Mental Health Tips
June 20, 2024

Signs of Low Self-Esteem and What You Can Do About It

Written by
Two Chairs Content Team
Reviewed by
Joslyn Reisinger, LMHC
Updated on
Sun rising over horizon in background with yellow sky and plants in the foreground

Having low self-esteem can be really painful. It’s hard to move through every day feeling unworthy, unlovable, or somehow just not good enough. 

Whether you know you have low self-esteem or are trying to understand if you might, we’ll cover everything you need to know, including why you might have low self-esteem, signs of it, its impacts on your life, and how to cope with it.

What is self-esteem?

In essence, self-esteem is how you view and value yourself. Usually, self-esteem is your overall sense of confidence or intrinsic sense of self-worth — or the lack of it. Self-esteem is all about how you perceive your own abilities, qualities, and character, which in turn impacts your relationships, decision-making, and general approach to life.

People with high self-esteem — or people who tend to view themselves more positively — tend to have more satisfying relationships, perform better at school and work, and enjoy improved mental and physical health. On the other hand, many people also experience chronic low self-esteem, meaning the inverse is often true. 

Why do I have low self-esteem?

There is no one root cause of poor self-esteem. In truth, everyone is different and has had different life experiences that may have impacted how they view themselves. But, in general, there are a few reasons you may be asking yourself, “why is self-esteem so low?”:

  • Negative childhood experiences: Criticism, neglect, abuse, or lack of support from family or caregivers from an early age can lead to feelings of worthlessness and insecurity in adulthood.
  • Bullying and harassment: Being subjected to negative attention at school, work, or other social settings can undermine self-confidence and lead to feelings of inadequacy.
  • Cultural or societal influences: Societal pressures to conform to certain beauty standards, gender roles, or other cultural norms can create unrealistic expectations and lead to low self-esteem. Social media, which can often reinforce cultural norms, can contribute to this as well.
  • Physical health issues: Chronic illness, disability, or significant changes in physical appearance can affect a person's self-image and lead to feelings of inadequacy or worthlessness.
  • Trauma or loss: Experiencing trauma, grief, or significant loss can shake a person's sense of identity and worth, leading to a drop in self-esteem.
  • Mental health issues: Conditions like depression, anxiety, or chronic stress can contribute to low self-esteem by affecting a person's mood, thoughts, and perception of themselves.
  • Unhealthy relationships: Relationships with friends, families, peers, or partners marked by emotional, verbal, or physical abuse can lead to feelings of powerlessness and diminish a person's sense of worth. 
  • Discrimination: Experiencing discrimination or prejudice due to race, gender, sexuality, religion, or other factors can undermine a person's sense of self-worth, too. 

Signs of low self-esteem

Just like there are many different causes of low self-esteem, there are many different low self-esteem signs. 

While everyone might display these in their own way,  there are a few common low self-esteem symptoms to look out for:

People pleasing tendencies 

We all like to make our loved ones happy. But severe people-pleasing, or the tendency to go out of one's way to make others happy, often at one's own expense, is a classic sign of low self-esteem. 

Because people with low self-esteem think so little of themselves, they may struggle to say "no," fearing rejection or disapproval. As a result, they might take on too many responsibilities or avoid expressing their true feelings.

Lack of boundaries

Like people pleasing, people with low self-esteem often fear confrontation. When you fear confrontation, your sense of personal boundaries can blur — you might allow others to disrespect or mistreat you in order to avoid conflict. 

While healthy boundaries can cultivate mutual respect and autonomy, the lack of them often can lead to the opposite. Without boundaries, you might find that others dictate your actions, you tolerate disrespectful behavior, or feel uncomfortable saying "no." 

In essence, if you tell yourself, “I have no self-worth,” you might let others treat you poorly, too.

Fear of failure

People with low self-esteem may worry about making mistakes or falling short of expectations, which causes them to play it safe and avoid risk-taking. 

Any further evidence of the confirmation of their low self-esteem can be frightening, causing them to avoid taking on challenges altogether.

Negative self-talk 

If you have low self-esteem, your inner voice might be pretty critical (it's often called the inner critic). While we all have moments of self-doubt or feeling bad about ourselves, people struggling with low self-esteem habitually criticize or belittle themselves. 

Phrases like "I'm not good enough" or "I always mess things up" might play on a loop in their minds, constantly blaming themselves for their shortcomings. 

Downplays accomplishments

Those with low self-esteem often struggle to accept praise or celebrate their achievements. They might attribute successes, instead, to luck or downplay their efforts altogether, feeling unworthy of recognition. 

Sensitive to criticism

People with low self-esteem issues often react strongly to criticism, even when it's constructive. They may take feedback personally, viewing it as confirmation of their perceived flaws or shortcomings. 

Social withdrawal

Another common sign of low self-esteem is avoiding social interactions. If you’re not feeling confident about yourself, you might isolate yourself to avoid judgment or rejection.

Physical symptoms

Not only can self-esteem show up in behaviors and emotional responses, but it can show up physically, too:

Physical signs of low self-esteem might include:

  • Chronic fatigue: Persistent tiredness or lack of energy may be a sign of low self-esteem, potentially due to emotional stress or feeling overwhelmed.
  • Muscle tension: Individuals with low self-esteem may carry stress and tension in their muscles, leading to tightness, stiffness, or discomfort, especially in the neck, shoulders, or back.
  • Headaches: Frequent headaches can be caused by stress and tension related to low self-esteem, as negative thoughts and emotions create physical strain.
  • Stomach issues: Digestive problems, such as stomach aches, nausea, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), can be linked to stress and anxiety associated with low self-esteem.
  • Sleep disturbances: People with low self-esteem may struggle with insomnia, difficulty falling asleep, or disrupted sleep due to anxiety and negative self-talk.
  • Changes in appetite: Some individuals with low self-esteem may experience changes in appetite, such as overeating or loss of appetite, often due to stress and emotional discomfort.

