People with low self-esteem display these 10 behaviors (without realizing it)

by Tina Fey | April 8, 2024, 12:54 am

Ever find yourself saying sorry for things that aren’t your fault? Or maybe you’re a master at backhanded self-compliments, like saying you did well on a test ‘by accident’?

I get it. I used to do things like that, too. Until a friend kindly asked me why I kept putting myself down.

That’s when I realized that these behaviors showed the world just how lacking in confidence I was.

You see, sometimes without us realizing it, we behave in ways that reflect our self-image. And just like people can tell when someone’s confident, they can also tell when someone’s struggling with low self-esteem.

So let’s take a look at 10 common behaviors people with low self-esteem do, often without them realizing it. 

If these resonate with you, it might be time to address some hidden insecurities.

1) Apologizing excessively

We all say “I’m sorry” from time to time. It’s a fundamental part of human interaction, a way to show empathy, acknowledge mistakes, and maintain healthy relationships.

But what happens when “sorry” becomes a constant refrain in your vocabulary? When it’s no longer about righting wrongs but rather an automatic response to everything, even when you’re not at fault?

This could be a sign of low self-esteem. People who continually apologize often do so because they feel they’re a burden or are constantly doing something wrong.

That’s exactly how I used to be, as I mentioned earlier. I’d even preface almost every question with “sorry” because, I don’t know, I guess I used to see myself as unworthy or as an inconvenience to others. 

It took a great deal of mindfulness for me to break this habit. But eventually I was able to do it, so if this is a habit of yours, I’m pretty sure you can, too!

2) Constant self-criticism

Remember how I said I often felt unworthy? Well, that’s a clear example of internal dialogue.

And that’s something we all have, a voice in our head that narrates our lives. This voice can be encouraging and supportive, pushing us to strive for our goals.

Research in psychology suggests that those with low self-esteem often have a harsh and relentless internal critic. They may constantly berate themselves for perceived failures or shortcomings, overlooking their achievements and positive attributes.

This constant self-criticism can lead to a negative self-perception and reinforce feelings of unworthiness.

If you find your inner voice is more often than not filled with negative self-talk, it might be time to address the root cause of this critical perspective.

It might help to remember that everyone makes mistakes and has shortcomings—it’s part of being human. Cultivating a kinder, more forgiving internal dialogue can significantly improve your self-esteem and overall mental wellbeing.

3) Seeking validation from others

So, because the inner critic in people with low self-esteem is so hard to please, where do they tend to get approval?

From other people.

That’s pretty understandable — we all like to feel accepted and valued, and there’s nothing wrong with appreciating the approval of others.

However, when we start seeking validation externally rather than from within, it can become problematic.

I recall a time when I became excessively focused on gaining the approval of my colleagues. My self-worth became directly linked to their praise and recognition.

When I achieved it, I felt great, but when I didn’t, my self-esteem did a nose dive.

Looking back, I realize that this was a glaring sign of my low self-esteem at the time.

There’s no getting around it — self-worth is an inside job. It should come from within and not be reliant on the opinions of others. Learning to validate yourself is a crucial step in building a healthier self-esteem.

4) Difficulty accepting compliments

Strangely, even as I sought external validation, I struggled to accept compliments. In fact, every time someone gave me one, I’d reply with a backhanded compliment to myself. 

Like, “Oh, I have no idea why I aced that test — it must have been luck!”

Or, “Yeah, it’s a nice painting, but really, anyone can do it!” 

I know now that this struggle with accepting compliments was a result of my low self-esteem. People who do this believe that they’re not deserving of compliments. 

Essentially, they have a distorted view of their worth and abilities, so they doubt the sincerity of the compliment. Which goes back to that harsh inner critic we talked about earlier.

But I know better now. I’ve learned to see my accomplishments and qualities as worthy of recognition and praise.

So these days, when someone gives me a compliment, all I say in return is, “Thank you” and leave it at that! 

5) Fear of confrontation

Confrontation is a part of life that many of us would rather avoid. It can be uncomfortable, challenging, and even scary at times.

However, it’s a necessary aspect of human interaction, allowing us to express our feelings, assert our boundaries, and resolve conflicts.

