Low self-esteem is like a silent whisper in the heart, often overlooked but deeply affecting a person’s life.
You might have someone in your circle — be it a friend, family member, or coworker — who seems to be grappling with this invisible burden.
Sometimes, the signs are subtle; sometimes, they’re glaringly obvious. But how can you tell for sure?
And more importantly, how can you offer the kindness and support they desperately need?
Here, we’ll dive into 6 psychological signs that someone has low self-esteem, and what you can do to lift them up. Let’s be the good in someone’s tough day.
1) They say negative things about themselves
It may have been shaped by past experiences or messages they’ve received from others — but whatever the cause, the truly heartbreaking thing is, they started to believe it themselves.
And that’s why it may not make a huge effect if you try to convince them otherwise. It doesn’t matter how amazing you say they are, if they are convinced you don’t really mean it.
So to lift them out of this negative black hole, try pointing out concrete positive things that are supported by evidence.
For example, if they say, “I’m so terrible at this,” you might say “You’re not doing worse than anyone else at this stage — and you have the determination to continue trying even when things are challenging. That’s very admirable.”
This will be harder for their mind to refute, and can help them believe some more positive things about themselves.
2) They blame themselves when things go wrong
Some people seem to do no wrong, always deflecting any responsibility. And unfortunately, the blame often falls on people with low self-esteem, who tend to blame themselves for anything that goes wrong.
A group project at work doesn’t go well? “I didn’t try hard enough.” Friends show up late to a party? “I should have sent them a reminder.”
This isn’t just about being accountable; it’s about a skewed perception of their role in the world around them.
Psychologically, this behavior represents an exaggerated sense of personal responsibility, often stemming from a belief that they are fundamentally flawed or ‘bad’ in some way.
This person thinks if something goes wrong, it must be their fault because who else but a ‘flawed’ person could cause a problem?
It’s a damaging cycle: the more they blame themselves, the worse they feel, and the more their self-esteem suffers.
When you encounter this behavior, you might gently point out that many factors contribute to a situation. Offer a broader perspective; help them see that it’s not just about them, but a chain of events or decisions made by multiple people.
This can not only alleviate their immediate burden but also plant the seed for a more balanced, less self-critical viewpoint over time.
3) They put others on a pedestal
It’s great to have idols — but we always have to remember that these celebrities, experts, and leaders are also only human. Even the people in your circle who you love have their flaws.
Yet, we sometimes forget this, especially when a person has low self-esteem.
It’s like they’re looking at the world through rose-colored glasses where everyone is a superstar except for them.
Let’s delve into the psychology of this. When someone puts others on a pedestal, they’re not just being nice or appreciative; they’re drawing a stark contrast between their perceived ‘greatness’ of others and their own ‘shortcomings.’
They’re essentially saying, “See how amazing they are? I could never be like that.”
If you come across someone doing this, it can be both touching and painful to witness. You might feel compelled to say, “But you’re amazing too!”
And while that’s a heartwarming response, the words may fall on deaf ears unless you make it resonate.
Be specific in your praise, calling attention to their unique skills or qualities, much like you would want someone to do for you. But also remind them that nobody is perfect — even those they idolize have flaws.
4) They avoid challenges
Ever met someone who shies away from challenges like a cat avoiding water? Maybe it’s a colleague who passes up a promotion or a friend who won’t join you for trivia night, even though they’re a walking encyclopedia.
They could be more capable than they let on, but it’s as if a hidden force pulls them back. Spoiler: that hidden force is often low self-esteem.
You see, when someone avoids challenges, it’s not just about the fear of failure. It’s about the fear of confirming their deepest, darkest thought: “I’m not good enough.”
Taking on a challenge and not succeeding would give them so-called “proof” that their low opinion of themselves is accurate.
And that’s a reality too painful to face, so they opt for the safer route — avoidance.
If you know someone like this, it’s tempting to try and push them into the deep end, believing they’ll discover they can swim. But tread carefully; your intentions, while good, could backfire.
Instead, why not start small? Offer a challenge that’s manageable and then celebrate their victory like it’s a top-tier championship.
The idea is to help them break the cycle and dare to believe, even just a bit, that they are capable and worthy.
5) They take criticism very harshly
Nobody likes criticism — but when you add low self-esteem to it, it can make a person crumble like a dried-out cookie.
Maybe you’ve seen it happen: a minor critique turns into a major catastrophe in their eyes. You tell your friend that their novel’s first draft needs some revisions, and suddenly they’re convinced they’re the world’s worst writer. What’s going on?
Well, people with low self-esteem often hold their self-worth so precariously that any form of criticism feels like a sledgehammer to their fragile sense of self.
In their mind, the critique isn’t just about a specific action or skill; it’s a sweeping judgment of their whole persona.
The underlying fear is not so much that they did something wrong, but that it’s proof they are fundamentally wrong as a person.
If you encounter someone who takes criticism to heart like this, be gentle. They’re already their harshest critic, and they don’t need another one.
Make sure to lead with the positives, and then frame your constructive feedback as something that can add to those positives. For example, “You have incredibly vivid and engaging storytelling, and if you develop this character a little more, it will be super strong.”
Your words can become the salve to heal the wound criticism inflicts on them, guiding them toward seeing critique as a tool for growth, not as a weapon that diminishes their worth.
6) They are socially withdrawn
You know that person who always seems to decline social invites, who you rarely see at gatherings? It’s not necessarily that they’re shy or introverted; they might be wrestling with low self-esteem.
While avoiding social situations can provide them with short-term comfort, it often amplifies their long-standing belief: “I don’t fit in, and people wouldn’t want me around anyway.”
This behavior stems from the idea that social interactions carry the risk of exposing their perceived inadequacies.
When you have low self-esteem, each conversation feels like a potential minefield where saying the “wrong thing” could lead to judgment or exclusion.
So, in an attempt to protect themselves, they become socially withdrawn, further isolating themselves and reinforcing their negative self-view.
If you have a friend or loved one who’s socially withdrawn, don’t give up on inviting them out, but also, don’t pressure them.
Instead, maybe suggest a low-key hangout — a quiet movie night at home or a walk in the park.
These activities are less intimidating and can provide a ‘safe space’ for them to open up. The goal is to help them take small steps out of their comfort zone, while also letting them know they’re valued just as they are.
Finding light in the shadow of low self-esteem
If you recognize these signs in someone you know, it’s important to approach the situation with empathy and understanding.
We all have our struggles, and for some, low self-esteem can be a heavy burden to bear.
The battle to build confidence is often internal, and they have to fight it on their own terms.
But your support can be a beacon of light. The simple acts of listening, extending an invitation, or offering a kind word can work wonders.
Remember, you can’t single-handedly fix someone’s low self-esteem, but your steady support can make their journey towards self-love a little less lonely.