Low self-esteem is like a hidden weight that presses down and makes everything twice as difficult.
It’s not always visible on the surface, and some of the folks with the lowest self-esteem hide behind a bright smile and positive attitude.
But if you look closely you’ll see the various ways that people who don’t think well of themselves show it through their behavior and words.
Let’s take a look…
1) Lack of confidence
Lack of confidence is hard to hide, and is one of the clearer signs of low self-esteem.
It manifests in many ways, including:
- Hesitant and awkward body language
- Halting speech and stuttering
- Being sycophantic and a pushover
- Not looking after appearance and hygiene
Those with low self-esteem often show an overall lack of confidence that leads to them being perceived as low value even though their value and potential may be extremely high in reality.
2) Extremely shy
Shyness is a personality trait and doesn’t necessarily indicate low self-esteem.
But when somebody is extremely shy it’s something different.
If you meet someone and they can’t bear to even look you in the eyes and seem ashamed to be taking up space, that’s usually a lack of self-esteem.
It’s not just that they are reserved and cautious to speak or be forthright, it feels like this person is trying to switch into invisible mode or apologize for existing.
3) Validation seeking
The insecure person who doubts themselves seeks proof of their value almost everywhere.
They particularly search for validation from other people.
They want to know if they look good, if they’re smart enough, if they’re succeeding at their job.
But the problem is no matter how much others flood this person with positivity, the insecure individual with low self-esteem wants more and craves it deeply…
This ties into the next point…
People-pleasing goes hand-in-hand with low self-esteem.
It’s much more than just wanting others to be happy or caring about their well-being.
People-pleasing happens when a person centers their well-being and mission outside of themselves:
They are only sufficient or “good enough” if they make others happy, if they make everybody happy.
This impossible mission quickly fails, leading them into an endless chase to fill the void of self-worth they feel and leading to them being manipulated and exploited repeatedly.
5) Dread of rejection
None of us likes being rejected, even the most confident man or woman in the world.
But the person who’s deeply lacking in self-esteem dreads rejection.
They are sharply attuned to any signs that a romantic partner might reject them or that their peers don’t approve of them.
They try to fit their image to whatever they think won’t lead to rejection, and spend enormous energy dreading being found “not good enough” by somebody.
The sad fact is eventually somebody will reject them, because it’s something we all face at times.
But the person with low self-esteem will tend to see this as proof they aren’t good enough, feeding a vicious cycle of disempowerment.
6) Imposter syndrome
Imposter syndrome is when a person feels like they don’t belong or aren’t good enough in a place or situation.
For example, somebody new to working out may feel like they’re out of place in the gym or that other, fitter people are judging and looking down on them.
“I don’t belong here, who am I kidding?”
Imposter syndrome doesn’t necessarily correspond to experience level, though.
There are CEOs of companies and famous actors who still feel like losers and fakes no matter how much outer success they achieve.
Why? Low self-esteem.
7) Hedge words
The person with low self-esteem tends to use many hedging words and qualifiers.
“But, um, er, maybe, uh, I guess, kinda, sorta,” and so on…
I used to do this constantly.
It’s often a habit learned in early childhood and not a conscious reflection of doubt or low self-esteem.
But at the deepest, primal level, it reflects a lack of belief or surety in what somebody is saying.
When a person uses too many of these words on a regular basis they are undercutting themselves and betraying a low self-image.
8) Difficulty in accepting praise
A person with low self-esteem has a lot of difficulty in accepting praise.
Even if they’ve done an amazing job at their work or helped a friend or family member out in an extraordinary way, being praised (especially in front of others) makes them itchy.
They blush, downplay, deny doing anything that great and try to praise others instead.
This is more than just modesty: it’s low self-esteem.
When a person believes they are flawed and has an internally low opinion of themselves, they’re being sabotaged every minute by confirmation bias.
Because they believe at the instinctive level that they’re low value, hearing anything to the contrary is uncomfortable for them and seems to be a lie!
9) Procrastination and excuse-making
Procrastination and excuse-making aren’t always the mark of a low self-esteem person, but they can be.
Lack of self-discipline and following through isn’t just about laziness or relying on somebody else to bail them out.
It can also be a definite sign of a lack of self-belief.
A person who basically believes they’re not worth much can have a lot of difficulty in maintaining discipline and chasing dreams.
They believe their dreams don’t matter, and they’d never be able to do them anyway.
10) Comparisons to others
People with low self-esteem are plagued by feeling inferior to others.
If they are doing outwardly better than nine out of ten people around them, they are going to focus in laser-like on the tenth person and obsess over how they’ve fallen short.
This is another example of confirmation bias:
Even though there may actually be more evidence of this person’s value and worth, their inner voice telling them they are trash is going to filter out all that positive feedback.
Instead, the inner critic will try to find the one person or situation that seems to confirm they are flawed, weak, ugly or insufficient.
These signs are what we often intuitively sense as signs of a person with low self esteem, however there are other signs that seem to show a person with high self-esteem but actually don’t.
11) Extreme competitiveness
These are people who compensate for feeling low about themselves by trying to outperform and feel superior to others.
Instead of their inner critic making them procrastinate and give up on their dreams, they chase them even harder than the average person.
But even if they achieve incredible things, that inner emptiness just intensifies.
As a result they become more and more competitive, actively seeking out anyone who can challenge them and trying to oust that person from their roost.
Business, fame, looks, fitness, intelligence, social status, you name it:
The low self-esteem individual is on a crusade to be the best. But the sad part is because inside they feel like absolute garbage about themselves and their true value.
This is why they feel the need to attach their value to outer labels and accomplishments.
12) Boasting and egotism
On a related note, insecure people often brag the most.
They aren’t just proud of their accomplishments, they seem obsessed about talking about them.
And they truly are.
They need to tell everybody from the waiter at the restaurant to the taxi driver about how they closed a deal nobody thought possible.
They need to tell their friend how they met their wife and none of his friends thought he’d ever get her attention, much less her hand in marriage.
Boasting is all too often the sign of a person with subterranean self-esteem who’s desperately clawing for outer validation.
13) Inability to face criticism
This type of insecure person is the opposite of the one who can’t accept praise:
He or she can only accept praise.
Criticism (even constructive) is completely off bounds for this individual, who will shut down or fly off the handle in bizarre ways if criticized at all.
The reason isn’t confidence, it’s the opposite:
Their low self-esteem makes any faint crack in the foundation completely intolerable.
“Don’t challenge me! I’m right!” in this case is the equivalent of a spoiled toddler crying for more attention.
14) Putting others down
People with very low self-esteem don’t always envy and feel bad about the success and happiness of others.
Sometimes they adopt a more aggressive posture, actively putting others down and resenting the success of others.
Competitiveness at a healthy level is one thing, but this crosses the line into obsession and mean-spiritedness: catcalls, insults, mean jokes and so forth.
It’s just the flip-side of insecurity:
People who hide from the world or attack it in unreasonable ways due to their deep inner sense that there’s something wrong or insufficient about them that must be hidden from or compensated for.