People who struggle with self-doubt but hide it well often display these 8 subtle behaviors

I think most people are challenged by self-doubt at some point or other in their lives.

But while many of us are able to get over it and move forward, there are also plenty of people who aren’t. For these people, self-doubt is a constant struggle.

They lack confidence in themselves and faith in their abilities. They may also feel like they’re not good enough and that other people secretly don’t like them.

Some people can keep this low self-confidence pretty well under wraps. But if you know what to look for, you’ll be able to pick up on a few clues that they’re not nearly as confident as they may want to appear.

Real confidence is pretty easy to separate from false confidence if you know what you’re looking for.

So, to help you out, people who struggle with self-doubt but hide it well often display these eight subtle behaviors.

1) They use self-deprecating humor.

Self-deprecating humor refers to those jokes that people make at their own expense.

They’re normally tiny little put-downs that people use to knock themselves down a peg or two or at least make it seem that way.

The truth is that self-deprecating humor is often used by confident people as a social lubricant.

They use it to show that they’re friendly and fun and don’t mind if someone takes a little fun shot at them – even themselves.

But that’s not the only way this kind of humor is used.

People who suffer from a lot of self-doubt might use self-deprecating humor to actually criticize themselves, but in a way that’s sort of socially acceptable.

Here’s an example.

Someone who feels like they’re not great at controlling their emotions might make a joke like, “I’m not trying to brag, but I haven’t had a mood swing in, like, at least fifteen minutes.”

This sounds like the kind of joke only a confident person would dare to make about themselves, so that’s what makes it hard to notice. But it can also be a subtle sign the person is saying what they really feel.

2) They compare themselves negatively to others.

Comparing yourself negatively to someone else can be as subtle as saying, “You do it. You’re a lot better at this than me.”

That actually sounds like a compliment, doesn’t it?

Well, in a way, it is, but can also be a backhanded insult to the speaker themself. It depends on how and when it’s said.

Some people are forever comparing themselves negatively to others. They might pick out why their friends can find dates more easily than they can or express how they’re the least talented person in a group.

I have a friend who is always doing this.

And even if he gives you a compliment like the one above, it doesn’t really feel like praise for you. Rather, it feels like a subtle opportunity for him to talk trash about himself in public without anyone noticing.

But we do notice, right?

3) They deflect compliments.

Look, I’m not great with compliments myself.

I think it has everything to do with where I grew up, though. It just wasn’t something that people did all that often, and I think in my community, it was a behavior seen as ingratiating and sucky.

But I’ve learned that people all around the world give others compliments all the time, and I had to learn how to take one nicely and without cringing.

“Thank you. That’s kind of you to say.”

It’s so easy to respond to a compliment politely like this. You don’t have to get all flustered or even try to find something nice to say off the cuff about the other person.

“You did a great job closing that deal.” “Thanks, uh, I like your watch.”

Nope, not the best way to respond.

But some people are even more awkward when they receive compliments and almost always deflect them.

“You look great!” “No, you look great.”

Hey, you can both look great!

But deflecting like this shows others that they don’t want their compliment to stick because they don’t believe it. Even if others truly think they’re worth complimenting, their self-doubt rears its ugly head and makes this too hard to believe.

4) They avoid challenges.

If you doubted yourself and your abilities, would you always be taking on challenges?

I doubt it.

Why not?

Well, because you think that you’d fail, and that would just be proof that you’re just as bad and incompetent as you thought.

This is how people who struggle with self-doubt go through life. It can be hard to notice, though, because a lot of challenges are actually obligations they have no choice but to take on.

Other times, they may agree to take on challenges in public but later back out of them privately so that few people find out.

One way or another, people who have low self-confidence definitely don’t want to push it any lower by taking on challenges and failing at them.

5) They engage in negative self-talk.

The thing about self-talk is that it’s normally silent and internal.

Very few people talk to themselves out loud in front of others, especially if they’re trying to project a veneer of self-confidence.

That said, there are times when people slip up.

They might think they’re alone and let out a “You’re so stupid!” right when you walk in.

Or they might actually just have the nerve to talk badly about themselves right in front of others.

If they do, you might wonder why.

Well, they’re probably doing two things at once.

On the one hand, they may be expressing how they actually feel about themselves because, after all, that’s what they really think.

At the same time, though, they could be secretly hoping that others will contradict them. This would give them the validation they need but aren’t able to provide for themselves.

Unfortunately, though, that external validation is almost never enough to change their feelings about themselves.

6) They’re easily hurt by criticism.

People who doubt themselves already have an internal enemy, so the last thing they need is an external one.

While nine times out of ten, that’s not what criticism truly represents, that’s how they tend to view it.

They can even feel like they’re being ganged up on by a coalition of the critic and themself!

People who have a lot of self-confidence have no problem receiving criticism and even welcome it as a source of ways to improve and grow in their lives.

But people whose confidence is already so fragile simply can’t handle much criticism at all.

They can take it really personally – rather than accepting when someone criticizes their work or their actions, they interpret this as criticism of their person.

Because criticism reinforces their already negative beliefs about themselves, it can cause them to slip even further into negativity and low self-confidence.

7) They need lots of reassurance from others.

To feel comfortable or to engage in an activity, people who struggle with self-doubt usually need a ton of reassurance.

I taught a friend to snowboard once. We got on the chairlift, where I told him how to do it, and he literally got off and snowboarded.

He told me he felt confident because he skateboarded, and what I’d said made sense.

A few months later, I tried with another friend and it was a disaster.

Just strapping on the board was a struggle, and I tried to show him how to stand up on flat ground, but he basically refused to believe he could do it. Just stand in place.

I managed to drag him onto the conveyor belt to the top of the beginner run, but he fell twice on the way down and gave up. 

The entire time, I was cheering him on and saying he could do it. I didn’t make any comparisons to the other friend’s success and only stayed positive, but it wasn’t enough to counteract the intense belief he had that he couldn’t do it.

8) They punish but don’t reward themselves.

One last subtle behavior you might notice in people with low self-esteem is that they punish themselves.

Take a person who’s struggling with body image issues and trying to control their weight. If they ever break their diet, they’ll feel a need to add an extra punishment like fewer daily calories or no treats for a week.

They don’t accept that we’re all human and we all slip up sometimes.

But when they do well, will they reward themselves?


They won’t feel like they deserve anything special for just getting to the weight they should have been at in the first place.

Final words

People who struggle with self-doubt but hide it well often display these eight subtle behaviors that can be hard to notice.

But once you do and you want to help, communication and compassion are going to be the best tools you have at your disposal. 

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