You may not be aware that you have low self-esteem.

Low self-esteem is an issue which people don’t want to associate themselves with.

But you are not alone. There are more people who suffer from low self-esteem than you thought there are.

Entrepreneurs, writers, celebrities, athlete and etc. Anyone can have low self-esteem. It doesn’t matter how successful you are because it’s not how other people perceive you which is important.

Self-esteem is how you perceive yourself.

How can we tell if we have low self-esteem? How do we know if our self-esteem is low. Let’s understand what low self-esteem is first.

What Is Low Self-Esteem?

What does low self-esteem mean? According to the definition in Oxford’s dictionary, self-esteem means “confidence in one’s own worth or abilities”.

But I don’t like to use the word “confidence” when explaining self-esteem. To me, confidence has more to do with how well one can do something, while esteem is more about how one views themselves. One is a belief on your ability while the other is a belief on your worthiness. Even though both are beliefs about yourself, they are fundamentally different.

Low self-esteem is not the same as low self-confidence.

Most people confuse low self-esteem with low self-confidence. The truth is a confident person can have low self-esteem too. Successful celebrities such as Mariah Carey, David Bowie and Kate Winslet, revealed that they don’t feel good about themselves. They may look confident when performing, but off-stage they don’t feel good enough.

Take me as an example too. When I was a student, I was confident in my studies. I knew I would get good results no matter what. Even when I failed my test, I knew I would come out with a better study strategy and get better results next time. But that doesn’t mean I love myself. Throughout my school years, I battled with low self-esteem. I didn’t think highly of myself and I always felt that other people didn’t like me too.

On the other hand, I’ve seen students who have no confidence in their study and don’t do well in school, but still feel good about themselves. Even though they failed their tests, they still think they are very clever.

You can have no confidence, but still feel happy about yourself.

Plus, one can have confidence in different areas. You can be confident in your abilities to study, but not so confident in your abilities to socialize, play sports or handle details. No confidence in one or more areas doesn’t mean you will perceive yourself negatively.

All of us have weaknesses. People who have healthy self-esteem are aware of their weaknesses but they don’t let their flaws affect how they view themselves. Even if they can’t do something, they don’t perceive that as unworthy.

Different Types of Self-Esteem

To understand low self-esteem, the best is to contrast it with other level of self-esteem. There are different ways of categorizing self-esteem. My grouping may be different from the convention. I prefer to group high self-esteem with inflated self-esteem, instead with healthy self-esteem. I’ll explain why below.

But as you read, just bear in mind that the same terms could mean different things to different people.

Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem is the belief that one is not good or worthy enough.

There are two types of low self-esteem. The first type is the chronic, depressive kind. You hate yourself no matter what you do. You have negative thoughts about yourself all the time and get anxious easily. The second type is condition based. Your self-esteem depends on your competency, approval from others or something else you attach your self-worth to.

The first type is easy recognizable because it’s so extreme. People in the first group know they have low self-esteem. But most people who have low self-esteem belongs to the second group, which isn’t as obvious. People in this group don’t consciously think they are bad, but subconsciously they feel and believe they are unworthy. It’s only when the condition they based their self-worth on are taken away from them, do they realize that they may have low self-esteem.

People who have low self-esteem may not even know they have low self-esteem.

Like for me, most of my childhood, I had low self-esteem. When I started working, because my social ability and competency improved, I thought my self-esteem improved. Not knowing that I just attached my self-worth to the work I do. When my work is gone, so is my self-esteem and I became depressed.

This kind of high self-esteem is not really high self-esteem. It’s temporary and based on conditions. Deep down inside my subconscious, I still believe that I wasn’t good enough. The feeling of unworthiness is there, even though I’m not thinking about it all the time.

Inflated Self-Esteem

Have you met people who always think they are right or they are more important than everyone else?

High self-esteem is not necessary bad, but when it becomes excessive, you become narcissistic. Inflated self-esteem is the belief that you are better and more deserving than everyone else.

