you speak poorly to yourself. Compliment yourself each time you catch yourself being negative toward yourself.

One technique that can be really powerful is to give your inner critic a name. When you notice these thoughts rising in your mind, you can respond to them as though they were a nuisance neighbour or a rude overbearing relative – “Stop that, Margaret, no-one wants to hear what you have to say on this.”

Take the time to replace your inner narrative with one which is much more positive and encouraging. Using affirmations regularly can help with this.

Also, look at the media you’re consuming and the messages that you’re allowing into your subconscious. Making a conscious effort to listen to empowering songs, or watch self love movies, rather than something more negative can slowly make a difference.

you're capable of amazing things, notebook

8. Underachieving.

signs of low self esteem: critical self talk

This point may be a little harsh, but is definitely worth considering.

Does everyone consider you to be an underachiever? This is another sign that you likely don’t value yourself as much as you should.

Maybe what is holding you back from succeeding is your own belief that you’re not truly capable? This links in with our earlier point about fear of failure.
Solution Strategy:

Do you often spend time worrying about how a situation may turn out? Allow yourself to picture how it would be if everything worked out well. Yes, there is always the chance of failure but what if everything turns out just fine. What if everything pans out so much better than you had expected?

Yes, there is always the chance of failure but what if everything turns out just fine. What if everything pans out so much better than you had expected?

Allow yourself go there mentally, and this paves the way to reach success in your reality.

Seek to improve some part of your life each day, only in a small way. Small things done consistently can have a huge impact and once you notice the results of these, slowly you will build more confidence to go bigger.

9. Difficulty giving an opinion even when asked.

signs of low self esteem: difficulty giving an opinion even when asked

When your self-esteem is low, you think that your opinions don’t matter. You also want to avoid having your opinions judged by others, so you keep them to yourself. Maybe you also want to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings with your opinions.

Some people are afraid they’ll be ridiculed or shunned if they share their thoughts and beliefs. Whatever the reason, you can overcome the fear of sharing your opinions in order to improve your quality of life.

Difficulty sharing your opinions suggests you may be keeping up some walls, and keeping people at arm’s length. This makes it difficult to nurture a deep and close connection, and combatting this to break down your walls is one of the best things you can do for the quality of your personal relationships.

Solution Strategy:

Push yourself to give your honest opinion when asked. See what happens, and watch how you feel when you share your authentic feelings and connect on a deeper level.

Sometimes your honest feedback and input could really help someone.

Not everyone will agree with your opinions, and that is okay. Remind yourself that disagreeing on an issue does not mean your relationship or friendship is at risk.

When you share your honest feelings and opinions, you allow people to get to know the real you – and wouldn’t you rather be loved and appreciated for who you really are?

When you share your honest feelings and opinions, you allow people to get to know the real you – and wouldn’t you rather be loved and appreciated for who you really are?

Low self-esteem is a very common problem that can have a serious impact on your health and well-being. Low self-esteem has been linked to depression, anxiety, shame, addiction, and eating disorders. It’s also been shown to make people more vulnerable to the negative effects of stress. That’s because when you don’t feel good about yourself it becomes harder to deal with life’s challenges.

Keeping your self-esteem high may be one of the most important things you do for your overall health and happiness.

Low self-esteem is common, but that doesn’t mean it’s normal or that you have to continue living like this. Recognise the signs of low self-esteem in yourself and your children and do something about it. Low self-esteem is extremely limiting.

Raising self-esteem is a great gift to give yourself and the ones you love.

signs you have low self esteem and how to turn it around
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Anna is a Wales-based writer and graduate from SOAS University of London.
As the voice behind On Your Journey, she empowers women to embrace holistic well-being and spiritual growth through her expert insights into wellness and symbolism.
When she isn't writing thought-provoking articles, you'll find her busy crafting and raising her 4 children.

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