10 habits that are secretly ruining your self-esteem

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

How do you think you do in terms of self-esteem?

Are you confident, self-assured, and buoyant?

Do you chastise yourself, feel like a failure, and constantly sink deeper into self-doubt?

Most of us probably think we’re somewhere in the middle. I know I do.

But you might be further toward the negative extreme than you think. That’s because you might actually be stuck on behaviors that are self-sabotaging.

Here are ten habits that may be secretly ruining your self-esteem for you to consider. I hope you’re not making all of these mistakes, but if you are, there’s still a way out!

1) Dwelling on your past mistakes

Everyone has made mistakes, and if you’re like me, some of them have been massive. Some may have happened ages ago but still have an effect on your life today. 

But there’s a huge difference between thinking about these mistakes once in a while and dwelling on them.

Remembering your mistakes and using them as a guide for your future is incredibly positive. 

But when you dwell on your past mistakes, you’re marinating in them like a stewed prune, soaking in all their nasty juices. All that negativity can permeate deep inside and bring you down even if you don’t notice it.

And this can, of course, start to put a strain on your self-esteem

Essentially, you’re thinking about yourself in a decidedly negative light and ignoring the positive things you’ve done, so how can this be good for you?

If you find yourself steeping in these old failures, you’d better realize that it’s not doing you any favors.

2) Ruminating on wounds from the past 

The American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology defines ruminations as 

“obsessional thinking involving excessive, repetitive thoughts or themes that interfere with other forms of mental activity”

And this can be a part of that first habit of dwelling on your mistakes. 

But another habit that’s really destructive to your self-esteem is ruminating on your past injuries.

And here, I don’t mean that time you broke your leg dancing or when you skinned your knee falling off your bike. I’m talking about emotional injuries.

Not to belittle your hurt in any way. Some of us have been lied to, cheated on, abandoned, or even abused. 

We’ve been hurt seriously, even by people we love(d).

These experiences can leave deep scars, and they’re often massive blows to our self-esteem.

Obsessing about them, however, is never going to improve your self-esteem. This will directly interfere with our ability to form stronger, more-positive representations of ourselves and live happier, healthier lives.

3) Constantly comparing yourself

Most people don’t even realize they’re doing this.

That’s because they’re not always consciously saying to themselves, “She’s prettier than me.” or “He has a better house.”

But that doesn’t mean they’re not saying it inside.

Of course, one of the biggest causes of all these comparisons is just how hyper-social our lies have become.

Think about it:

Only a few decades ago, you actually had to go out and see your friends and acquaintances to know what was happening in their lives.

Now it’s all streaming into your life via social media, which also lets you expand and manage a much bigger social circle than people in the past ever did.  

And there’s nothing wrong with being social.

However, the representations you see daily in peoples’ posts don’t represent reality. People are only showing the best of themselves (or even better than their best, with all the A.I. tools out there today), but you then compare that to your whole self.

So no wonder you keep coming up short.

If you can break this cycle, you’ll likely find that your self-esteem bounces back rapidly.

4) Doubting yourself and your abilities

Self-doubt is natural in a sense, especially with new things.

If you’ve never tried doing something, why would you think you can do it or do it well?

But where self-doubt becomes damaging is when it’s constant and creates a complete barrier between your feelings and reality.


I know I’m not the best ping-pong player in the world.

So it’s natural for me to doubt that I’d be able to beat a national champion. (I was right – I got a chance to play one and was massacred!)

But I know how to speak, and I’ve been doing it for a few decades now. So why would I get so nervous before giving a speech at my friend’s wedding and ultimately bow out of the responsibility altogether?

Why would I tell myself I wasn’t erudite or funny or entertaining enough?

What I should have done was to get through the self-doubt and accept that I could just do my best.

5) Negative self-talk

Doubt is one thing. It’s slow and creeping.

But negative self-talk is quite another. It’s immediate, and its effects are far more brutal.

This is because this self-talk is so direct and up-front.

This is you saying things like “You’re good enough,” or  “You’ll never be able to do this,” or even “You’re stupid!”

Hey, you don’t talk to yourself like that, right?

Well, maybe you do, but in a more subtle way.

Any of these sound familiar?   

“I’m not attractive.”  

“This should be easy.”

“This is too hard for me.”

Maybe your self-talk is more subtle, but if it’s still this negative, it will for sure be gnawing away at your self-esteem.

6) Avoiding self-expression

Do you let others see the real you?

If not, you may unwittingly be doing damage to your self-esteem.

Let me explain:

Expressing yourself is showing others who you truly are, and this can be done through your words and actions, art or cooking, or any number of other means.

Crucially, giving your opinions and expressing your preferences is an important way to reinforce to yourself and to others just exactly the kind of person you are.

This puts your interior and exterior lives in balance with each other.

But when you don’t do this – when you keep yourself hidden – it can damage your self-esteem.

Essentially, this is hiding your true self away and saying it’s not good enough to express.

7) Perfectionism

Trying to make things perfect isn’t necessarily a negative thing. 

Some of the most successful people in the world push their standards higher and higher in pursuit of excellence.

But you’ll notice that they only practice perfectionism in certain specific areas, not every aspect of their lives.

At some point, they realize that they’re not going to be #1 at everything, and they allow looser standards with some things.

But if you’re trying to be perfect in everything you do, you’ll only find that this is an unattainable goal. And pushing everything to be perfect means you’re pretty much never happy with anything you do.

And how’s that going to help your self-esteem?

8) Maintaining toxic friendships

There are some people you’ve been friends with for a long time, but if you really think about why, you might not have a good answer other than that habit.

Or worse, you might find only reasons why you shouldn’t be friends with them.

Toxic friendships are those that drag you down instead of lifting you up.

Toxic friends don’t elevate you, help you express yourself, or work for your best interests.

Instead, they might push you down to feel bigger themselves. They take and never give. And they certainly don’t support you when you need it.

Friendships like these shouldn’t even be called friendships, just bad habits that should be broken.

9) Staying with a toxic partner

The same can be said for staying with a toxic partner, though this situation is much more difficult to extricate yourself from.

There may be some aspect of that person that makes you feel good (Sex? Wealth? Attractiveness?), but for the most part, the relationship drags you down.

This is a partner who doesn’t make you feel good about yourself, only the opposite.

And staying with a partner who you know is toxic is like you saying to yourself, “I deserve this.”

And that’s a habit that will chip away at your self-esteem until there’s nothing much left.

10) Worrying about the future

We all worry about the future sometimes. And that’s perfectly normal.

But when you’re doing it constantly so that it stresses you out majorly and starts to control every aspect of your life, this is really damaging behavior.

Excessive worry about things that are out of your control can not only be stressful but can make you feel powerless and worthless.

This is a habit you need to break if you want to boost your self-esteem.

These ten habits that are secretly ruining your self-esteem are dangerous. And you might have been doing them without knowing. 

But the good news is that recognizing them gives you the power to change and to build yourself up from any damage done.

If you’re drowning in self-doubt, remember these 5 important things

15 signs you’re an ESFP, the most fun loving personality type