I know people who stay perpetually in high self-esteem. Even if others told them they are wrong, they would still think they are right. If not, they would blame their mistakes on someone or something else. They have a very positive image of themselves. If anything goes wrong, it’s not their fault, it must be somebody else’s fault. They see nothing wrong with themselves. This is their belief and perception of themselves.

People with inflated self-esteem are just maintaining their self-beliefs.

Like a low self-esteem person who is not comfortable at accepting compliments, a high self-esteem person is not comfortable at accepting criticisms. Why? Because it’s contrary to what they belief in. They don’t associate themselves with a poor self-image.

People may think they are arrogant because:

  • they think highly of themselves,
  • they feel that they are above everyone else,
  • their needs always comes first in any situation,
  • they boast about their achievements, and
  • they are blind to their faults.

But just like someone with low self-esteem, they are just maintaining their deep-seated beliefs formed since childhood. Beliefs aren’t easily changed unless they recognized their beliefs are just beliefs, and not the truth.

Healthy Self-Esteem

Most websites use high and healthy self-esteem interchangeably. I don’t use the word “high” to refer healthy self-esteem because high self-esteem may lead to inflated self-esteem. Plus, both low self-esteem and high self-esteem are just beliefs about one self. Both positive and negative beliefs about yourself are formed based on past conditioning. They may or may not be the truth now.

If low self-esteem means seeing yourself as unworthy and high self-esteem means seeing yourself as worthy, then healthy self-esteem means not even judging yourself as worthy or not.

Healthy self-esteem means no judgment against yourself.

Worthiness is just a mental concept of self. What if you just see yourself as who you are not judge yourself?

If you are 5 ft tall, then you are 5 ft tall. You are neither short nor tiny. Same goes to someone who is underweight like me. 110 lbs is neither skinny nor unattractive. You are who you are. You describe yourself based on what you presently witness, without adding judgment to it.

Healthy self-esteem is about seeing yourself for who you really are. You don’t compare yourself with someone else or judge yourself. These are just mental activities which your mind are used to doing.

[Read Kristen Neff’s Self-Compassion on opting out of the self-esteem game.]

What Are the Symptoms of Low Self-Esteem?

As mentioned above, people who have severe low self-esteem symptoms such as depression and anxiety would be able to recognized that for themselves. For this blog post, my focus is on the second group. Those who may not be aware they have low self-esteem because their worth is based on external conditions.

Symptoms of low self-esteem in adults, women, men, teenagers and children are somewhat similar. Just that women are more open with sharing their issues with low self-esteem while men are more likely to hide or be aware of their self-esteem issues. Teenagers and children are still impressionable so their beliefs about themselves may not be as fixed as adults. Their beliefs are still being influenced by the environment and the people they have contact with.

So in this blog post, I’m just going to talk about low self-esteem in general.

Here are 5 symptoms of someone who may not realize they have low self-esteem.

1. Your perception of yourself changes frequently.

If your self-esteem fluctuates frequently between low and high, it’s a sign that you actually have low self-esteem.

People who have healthy or inflated self-esteem are not as reactive to external factors. They don’t change the way they view themselves when the outside circumstances change. On the flip side, people who based their self-esteem on outside conditions, are likely to experience a dip in their self-esteem when the conditions aren’t met.

Your beliefs bring you to a place you feel comfortable in. 

So for example, if you link your self-esteem with your relationships. When you are having success in relationships, you feel good about yourself and have a positive image of yourself. However, if someone is to reject you even when it’s a slight rejection, it may trigger the feeling of lack of self-worth and your self-esteem plummet easily.

This is a telltale sign that your self-esteem is low to begin with. Your mind is subconsciously finding evidence that you aren’t worthy, so as to bring you back to place you feel comfortable in.