But for some of us, the old me included, confrontation can feel like an insurmountable hurdle.

I remember a situation where a friend had upset me. Rather than discussing it with them and expressing my feelings, I chose to internalize it. I was afraid that standing up for myself might lead to conflict or potentially damage the relationship.

This too can be a sign of low self-esteem.

People who fear confrontation often do so because they believe their feelings or opinions aren’t valid or important enough to be expressed. They may worry about how others will react or fear being disliked or rejected.

It’s also why they have…

6) Difficulty saying “no”

That’s right, saying “no” is a real challenge for people with low self-esteem. In fact, they might not even realize that they say “yes” all the time, even when they don’t feel like it!

Like I mentioned earlier, the fear of disappointing others, of conflict, of being perceived in a bad light…these are all real concerns for those who don’t think of themselves highly.

What they don’t realize though, is that as hard as saying “no” is, it’s a necessary aspect of maintaining healthy boundaries and self-care.

7) Overthinking and worrying about the future

Planning for the future is important, but constant worrying and overthinking can create unnecessary stress and anxiety.

People with low self-esteem often struggle with this as they may doubt their abilities to handle future challenges or fear negative outcomes.

If you’re frequently caught up in what-if scenarios and worry excessively about the future, it might be time to consider whether this stems from low self-esteem.

Having a solid plan is good, but it’s also important to trust in your abilities to handle whatever comes your way. 

8) Comparing oneself to others

Ah, this one’s a real trap for those with low self-esteem, especially now that social media offers up so many points for comparison.

The thing is, comparison can often lead to feelings of inadequacy or dissatisfaction. And if you already struggle with low self-esteem, that struggle could be amplified much more.

How can you feel good about yourself if you see other people being better, more successful, happier, etc.?

No doubt, comparison is another hard habit to break. But you can start with small, intentional steps.

First, remind yourself that social media is a highlight reel, not the behind-the-scenes. I’ve caught myself scrolling through Instagram, feeling a twinge of envy over someone’s vacation photos or their seemingly perfect home life.

It took me a minute to step back and remind myself that what I’m seeing is just a fragment of their reality, the polished and posed moments they choose to share.

Then, try to shift your focus inward. Celebrate your own victories, no matter how small. When you notice you’re lining up your life against someone else’s, pause and reflect on your own recent wins.

I make it a point to jot down three things I did well each day or to look at my week’s accomplishments. It’s not an overnight fix, and some days it feels downright impossible, but over time, it can help reconstruct a healthier self-image.

After all, the only fair comparison is where you are now to where you’ve been — not against someone else’s journey.

9) Avoiding eye contact

Now let’s get a bit into body language. Did you know that the level of eye contact you maintain indicates just how confident you are? 

And if you tend to avoid eye contact, then guess what message you’re sending?

That’s right — you’re sending the message that you aren’t confident. That you find the other person or the situation uncomfortable and intimidating.

Now, I’m not saying you’ve got to stare someone down like you’re trying to hypnotize them — that’s just as uncomfortable.

But there’s a sweet spot, a kind of gentle eye contact that indicates you’re present and engaged. It’s one of those subtle changes that can have a ripple effect on how you carry yourself and how others perceive and respond to you.

10) Isolation and avoiding social situations

Going beyond avoiding eye contact, you may even have just thrown in the towel and decided to steer clear of social situations completely. Why risk judgment, right? 

I hear you. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve bailed on parties, get-togethers, even coffee dates when I was at an all-time low. 

But here’s the thing: every time you dodge a social event, you’re reinforcing that voice that tells you it’s too hard or too scary to be around people. The more you listen to it, the louder it gets.

Breaking this cycle starts with understanding that most people are too caught up in their own experiences to exclusively judge yours.

What helped me was setting small, achievable goals. Maybe start with a short coffee date with a friend or a walk with a colleague.

Small wins like these can slowly rebuild the bridge between you and the world outside your comfort zone.

And as long as you’re consistent in pushing yourself out there bit by bit, there’s no reason why you can’t have meaningful connections and enjoy social interactions just like everyone else. 

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