The impacts of low self-esteem

Everyone has experienced negative thoughts about themselves at some point. But those who struggle with constant low self-esteem have trouble regaining confidence — a phenomenon that can impact so many other aspects of their lives.

Research shows that low self-esteem can lead to:

  • Substance abuse: To cope with feelings of inadequacy, people who struggle with low self-esteem may turn to substance abuse or engage in risky behaviors to distract themselves from feelings of little self-worth.

  • Lack of resilience: The fear of failure or lack of confidence that comes with low self-esteem can hinder personal and professional pursuits. Studies show that people with poor self-esteem are more likely to give up when faced with challenges or obstacles and instead engage in behaviors that are designed to help preserve their limited self-worth.

  • Diminished mental health: People who struggle with low self-esteem are often more prone to mental health issues like body dysmorphia, anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts.
  • Poor quality of life: When self-esteem is low, individuals may feel unworthy of success or happiness, leading to a reduced sense of fulfillment and contentment and, ultimately, a diminished quality of life. 

Dealing with low self-esteem

Experiencing low self-esteem can be incredibly painful and tiring. And while it might not always feel like it, everyone deserves to appreciate and love themselves for who they are — even you. 

While there isn’t necessarily one answer on how to deal with low self-esteem, there are a few ways you can start building up your opinion of yourself:

Bring awareness to your self-talk

Our inner critics are often always talking in the background of our lives — sometimes without even us noticing. This lack of noticing the inner critical voice allows it to continue and dictate our actions, feelings, and behaviors.

However, by bringing awareness to this self-talk, you can start to identify and challenge negative patterns. 

To do this, you might try:

  • Journaling: Write down your thoughts as they occur throughout the day. This practice helps you see patterns in your self-talk and identify common themes or triggers for negative thinking.

  • Meditating: Mindfulness encourages you to observe your thoughts without judgment. By sitting quietly and focusing on your breath, you can notice the thoughts that come to mind and recognize when they are overly critical or harsh.

  • Asking yourself reflective questions: When you have a negative thought, ask yourself, "Why do I feel this way?" to help understand the root of your feelings.

Challenge intrusive thoughts

Once you’ve become aware of the thoughts and start to notice them, you might try challenging them. In essence, challenging intrusive thoughts requires approaching them with curiosity and compassion in order to understand and deconstruct them.

A good way to go about this is by questioning the thought’s validity. Ask yourself whether the intrusive thought is based on fact or assumption. Are you drawing conclusions without evidence? Is this thought based on fact, or is it an assumption? Is there evidence to support or refute it? 

For example, if your intrusive thought is telling you that you’re a “failure,” think of all the instances that may support that, and those that refute it as evidence of the contrary.

Focus on yourself

The terms “self-care” and “self-acceptance” have long been in the cultural zeitgeist, often referring to spa days and the like. But taking care of and accepting oneself can take other forms, too, and is actually an important step to rebuilding the relationships you have with yourself:

  • Self-care: Engage in regular exercise, eat nutritious meals, stay hydrated, and get enough sleep. Allow yourself to feel and express emotions without judgment. This might involve journaling, talking to a friend, or seeking therapy to process your feelings.

  • Self-acceptance: Practice getting comfortable with being okay with who you are. Embrace all the different parts of yourself, even the parts you deem less worthy.

Seek support from loved ones

Low self-esteem can make you feel isolated, but reaching out to supportive friends and family can make a big difference. Talk to those who value and respect you. Their encouragement and validation can help you see yourself more positively and remind you of your worth. 

Plus, you might just find out that some of your loved ones struggle with low self-esteem, too — knowing that someone else you care about is dealing with the same thing might provide comfort and validation.

Develop new skills or hobbies

Not only can hobbies be a source of joy and fun, but they can also boost confidence and overall well-being and open up new avenues for personal growth.

Consider taking up a musical instrument, a sport, or a craft or learning a new skill like sewing or crocheting. Whatever your hobby, the pleasure of learning and engaging in something new can increase your confidence and self-esteem.

Limit social media and comparison

While comparison is another natural human instinct, too much of it can be detrimental. Social media, which can magnify social comparison, can leave people feeling inadequate. 

To avoid this, limit your time on these platforms and focus on your own journey as much as possible. Think of it this way: flowers do not think of competing with the flowers next to them—they just bloom." 

When to seek professional support

Rebuilding your relationship with yourself is hard. It’s not easy to challenge intrusive thoughts, or practice self-care. Sometimes, you need a little support in that journey — and that’s more than okay.

So whether you’re newly experiencing feelings of low self-esteem or have long been struggling, seeking a trained professional for guidance is one of the best ways to cope. With Two Chairs, you can access personalized therapy that’s 100% tailored to you. Using our science-backed matching approach, you’ll be paired with a licensed professional who’s suited to help you rebuild your relationship with yourself, no matter what you’re struggling with.

Let us find the right therapist for you

Book Matching Appointment

Let us find the right therapist for you

Book Matching Appointment

A mental health practice built for you

We’re always interested in meeting talented, mission-driven clinicians. Take a look at our open positions, and get to know life at Two Chairs.
See Open Positions