8 common habits of people who struggle with self-esteem

Do you ever doubt your self-worth or feel undeserving of basic respect? Does criticism sting way more than seems reasonable? Or do you recognize these patterns in someone you know? If so, you, or your loved one, likely wrestles with self-esteem issues.

Let’s explore thought patterns that can reinforce low confidence. Recognizing unhealthy habits is step one toward more self-acceptance and increased self-esteem.

1) Engages in self-deprecation

If you or a person you know frequently jokes or puts themselves down, it shows core feelings of inadequacy. Comments like “I’m so clumsy/stupid/awkward” suggest beliefs that they somehow fall short.

Constant self-criticism often comes from a harsh inner voice that tells people they don’t deserve basic respect. Each self-denigrating remark strengthens this destructive belief. It becomes a self-propagating cycle. Because the more we say something the more we tend to believe it.

That said, the occasional self-deprecating joke can build rapport when used artfully. British humor, for example, thrives on lovable anti-hero archetypes, who often make these kinds of jokes.

The problem comes when it becomes somebody’s go-to interaction style. If this is someone you know think about what negative self-perceptions might be fuelling these jokes. 

2) Being overly insular

Some people are introverted and like to spend time alone. And that’s totally okay. The problem comes when people are just trying to hide away from the world. This can then be a sign of shaky self-confidence and a wish to not engage with others. Why is this bad? 

It’s because too much alone time prevents both critiques AND praise from others. This means people lose chances to develop themselves through feedback and grow their self-confidence.

And worse, this isolation often links to fears of rejection humiliation, or just not measuring up socially. This is understandable but unfortunate, because connecting authentically with people usually builds self-worth. 

Shared laughs, being valued, and exchanging mutual understanding with other people make us feel good.

No one truly thrives as a solo island. Social nutrients bring us perspective, inspiration, and personal growth. 

If this rings true for you or a friend, have compassion, while gently coaxing yourself or your friend to socialize more. Start out small, going to places that you feel comfortable with and with trusted friends.

3) Having an unhealthy relationship with food

Eating problems reveal a low self-image.

This can be for many reasons. People who are low on self-love sometimes overeat to make themselves feel better emotionally or to deal with stress.

Yesterday I was feeling kind of sad, so I bought a chocolate bar to see if it would cheer me up. While it gave me a small dopamine boost it really isn’t the answer. Luckily I also took a long walk and that helped much more. 

It’s fine to enjoy your favorite foods but eating too much can lead to weight gain which then speeds up feeling bad about yourself. And it can also lead to us feeling less than healthy, if we are consuming too many empty calories and neglecting proper nutrition.

And the very act of binge eating, or at least the feeling that comes afterward, can lead to increased feelings of shame and hopelessness.

And on the flipside, Anorexia can be a way of deflecting pain, because bodily pain can be easier to deal with an emotional pain. But of course, in the long term, this is likely to make us feel worse about ourselves, mentally and physically and emotionally.

When I was younger I suffered from body dysmorphia disorder (BDD). This meant that whenever I looked in the mirror I always thought that I looked hideous even though I did not. BDD usually comes from low self-esteem. For me, this resulted in my obsessive checking of beauty and makeup tips. For others, it might involve starving themselves.

If you or anyone you know is suffering from problems like this please get in touch with someone who can help you and take a look at some self-help tips, or at the very least tell a loved one. You don’t need to go through this alone.

4) They don’t stand their ground

Sometimes we might do what others want us to so that we feel likable. Or maybe we just don’t have the strength in our convictions to stand up for what we really want to do or say.

If you let others ignore your needs stomp all over your boundaries are pressure you into things against your will, this shows self-doubt. Not defending what matters to you suggests not trusting that what you want matters.

Years ago, I had an ex who felt too anxious to say no to pushy charity fundraisers asking for money that he didn’t have. He tried to say no and they ended up walking him to an ATM to take out the money.

I tried to explain to him that valuing other people’s wants way more than his own wasn’t fair to him. Instead, I encouraged him to build self-trust and boundaries to learn that it was okay to kindly, but firmly, stand his ground.

