8 little-known body language signs that signal low self-esteem

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If someone just sees you walking down the street or sitting around somewhere, is it possible that they can tell how much self-esteem you have?

Think about the history of humans and how we’ve spent almost all of it watching each other instead of screens (or even on screens). It shouldn’t surprise you that we’re actually really great at reading each other.

Whether you want to tell if someone is lying, secretly in love with you, or running low on self-esteem, there are lots of little clues to look for.

The only thing, most of us don’t put them into words. We just get a ‘sense’ or a ‘feeling’ about someone. While there’s nothing wrong with trusting your instincts in this way because they’re often right, wouldn’t it be a lot more powerful to know what you’re looking at?

If you want to learn to read a person like a book, all the signs are there.

And to get you started, here are eight little-known body language signs that signal low self-esteem.

1) Face touching

In case you were wondering, I’m not talking about touching other people’s faces. 

I guess you’d probably have to be pretty confident to go around touching those, or at least brave.

No, I mean someone touching their own face.

This is a really common thing to do, and you’ll see it very often when a person gets nervous. It can even help you figure out if they’re lying or at least hiding something.

But most people don’t realize that some people just touch, hold, or cover their faces really frequently, and this can reveal low self-esteem. 

Face touching is generally considered a defensive gesture, and it can show that a person doesn’t value themself highly. They’re basically showing the world that they don’t think they deserve to boldly show their full faces by touching or covering them frequently.

2) Not facing people

People who think they are worthy and valuable also feel they deserve attention and respect. So they have no problem facing up to others, even in somewhat intimidating circumstances like a job interview or a business deal.

They don’t even think about it; they just naturally sit or stand facing the other person.

But people who aren’t so self-assured are a lot more likely not to square their shoulders to the other person’s. You’ll find them sitting or standing close to the other person while orienting their body so that they’re not facing them directly.

This body language says to their conversational partner, “I’m non-threatening and not much of a challenge.”

Then what happens?

They might get raked over the coals in their business deal or turned down for the job, and that doesn’t do anything good for their self-esteem, certainly.

3) Not manspreading

I was in Istanbul years ago and saw a “No Manspreading” sign on the train.

I almost fell out of my seat laughing.

Of course, manspreading is that notorious action of a man spreading his legs really wide when sitting down so that they’re out way past his shoulders. 

This either really turns off people from sitting next to him on the train (intentionally, perhaps?) or else bothers the person who’s getting his knee in their thigh.

It’s thoroughly obnoxious behavior, and there’s also a reason why you’ve never heard of womanspreading. It’s just not a thing.

At the same time, though, manspreading does reveal something about the man who’s doing it. It actually shows that a guy has higher self-esteem.

Now, when a man sits by himself and spreads way out, no one minds, and we can all see that he actually looks confident.

But please, guys, when you’re sharing seats, keep things a bit more closed up!

4) Sitting forward or upright

When people have a lot of self-esteem and confidence, how do they normally sit?

Think about it for a second – what picture comes to mind?

I always think about scenes in movies where a boss leans way back in his chair, laces his fingers behind his head, and puts his legs up on his desk.

Of course, this might come across as smug and even disrespectful to some people, but absolutely no one is going to think of that image and think “low self-confidence.”

But here’s some sitting posture that does indicate low self-esteem – sitting bolt upright or leaning forward.

Now, wait just a second.

Didn’t your mom always tell you to sit up straight?

Maybe, but in all likelihood, what she was suggesting is that you don’t slouch or roll your shoulders forward.

Sitting perfectly upright only indicates a tense, nervous person and not a relaxed, confident one. Leaning forward or even slouching shows that a person isn’t focused enough on presenting themself well, and this betrays a lack of self-esteem.

5) Leaning on knees

The classic elbows-on-knees sitting posture is an even more obvious sign of someone who’s either nervous or generally lacking self-esteem.

And nervousness is often linked to low self-esteem and confidence anyway. When you don’t have a lot of faith in yourself and your abilities and think you’re not a valuable person, lots of situations can make you feel nervous and threatened.

This elbows-on-knees posture is very much closed to the outside.  It makes a person look sad, bored, and tired all in one. It also makes you have to crane your neck back to look up which looks kind of sad and uncomfortable.

It’s telling people, “Don’t engage me.”

When you see someone in this posture who you don’t know, I bet they’re the last person you’re going to want to walk up to and start a conversation with.

The problem there is they don’t realize this is how they’re making people feel toward them. But they do notice that no one engages them, and this can make them feel even more like they aren’t interesting, attractive, or valuable.

6) Hand blocking

This can sound like blocking your hands or blocking things with your hands, which is fine because I mean both!

What sorts of things can you block with your hands?

Well, we already talked about touching or hiding part of your face to hide it away. That certainly counts.

You can also stand with your hands clasped in front of you so that one hand is hiding the other. And crossing your arms is essentially the same kind of thing.

At the same time, you can block your hands by keeping them jammed in the pockets of your jeans or your jacket. Or, when you cross your arms, you can tuck your hands away in between them.

People who have heaps of self-esteem and a whole lot of confidence don’t tend to do these things as often. We all do sometimes just for comfort’s sake, but when they’re frequent, they definitely signal low self-esteem.

7) Smoking

It’s not exactly body language, more a bad habit, but smoking is something that a lot of people do with and do to their bodies every day.

In addition to being a cause of lots of nasty diseases, smoking is also tied to low self-esteem in ways you might be surprised to learn.

I know I was.

This study of self-esteem in adolescents uncovered two very important findings.

First, it found that people who smoked had lower self-esteem than their peers. Second, a lengthy study found that those who had lower self-esteem were more likely to take up smoking.

So it’s clear that smoking doesn’t cause low self-esteem – it’s definitely the other way around.

Well, if we think of our body language signs above, smokers use a lot of them in their smoking. They hold things in their hands, blocking them, and they bring their hands up to their faces to cover them very frequently.

A long-time-smoker friend of mine told me this is really how she feels when she smokes like it’s a sort of self-defense against challenges in the world.

8) Chin tucking

When a person has their chin glued to their chest, it can signal a few things.

They might be dead tired. They might, like my grandmother, be lacking the muscle strength to hold up their melons (Gran was a smart lady!).

Or they might have low self-esteem.

We all know that a proud, lifted chin is a sign of confidence, and we often think that a stooped posture shows the opposite. But stooped or slumped people can still hold their heads up.

A chin on a chest, on the other hand, really tells the world that this person is not feeling themself like they should.

They’re not portraying themself like a valuable, confident person because they don’t feel they are at all.

You’ve no doubt seen these eight little-known body language signs that signal low self-esteem before.

But now, take all of them and squish them into a single picture. You’ll see a person with low self-esteem looking back at you or, more likely, staring down at the ground.

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