2. You find it hard to accept compliments.

Probably one of the most obvious symptoms of low self-esteem is when one can’t accept compliments. They either deflecting their success to luck or someone else, or they lower the value of their achievement. Too much good feelings makes a person with low self-esteem uncomfortable because these compliments go against their self-beliefs.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t want compliments.

The irony is even though they find it hard to accept compliments, they still want to be complimented and approved by others. They seek affirmations or fish for compliments for the things they are insecure with, so as to negate the negative feelings they have for themselves. It’s like an internal thermostat which limits how good one feel about themselves. But at the same time, it prevent them from feeling too unworthy because it would lead to depression and other complications.

This is unlike people who have extreme low self-esteem. They mostly seek affirmations that they are bad.

3. You are afraid of criticisms.

Both low self-esteem and inflated self-esteem people don’t like criticisms. The difference is how criticisms make them feel. Criticisms make people who have low self-esteem feels unworthy, while criticisms make people with inflated self-esteem angry. One is afraid that people think negative about them, the other is furious that others have the audacity to suggest they are bad.

See the difference?

People who have high or healthy self-esteem isn’t afraid of criticisms. They simply don’t think the criticisms are true. Even though narcissists don’t seem to like criticisms, their reactions are more aggressive than defensive. They have developed this built-in mechanism to protect their self-image. Healthy self-esteem people, on the other hand, are open to listen to what other people say, but they don’t necessary believe what they hear to be true too. They would observe and investigate further.

People with low self-esteem believe criticisms completely.

Low self-esteem people are very afraid of criticisms because they believe what other say about them. On the surface, they may say they don’t care about what other people say. But deep down inside, they are affected. Criticism triggers self-esteem attacks. It starts a chain of negative self-talk or criticisms which make them feel bad about themselves.

People with low self-esteem may defend themselves from criticisms too, but it’s to prevent themselves from feeling unworthy and not to protect their self-image. They need to convince other people they are good to feel good.

Lastly, to avoid being criticized, they tend not to share their ideas or opinions as they are afraid to say something wrong or looking foolish.

4. You are overly concerned with what other people think of you.

People with low self-esteem are oversensitive to other people’s feelings, sometimes to the point of people pleasing. They tend to apologize profusely, even for mistakes they didn’t make. That’s because they are always worried if they have treated others badly. They rather treat themselves badly than treat others badly. Therefore, they don’t know how to say no or build personal boundaries with other people.

What other people think of you affect what you think of yourself.

When you post something on social media, are you concerned if other people like it or not? If you have the tendency to wait or check your phone for likes after you post something on social media, it’s highly likely your self-esteem is low. Even if it’s high, it may be temporary and based on approval from others. You need outside affirmations to affirm your good image.

Sometimes, this excessive concern for what other people think of you leads to false assumptions. You may think other people are thinking negatively about you when they actually aren’t. In relationships, you may distrust your partners or be easily jealous even though your partners are completely honest and faithful to you. This lack of trust is a result of low self-esteem. Subconsciously, you don’t believe anyone would love someone as unworthy as you. You are just not aware of it consciously.

5. You are addicted to something or one area of your life.

To prevent self-loathing, low self-esteem people may distract themselves and place their attention on something else. This could be anything which make you feel good or forget about yourself monetarily. For example, gaming, sex, alcohol, food, TV, shopping and even perfection.

Addiction is not easy to spot, especially if it’s an important area of your life. Some people who have low self-esteem are addicted to work. They are workaholics. They are using their success in work to validate their self-worth.

Does your work make you feel important? 

Nothing should affect the way you view yourself. Not your work, not your relationship, not your health, and not your wealth. If you allow something to influence your self-esteem, then your self-esteem is condition-based. Even if it’s high, it won’t last long because all area of your life — your work, relationship, health and wealth, could be taken away from you.

Whenever you attach your self-worth to something outside of you, you are using that to cover up your low self-esteem. You are avoiding bad feelings you have for yourself.

And isn’t that a sign of low self-esteem?


Featured Photo Credit: Time for reflection / Hans G Bäckman

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