9 subtle signs your self-esteem is lower than you realize

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It’s a tricky puzzle, understanding our own self-esteem. Often, it’s like trying to read a book with the cover closed.

We spend so much time being our own worst critics, we may not even realize when our self-esteem is taking a hit.

But here’s the thing – there are subtle signs that can clue us in if we know what to look for.

In this piece, I’ll help you identify 9 subtle signs your self-esteem is lower than you realize.

By recognizing these signs, you can start working on building yourself back up. No sugarcoating, just real talk. Let’s dive in.

1) Over-apologizing

We all goof up now and then, and saying sorry is the right thing to do. But there’s a difference between admitting a mistake and apologizing for every little thing.

If you find yourself constantly saying sorry, even when it’s not your fault or for things that are outside of your control, it’s a subtle sign that your self-esteem might be lower than you think.

Over-apologizing can indicate that you’re taking on more blame than necessary, which often stems from feeling like you’re not good enough or like you’re always in the wrong.

It’s worth paying attention to this habit. Remember, everyone makes mistakes – it’s part of being human. But constant self-criticism isn’t healthy or helpful. It’s time to cut yourself some slack.

2) Downplaying achievements

This one hits close to home for me. I remember a time when I’d finished a project I was really proud of. When my colleagues complimented me on it, I found myself saying things like “It’s no big deal” or “I just got lucky”.

Downplaying our achievements is a telltale sign of low self-esteem. If you’re always brushing off compliments or attributing your successes to luck or other people, you might be struggling with self-worth issues.

You see, when we have low self-esteem, we often feel uncomfortable accepting praise. We think we don’t deserve it, or that people are just being nice.

But here’s the truth: your achievements are worthy of recognition. You worked hard and you deserve to feel good about it.

So the next time someone gives you a compliment, try saying “Thank you” and let yourself enjoy the moment.

3) Negative self-talk

Ever caught yourself thinking “I’m such a mess” or “I can’t do anything right”? This kind of internal dialogue is called negative self-talk.

Negative self-talk can seriously impact our mood and overall mental health. It can reinforce feelings of low self-esteem, making us feel even worse about ourselves.

What’s intriguing is that we wouldn’t talk to our friends or loved ones the way we often talk to ourselves. Yet, we somehow think it’s okay to be our own harshest critic.

Catching and changing these thought patterns is key to improving your self-esteem. 

4) Fear of failure

It’s normal to feel a bit nervous before we take on a new challenge. But if you’re so afraid of failing that you avoid trying new things altogether, it can be a sign of low self-esteem.

This fear can keep us stuck in our comfort zones, preventing us from taking risks or pursuing our dreams. We start to believe that we’re not capable or that we’re bound to fail, so we don’t even try.

The problem with this is, failure is an important part of growth. Without it, we miss out on valuable lessons and opportunities to improve.

So if you find the fear of failure holding you back, it might be time to reframe your view of failure. Instead of seeing it as a reflection of your worth, try seeing it as a stepping stone to success.

5) Unable to accept criticism

None of us enjoy being criticized. But there’s a difference between not liking it and being unable to handle it.

If you find yourself getting defensive or upset over constructive criticism, it could be a sign that your self-esteem is lower than you think.

When we have low self-esteem, we often view criticism as a direct attack on our worth. It can feel like a confirmation of the negative beliefs we already hold about ourselves.

But remember, criticism isn’t an attack on your character. It’s feedback on your actions or behavior, and everyone has room for improvement.

Next time you receive criticism, take a deep breath, and try to see it as an opportunity to grow rather than a personal affront.

6) Struggling to say ‘no’

It’s one of the smallest words in the English language, yet for some, it’s one of the hardest to say.

If you’re always saying ‘yes’ to things you don’t want to do or don’t have time for, it’s a sign your self-esteem might be lower than you think.

When we constantly put other people’s needs before our own, it can lead to feelings of resentment and burnout. And deep down, it often comes from a fear of rejection or a belief that our own needs aren’t important.

But here’s the thing – you matter. Your needs, your time, your well-being – they’re all important.

And saying ‘no’ sometimes doesn’t make you selfish or unkind. It means you’re taking care of yourself, and that’s something to be proud of.

7) Seeking external validation

I used to spend a lot of time worrying about what others thought of me. I’d constantly seek approval from my peers, my boss, even strangers on the Internet. It was exhausting.

This constant need for external validation is a common sign of low self-esteem. We start to believe that our worth is determined by the approval of others rather than our own feelings about ourselves.

The problem with this is that it puts our sense of self-worth in the hands of others. And that’s a shaky foundation to build our self-esteem on.

It took me some time, but I learned that true validation comes from within.

The next time you find yourself seeking approval from others, try instead to look inward and validate yourself. It’s not easy, but it’s an important step towards building a healthier self-esteem.

8) Avoiding mirrors

This might seem like a small thing, but it can actually be a significant indicator of low self-esteem.

If you find yourself avoiding mirrors or feeling uncomfortable when you catch your reflection, it could be a sign that you’re struggling with your self-image.

Avoiding mirrors often means we’re avoiding facing ourselves. It can be a reflection of negative feelings we harbor about our appearance or worth.

There’s more to you than what’s on the surface. Try to see yourself as a whole person, not just what you look like. And remember, everyone has unique qualities that make them special.

9) You’re not practicing self-care

This is crucial. If you’re consistently putting off self-care – whether it’s skipping meals, neglecting exercise, or not getting enough sleep – it can be a sign of low self-esteem.

When we don’t value ourselves, we often don’t take care of ourselves. We put our needs last or ignore them altogether.

But here’s the thing – you deserve to be taken care of, and that starts with taking care of yourself.

So make time for self-care. Eat a healthy meal. Go for a walk. Get a good night’s sleep. You’re worth every bit of it.

Final thought: It’s about self-compassion

The journey of self-esteem is deeply intertwined with self-compassion.

Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research, suggests that self-compassion is the key to a healthier self-esteem. It’s about treating ourselves with the same kindness, care, and understanding that we would offer to a good friend.

When we notice signs of low self-esteem, instead of being hard on ourselves, we should pause and offer ourselves compassion. We should remind ourselves that everyone has moments of self-doubt and that it’s okay not to be perfect.

Low self-esteem isn’t something that changes overnight, but each small step towards self-compassion brings us closer to a healthier relationship with ourselves.

Lost Your Sense of Purpose?

In this age of information overload and pressure to meet others’ expectations, many struggle to connect with their core purpose and values. It’s easy to lose your inner compass.

Jeanette Brown created this free values discovery PDF to help clarify your deepest motivations and beliefs. As an experienced life coach and self-improvement teacher, Jeanette guides people through major transitions by realigning them with their principles.

Her uniquely insightful values exercises will illuminate what inspires you, what you stand for, and how you aim to operate. This serves as a refreshing filter to tune out societal noise so you can make choices rooted in what matters most to you.

With your values clearly anchored, you’ll gain direction, motivation and the compass to navigate decisions from your best self – rather than fleeting emotion or outside influences.

Stop drifting without purpose. Rediscover what makes you come alive with Jeanette Brown’s values clarity guide.

 

Mia Zhang

Mia Zhang blends Eastern and Western perspectives in her approach to self-improvement. Her writing explores the intersection of cultural identity and personal growth. Mia encourages readers to embrace their unique backgrounds as a source of strength and inspiration in their life journeys.

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