Women who are really smart but have low self-esteem often display these 10 subtle behaviors

Intelligence and self-confidence don’t always go hand-in-hand. 

In fact, some of the smartest women I know also hesitate to express themselves and stand up for their own interests.

Their keen understanding and smarts are coupled with a self-deprecating and hesitant way of going through life that unfortunately leads to getting mistreated and self-sabotaging in many cases. 

There are certain traits and behaviors these women have in common: 

Let’s take a look. 

1) Saying sorry way too often

Frequently saying sorry, even when not at fault is a hallmark of a smart woman without much self-esteem. 

Her intelligence means she’s highly self-aware and analytical, but instead of turning to useful conclusions and self-empowerment she uses it for the opposite. 

She says sorry all the time and is passive about her own wants and needs. 

“When you’re too passive under difficult situations, you may feel like you’ve let yourself down,” notes Elizabeth Perry, adding that when “you’re letting people walk all over you, you won’t feel good about yourself.”

This tendency to say sorry too often without a solid reason can become a nasty habit and part of a self-reinforcing loop of disempowerment. 

2) Downplaying her achievements

This ties into the previous point, because women with low self-esteem and high intelligence will often downplay their achievements. 

Their intelligence and acumen means they have done all sorts of amazing things in their life, career and personal hobbies:

But they don’t have the self-esteem to recognize the wonderfulness of what they’ve done. 

Their inner critic has far too much sway, and they don’t really believe that what they’ve accomplished is worth much, anyway. 

So they are down on themselves and downplay all the good they’ve done, seeking to hide and not get recognition.

This relates directly to the next point: 

3) Avoiding leadership and the spotlight

Intelligent and accomplished women who lack self-esteem will often shy away from attention and recognition. 

Being praised and recognized, as well as being asked to step into a position of leadership brings up all the inner doubts that plague them. 

So they hide away, trying to stay unnoticed and in the background. 

They feel that they don’t really “deserve” praise, and that if they are in a leadership position it should go to somebody else better. 

It’s very hard for them to be their own supporter and advocate. 

4) Seeking frequent validation

The intelligent woman who doubts her own value tends to be overly self-critical.

As such she seeks validation and approval from the outside.

However this, coupled with a lack of belief in her own value tends to go in a circle. 

Her lack of confidence leads to her being hesitant to backing up her own ideas, beliefs and values until somebody else says they’re good. 

As life coach Guy Reichard observes: “Confidence has to come from within, so do whatever it takes to make you feel better about yourself. Learn a new skill, lose some weight, and repeat positive affirmations daily — nothing will change overnight, but your confidence will grow in time.”

5) Comparing herself to others in an unhealthy way

The smart woman who has trouble with her self-esteem will often measure her worth against others. 

While she may be quite accomplished in her career and academic achievements, she will often point to women who she feels have succeeded more in other areas of their life. 

Then she will talk about being a failure or falling short of “real success.”

She compares her worth and happiness against others in a way that tends to feed into that cycle of disempowerment that plagues her. 

6) Dreading risks and failure to take chances

Smart women make the world turn around, but when they have self-esteem troubles, they tend to underestimate themselves. 

The woman who doubts her own worth will often dodge risks and chances so much that she ends up self-sabotaging. 

She avoids opportunities that involve risk or stepping out of her comfort zone, failing to be assertive and chasing her dreams. 

“Being assertive enables you to express your wants, needs, and preferences in a way that shows you’re prepared to stand up for yourself while still respecting the other person,” explains life coach Guy Reichard. “It involves being open and honest about your thoughts and feelings while trying to work towards a mutually satisfying solution.” 

Speaking of being honest, the woman who struggles with self-esteem despite her high intelligence will often fall into a pattern of codependent people-pleasing… 

7) People-pleasing even if it harms her interests

Intelligent women who are plagued by self-doubt tend to engage in people-pleasing to an extreme extent. 

They go out of their way to make others happy, often at their own expense.

“Somewhere along the line you might have learnt that it was bad to have needs or that your needs weren’t as important as other people’s,” explains the Chelsea Psychology Clinic. “This belief might be so deep-rooted that you’re not even aware of it at a conscious level.”

This can have a very harmful cumulative effect on the woman’s life. 

She puts the needs and priorities of others so far ahead of her own that she begins to disappear into the background.

8) Perfectionism and never feeling good enough 

The smart woman with low self-esteem is plagued by a feeling of never being good enough. 

No matter how much she’s recognized, praised or moves forward in her life and social status, that inner doubt continues to gnaw at her. 

She will often fall into the search for perfection and feel inadequate when she falls short in any way. 

No matter how well she does, it’s not good enough. 

If her career is going wonderfully, she worries about her love life. 

If her love life is doing well, she begins stressing over why her career isn’t doing better. She feels like it’s all her fault! 

9) Reluctance to speak up when she disagrees

She hesitates to share her opinions, especially in a group setting. 

At work and in her personal life, she does her best to always nod and smile. 

She pretends to agree or share the prevailing sentiment even when she most certainly doesn’t.

“You know that deep down you want to say something but the words don’t come,” observes the Chelsea Clinic. “Or maybe they do come, but further down the line, at the wrong moment and in a burst of anger and frustration.”

This is the problem with low self-esteem is that it leaves this woman estranged from her own authentic self and sets her up for more heartache and frustration down the line. 

10) Avoiding conflict even when they are being pushed around

She almost always steps back from confrontations to avoid tension or rejection.

“When we stand up for ourselves and our rights, conflict might meet us. Or, we may perceive conflict where it isn’t,” notes Perry. “Often, people who struggle to speak up for themselves view any friction as conflict, when it may actually be minor resistance.” 

But this deep fear of being disliked or creating (or furthering) tension tends to hang heavy on her:

She can’t bear the thought of “imposing” herself on people who don’t agree or share her perspective.

Turning things around

The key to turning things around for a highly intelligent woman with low self-esteem is to begin to fully realize her own value. 

By understanding that she has the right to fully be herself, stand up for herself and pursue her own path in life, she becomes more effective in all areas.

She learns that the guilt and the idea she doesn’t “deserve” success, recognition and love are a lie. And she walks right past these lies.

“Watch out for any guilt, and simply acknowledge it when it comes. Remind yourself that it’s just an old feeling, and not relevant or helpful right now,” advises the Chelsea Clinic. 

She not only begins standing up for herself with other people, but also becoming more decisive and self-loving internally. 

She turns things around in every department, starting with herself.

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