Low self esteem is an endemic problem in today’s world. More and more people are suffering from the symptoms.
Did you know that as many as 70% of people in America alone suffer from imposter syndrome at some point in their lives?
Not feeling good enough, or that you don’t belong can affect us all, and can come at any time.
How do we recognise it when it comes, and what do we do about it?
Read on to find out more.
Here are the symptoms of low self esteem, and what you can do about it:
1. You don’t really like yourself
Whilst it’s perfectly normal to have moments where you’re annoyed with yourself, hating everything that you do and who you are, just for being you is a classic sign that you might have low self esteem.
Being angry and annoyed at yourself, and disliking yourself for everything, especially if you tear yourself up and can’t forgive yourself for the tiniest mistakes isn’t healthy, but it’s actually relatively simple to deal with.
What to do about it
Change the way you speak about yourself: The way you feel about yourself is almost completely created by the words you use. Two people can face the same situation and have entirely different feelings about it, purely because of the stories they tell themselves.
Examine your mental models and the way you talk about yourself, and start replacing negative talk with positive. It doesn’t have to be big, but find things that you like and repeat them.
It’s best to have a time and a place to do this. Just after you wake up for 5 minutes, or ten repetitions before bed, for example.
It’s all about making time and space for you to like you. It is also a good thing to do this exercise with kids.
Forgive yourself: No one is perfect. (We’ll get to that.) and no one can be all good or all bad all the time.
If you make a mistake, that’s all it was. A mistake. It doesn’t make you a bad person, especially if it was an accident.
Think about how you’d treat someone else who did the thing you did, and see how people respond to your foibles. Often, we’re much harder on ourselves than everyone else is, for no real reason.
2. You’re always trying to be perfect
It’s ironic that one of the signs of low self esteem is the strive for perfection. Perfectionism is often used as a cover, and a way to further eat away at yourself by thinking ‘If I can be perfect, if I can make no mistakes, then finally I’ll be worthwhile.’
But no one can be perfect all the time, and you can only control yourself, not the world. Even if you do everything right every time, sometimes things just happen that are out of your control.
That’s a part of life, and we have to be able to deal with it.
What to do about it
Have realistic expectations: Understand that no one ever succeeds at everything they do. Don’t judge yourself for the outcome, and know that you’ve done everything you can.
Understand the difference between failing and failure: The only time you’re ever a failure is when you give up. It took Thomas Edison 1000 tries to create a working lightbulb. Olympic athletes repeat the same movements hundreds of thousands of times, to get it exactly right.
You’re never going to be perfect, so stop trying to attain something you can’t have, especially if you secretly know you can’t have it and you’re using it to punish yourself.
Ask yourself whether it really matters: Often, perfectionists use the tiniest examples of failure as ways to eat at themselves.
Fight this by focusing on the big goals. Who cares if you made tiny mistakes when your general life is on a huge upward swing and you make everyone you love happy.
3. You really don’t like your body
Low self esteem can often manifest as body issues. A negative body image is common in people with low self esteem, both women and men.
Not feeling comfortable in our bodies is a huge deal, because how we hold ourselves and how we feel about ourselves physically has a huge impact in how we present ourselves and act, which can affect the way we’re perceived by others, reinforcing our fears.
What to do about it
Don’t compare yourself to other people: They aren’t you. They haven’t been through everything you have, and vice versa.
Only compare yourself to who you were yesterday. There might always be things you can improve about your body, but they aren’t anything to do with other people.
Think about it this way. If someone got shipwrecked on a desert island, healthy is still healthy, sick is still sick. It’s got nothing to do with how other people see it, so focus on how you feel.
Look after yourself: This means different things for different people,because we’re all in a different place, health wise. But as a general rule, a healthy lifestyle and a comfortable exercise plan can make the world of difference.
We know when we’re looking after ourselves correctly, and we know what we have to do.
A healthy body leads to a healthy mind, and a healthy outlook.
If you’re struggling, imagine you had to look after someone you love. What would you recommend they do if they were in your situation. Try and live more like that.
(It doesn’t have to be perfect though, remember. You’re allowed to fail. If so, just get back up and get back on course.)
Take simple steps to improve: Often, people with low self esteem stop bothering with personal looks, because ‘there’s no point anyway’
Ironically, by taking the time to look after yourself, you can make yourself feel much better about your appearance.
It sounds harsh, but force yourself to do the things that you know make you look and feel better.
It sounds weird, but posture and breath can make a massive difference to how you look and feel, too.
If you’re practising positive self talk (and you should be) take that time to mentally check the way you’re standing and breathing.
Imagine someone confident, and do what you can to mirror them.
Stand tall, with deep, slow breaths. Hold your head high. Smile. Biomechanics lead to feelings.
Try it. What do you have to lose?
4. You don’t think you have anything to offer
No one’s good at everything, but often people with low self esteem don’t think they’re good at anything.
This is rooted in our own sense of value. If you think that you’re worth less than other people, it’s only natural to elevate them above yourself. Like a lot of self esteem issues, the way to deal with this is to reframe it, and realise what you have to offer in particular.
