A lack of self-esteem can be a difficult thing to pinpoint.
This is because while some people do too much to overcompensate for their low confidence (for example, they brag and boast), others may do too little in order to blend in (for instance, they don’t voice their true opinions and go with the flow).
A healthy amount of self-esteem is somewhere in the middle. It’s standing up for yourself and displaying assertive behavior without always having to steal the spotlight, put others down, or earn other people’s approval.
So, how can you tell if someone lacks self-esteem? Here are 8 traits that are a blend of both sides of the spectrum.
1) They are perfectionists
Perfectionism may seem like a sign of high self-esteem because it requires you to work hard to fulfill your potential. The opposite is the case, however.
Well, look at it this way. Nothing in life is ever perfect. No matter if you’re doing admin work, writing a book, or training as a professional athlete, you will never be perfect. All you can do is your best, and even then, there comes a point when you’ve got to stop.
Writers often say that a bad draft is better than no draft. Similarly, a bad workout session is better than a no-show.
But perfectionists struggle to accept that fluid in-between stage because they believe that unless they show off their absolute best work, they aren’t good enough.
Little do they know that oftentimes, settling down for good is better than trying your hardest to be the best.
Here’s an example. One of my friends is a huge perfectionist. About a year ago, she was writing a time-limited exam. She had one minute left, but her answer still wasn’t complete.
So she kept writing. And writing. She cared more about finishing her answer than about handing in the exam paper on time.
As a result, she was half a minute late and got automatically downgraded. Submitting a half-finished answer would have gotten her a higher grade.
Sometimes, good is better than perfect.
2) They respond poorly to criticism
Receiving criticism never feels good. However, confident people respond to it quite well because they understand that negative feedback gives them an opportunity to reflect and work on themselves to grow and become even better.
If someone suffers from poor self-esteem, however… that’s a bit of a different story.
When they hear criticism, their go-to response is to magnify that issue in their mind, overthink, and either spiral into a whirlpool of self-loathing or defend themselves tooth and nail.
One bit of negative feedback is automatically seen as an attack on who they are as a person.
For instance, I used to have a flatmate who would make jokes that made me feel uncomfortable. Once I brought up the issue, though, she said, “But making jokes is who I am. You’re making me into this terrible evil person just because you can’t take a joke.”
A confident person’s reply would be very different: “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize jokes like that made you uncomfortable. I won’t make them again.”
This is because they inherently understand that making specific jokes is an action, not a personality trait. Plus, they don’t mind changing their behavior because they are confident in who they are.
3) They fixate on specific labels
On a similar note, a person who lacks self-esteem will grab onto specific labels and fixate on them so that they feel more grounded in who they are.
Since they struggle to view themselves as people who are always in transit and since they don’t feel comfortable in their own skin, they might feel the tendency to use these labels as a shield.
My previous flatmate and her jokes are the perfect example.
4) They use social media the wrong way
Contrary to popular belief, social media isn’t inherently evil. In fact, it can be an extremely effective tool to boost your self-esteem.
It all depends on how you use it.
While one of my friends only follows highly attractive, wealthy, and trendy influencers, ultimately making him feel worse about himself, I follow people who promote body positivity and lots of accounts about crocheting.
He spends his scrolling time comparing himself to other people. I spend it getting new crochet ideas and seeing real bodies in all their beauty.
Over the years, social media has helped me tremendously when it comes to self-love and self-acceptance. It’s been an amazing tool to increase my confidence.
But you’ve got to be smart about what you put in your feed.
5) They try too hard to blend in or to stand out
Back in the introduction, we’ve spoken about two tendencies among people who lack self-esteem – they either try too hard to look confident or they try too little to assert themselves.
And this is the perfect example.
If someone always tries to be the center of attention, there is a high chance they aren’t very confident.
But if someone never voices their true opinion and just goes along with what everybody else wants… they also aren’t very confident.
True confidence lies in the middle.
People who are genuinely self-assured speak out when it matters, aren’t afraid to say what they think, and pursue their goals.
However, they also don’t feel the need to seek external validation all the time, which means they aren’t huge on stealing the spotlight for themselves or building a huge library of personal achievements.
6) They over-achieve or under-achieve
Speaking of achievements, someone’s approach to their accomplishments can tell you a great deal about their self-esteem.
Again, doing too much and doing too little are two sides of the same coin.
If someone’s obsessed with external accomplishments, they may not feel like they’re good enough without other people’s validation. They work hard to earn rewards, medals, good grades, or just a pat on the back from their boss because other people’s opinion of them is more important to them than their own.
But if someone doesn’t try at all and always stays behind while letting others take the lead, it means they don’t believe in themselves enough to go after what they want. They don’t try to fulfill their potential because they don’t think they have it in them (although they do).
See? Two sides of the same coin.
7) They struggle to accept compliments or fish for them on purpose
I have a friend who never knows how to react to compliments. In fact, he feels embarrassed every time someone compliments him and doesn’t know what to do with himself.
He says it’s because he inherently doesn’t believe them. He thinks the people complimenting him are saying it just to be nice. He doesn’t agree with them, and so he automatically negates the compliments in his mind.
There are people out there who lack self-esteem as well but who do the complete opposite – they thrive on compliments because compliments give them the fake self-esteem boost they so desperately want.
They might put themselves down on purpose just so that you feel compelled to lift them back up (“You’re so smart, I’m not smart at all”), ask you questions that lead to compliments (“Do you think I’m smart?”), or compliment you so often that you feel like you have to return the favor.
No matter whether someone struggles to accept compliments or fishes for them, it means they probably lack self-esteem.
8) Their body language signals defensiveness
Even if someone’s pretending to be confident, their body language usually gives them away.
If you can’t tell if the person you’re dealing with is genuinely confident or not, watch out for these signs:
- A hunched posture
- Crossed arms or limbs
- A fast-paced chatter
These usually signal defensiveness, withdrawal, or the urge to minimize one’s presence in the room.
And there you have it! Now that you’re aware of the 8 traits that people with low self-esteem tend to display, you’re much better able to recognize them.