5) They compare themselves to others

This looks like always measuring yourself up against friends colleagues strangers or people on social media. It’s basing your value on meeting external standards.

Wondering “Do I look/seem as attractive/smart/successful?” keeps judgment focused outward instead of building inner confidence. And since “better” people exist in every area, self-doubt is easily reconfirmed.

Instead, we can see others as fellow travelers rather than competitors. People have diverse strengths – we aren’t defined by single scores. And we don’t need to be the best at something. We just need to try OUR best to be good and kind people, who treat ourselves and others with love.

6) Seeks perfection and validation from others

Needing endless praise or striving for flawlessness suggests linking self-worth to meeting standards set by other people. So even small mistakes can cause extreme self-blame over worrying about what people will think.

I have a friend who fears deep humiliation if her work performance slips below expectations. And similarly, she glows when she gets praise from others. It’s natural to want to do your best and get compliments, but when one’s self-worth is derived that way – it’s exhausting.

And it will always leave you falling short, because true validation comes from within

From my side, in the past, I have found myself frantically preparing for a date – wanting to seem so gorgeous and charming that rejection feels impossible. By the time I get to the date, I’m all stressed. It’s not the best way to make a good impression, or to have a fun time!

Recently I’ve learned to relax a bit more – so what if my hair or makeup isn’t 100% perfect? My personality will shine through regardless and if they like it they can meet me again. If not, next one!

7) Thinking too much about past mistakes

Excessive rumination about perceived failures often accompanies low confidence. Why? Because intense regret and self-blame show a belief that people could/should have done better. Like me with the date, it’s better to forget about ‘should have’ and ‘better’, and accept and embrace what IS.

Dwelling on the past directly punishes us by triggering old pain. Plus, it can strengthen the brain’s negativity bias. This can mean that past hurts get exaggerated. 

That said, if something is truly traumatizing you from the past, you might do well to look into it with a trauma-informed therapist, or look into practices like meditation. Because some things require help to heal from. And that’s okay.

Ideally, try to frame setbacks as learning opportunities and leave the self-flagellation behind! Take some time to consider what happened and then put any useful insights into practice. Then agree to leave the past to the past and show yourself loving compassion.

8) Feelings of frequent shame

Believing one’s entire being is somehow flawed, defective or unlovable is the hallmark of toxic shame. Shame is emotional agony without relief – no possible way back into belonging or self-respect once failures or flaws expose their core self as irredeemably unacceptable.

Unlike guilt focused on specific actions, shame leaves no path toward redemption in one’s mindset. People who frequently feel shame often perceive every aspect of themselves as permanently disgraced, worthless, even disgusting.

Healing this painfully destructive belief in being unlovable requires patience and compassionate retraining in the way you talk to yourself. 

Most person-centered therapists talk about holding their clients in ‘positive unconditional regard’. If you or someone you know feels frequent shame, try to cultivate this feeling. And then add a big dollop of love, compassion, and warmth.

With consistent support, people can define their identity by strengths and values first rather than perceived weaknesses. We all deserve to lift these heavy burdens, no matter what past hurts we’ve experienced.

In closing

Did any of these problematic patterns ring familiar for your self-esteem? Or someone you know? Often we unconsciously act out painful assumptions learned from childhood. 

True confidence springs from inward passions, purpose and self-acceptance, rather than comparisons or others’ validation. 

For healing, consider exploring a mind-body approach to boost self-compassion and inner security. You deserve to see your inherent value with pride, and treat yourself with care!

Louisa Lopez

Louisa is writer, wellbeing coach, and world traveler, with a Masters in Social Anthropology. She is fascinated by people, psychology, spirituality and exploring psychedelics for personal growth and healing. She’s passionate about helping people and has been giving empowering advice professionally for over 10 years using the tarot. Louisa loves magical adventures and can often be found on a remote jungle island with her dogs. You can connect with her on Twitter: @StormJewel

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