What to do about it
Everyone is unique, with unique things to offer: So you might not be as good at your job as the person sitting next to you. So what. You might be better with friends and family, or more social, or more knowledgeable about things.
Every single person is an individual, with individual talents, and we’re all so complicated. Why are you comparing yourself to one aspect of one person, then using that one thing as a way to judge yourself harshly? Even Mother Teresa had her flaws.
Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, focus on what you do well instead.
Stop believing you’re worse than everyone else: This is heavily related to the above, and it’s a matter of perspective.
As soon as you realise that people might have better traits than you in one area, but not in others, it’s a lot easier to realise that we’re all multifaceted people, and we’re all good at everything.
Act in the way you want to be treated: As we mentioned earlier, body language and how we project ourselves makes a huge difference in how we’re treated by other people.
Often times as well, if you admire someone and think they’re better than you, you’re basically admitting to yourself that this is something you want for yourself.
So these things you admire in others are things you aspire to be. You can use them as a guide for how you plan to transform yourself, as you grow in the coming months and years.
5. You’re far too oversensitive
When you’ve got low self esteem, everything becomes painful. Little idle comments that aren’t meant as put downs can seem like attacks when you don’t like yourself.
Again, it comes down to perspective, and dealing with this takes self reflection and a shift in mindset.
What to do about it
Listen to the actual message, not how it makes you feel: As we said earlier, the same comment delivered to two different people can have two entirely different outcomes.
Assess what’s being said on the words. If you need to, take a few minutes to stop and think about it, or if you’ve got the opportunity, write it down and come back to it later.
This lets you distance yourself from your emotions, and consider the comments logically and rationally.
Be confident enough to know what’s reasonable: If it turns out that you were right, and what’s being said is an attack or is unfair, be sure to stand up for yourself.
Boundaries are an essential part of life, and often people might not even realise that they’re being ‘unfair.’ If you don’t stand up for yourself and say what’s right an reasonable for you, people might just assume that you’re happy to do what they’re asking.
Have standards, and know what you’re willing to do and be. This counts both at work, and in relationships.
Be confident enough to take criticism: Sometimes the people we love say things that aren’t nice, but are necessary. Consider someone who’s hooked on illegal substances. You’d happily criticise them, because it’s for their own good.
If people are saying negative things about you and your actions, consider whether it’s from a place of love or they’re trying to put you down.
Maybe they’re trying to get you to see your flaws and build you up, in a way.
Don’t hold on to anything: Our present is defined largely by our past, but our past doesn’t actually exist.
It’s all thoughts. Words and pictures in our heads.
That means if you think about something different, the present you changes.
Here’s the key. Change your thoughts.
You can only hold one thought in your head at a time
If you start to think about non-productive things, that actively make you worse off, then distance yourself from those thoughts and replace them with something else.
This doesn’t mean sit there and try and think of something else. That doesn’t work. Instead, actively replace them by doing something that either makes you happy, or needs to be done.
6. You’re afraid all the time
Being afraid is an entirely natural part of low self esteem, because people with low self esteem generally feel powerless and unable to impact the world.
When you’re at the whims of fate, it’s only natural to worry about what’s around the next corner. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
What to do about it
Realise when a fear is reasonable: The easiest way to destroy anxiety is with realism. Lets say you’re afraid of public speaking, and being laughed at by everyone because your talk is bad.
Take some time to look at your notes, go through your talk and think about how likely it’s going to be that this outcome is going to happen.
Try to distance yourself from the emotion by walking away from it. You could also talk to a trusted friend or family member and see what they think.
Face your fears, if you can: There’s a method called the fear pyramid, where you draw up a list of fears, with the biggest at the top and the smallest at the bottom.
Start by conquering your small, easy fears. Because fear is a biological and psychological reaction, the more you get used to dealing with it, the better you actually become at dealing with it, and vice versa.
If this doesn’t make sense to you, think about people who’re afraid to go outside and be social. Are they going to get better or worse by sitting in their house alone versus going out to buy bread in the shop for a tiny scrap of social contact, and building up from there.
7. You are angry all the time
You need to understand that it’s fine to have emotions, including anger.
Feeling small and insignificant can often manifest itself as anger, instead of depression or anxiety.
People who feel like they don’t matter can overcompensate, firing back disproportionately against perceived attackers, rather than laughing off or just ignoring things that wouldn’t affect some other people.
What to do about it
Staying calm is better than releasing it: The old truism of releasing your anger to feel better is actually false.
Your mind learns to do more of what you do, because it thinks it works.
That means if you’re constantly letting out all your anger, you’re more likely to feel angry in situations in the future, even in silly ones that might not have made you angry in the past.
Instead, keep calm. Take a few breaths before you react, and if you have to, excuse yourself for a minute or two.
If you feel put down upon, make sure to let others know, but in a calm manner.
Have considered boundaries: Anger often comes from resentment, which comes when you feel like you’re being taken advantage of.
Avoid this by establishing boundaries early, and not allowing people to overstep the mark early on in your relationship. Anger is a tool, and you can be firm and decisive without being angry. There’s a great analogy about this:
Imagine a dog, tied outside a store on a leash. You walk up, and the dog doesn’t react, until you go to pet it and it bites you. Situation: Everyone is surprised, and you’re scared of the dog.
Instead, you approach the dog and it stares at you, puts it ears down. You reach towards it and it growls. If you carry on trying to pet it and it bites you, no one is surprised and would probably blame you for getting bitten, as the dog clearly warned you.
Establish boundaries early. Just.. maybe don’t growl at people.
8. You try to make others happy first
Low self esteem often causes people to overcompensate in trying to make others like them, to make up for the fact that they don’t like themselves and shore up their confidence.
Ironically, this can actually turn people off and push them away. It’s also a likely way to end up feeling used and burned out, as you’re going to do things for people that you might not otherwise want to do.
What to do about it
Understand that selfishness is okay: The word selfish has such negative connotations, but you have to be able to look after yourself first.
Think about it another way. If you have dependents, whether children, elderly parents or others, would it do them any good if you burned yourself out keeping them happy in the short term, only for your own health to fail in the long term.
You have to look out for you. It’s vitally important, because no one will ever look after you in the way you can.
It’s also better for your loved ones if you’re a little more selfish. If you’re better looked after, and happier with yourself, you’re better able to look after other people, too.
Understand that no isn’t a dirty word: Setting boundaries is an important part of what we’ve been saying, all throughout this article, and that’s for a reason.
It all starts with saying no. That’s how you set your boundaries and end up with what you want.
But first, you have to know what you want. Which is why we’ve also suggested making a plan.
9. You aren’t happy with the way your life is
Self respect comes from doing things that you think are respectable. Think about it this way, if you’re living a life that you don’t actually like, and constantly doing things that make you miserable, how are you ever going to be happy or actually like yourself?
You’re not doing anything that feels good to you, or makes you the person you want to be, so of course you’re miserable.
What to do about it
Being productive feels good: We all know, much as we might hate doing housework, how good a clean house feels. We’ve all got a list of little things that should be done, but that we just put off, either because we’ve got more important things to do, or we just don’t feel like it, so we’ll do it tomorrow.
Thing is, these thoughts sit around in our heads, taking up valuable real estate and making us feel bad because we know that we’re not doing what we should be doing.
Pick one thing, even the tiniest thing, and get it done. Even if it’s just tidying a handful of mugs, or taking out the trash.
And sometimes, taking the first tiny step is all the impetus we need to break the chains of apathy and get going.
Make a plan: If you were going on a long trip somewhere you’d never been before, would you try and do it blind, without planning the route first?
Of course you wouldn’t, because if you did, god knows where you’d end up.
So if you’re living your life without a plan, is it any wonder you’re not where you want to be.
Do you even know where you want to be?
You need to make a plan. Have a goal. We mean this seriously. Set aside some time. Preferably at least half an hour or longer, and write it down.
Explain to yourself literally what you want to be, who you want to be. Don’t worry so much about the why. Just describe what your life is like, in as much detail as possible.
Explain where you live, where you work, what you do when you get home, your relationships.
Once you have these goals, work backwards and find out what steps you need to take to start achieving them.
These steps don’t have to be big, either. Make them as tiny as possible, so they’re as easy to achieve.
If you want a new job, for example, you might need more qualifications, so step one might be to buy a book on the subject. Step two could be as small as reading the book for ten minutes a day.
But over time, these tiny steps add up incrementally, and before you know it, you’re somewhere entirely different.
10. You feel like your life is limited
Sometimes, low self esteem can come from issues outside of yourself. If you live a limited life, where you aren’t doing what you want to do, if you feel constrained or closed in, this can make a huge difference in your mental state.
Thankfully, this is the easiest issue to solve, and by making strides here, you can give yourself the freedom and confidence to work on the rest.
What to do about it
Try something new: New things push your boundaries, and your comfort zone, and if there’s one thing low self esteem does, it causes what you’re comfortable with to shrink waaay down.
Start small. If there’s something you’ve been meaning to cook but never got round to, or a book you’ve been wanting to read, treat yourself.
Then step it out. Take a friend or your partner out to that new restaurant you’ve heard about. Try a new hobby or learn a new skill. Hell, strap a parachute on your back and jump out of a plane. Every new skill will break you out of your shell and help you realise that you are a lot more capable than you think you are.
Help out friends and family: When you’re suffering, it’s normal to try and shut yourself away, so you don’t inflict yourself on other people, but this only makes things worse.
Hard as it is, you should try and put yourself out and force yourself to help other people, instead.
This does two things.
One, it drives you to be social, and the positive reinforcement you’ll get from your friends and family can make you feel better.
Two, by doing things like this, you will slowly start to realise that you’re more capable than you think you are, and you can handle difficult situations and the pressures of life.
After all, if you can help other people, you can probably help yourself. Right?
Putting it all together
Low self esteem can a difficult problem to solve, because it affects literally everything you do.
But by following the methods laid out in this article, you can start yourself on the path to confidence and happiness.
Remember, if all else fails, focus on taking the tiniest step forward you can. One tiny step in the right direction is still a step in the right direction, and as long as you can keep making tiny steps, pretty soon you’ll be in a much happier place.