People who lack self-esteem often display these 7 behaviors (without realizing it)

Tina Fey by Tina Fey | May 30, 2024, 10:02 pm

Self-esteem is a tricky thing. When it’s high, you feel on top of the world, ready to conquer anything that comes your way. But when it’s low, well… things can get a little tricky.

Having low self-esteem isn’t just about feeling down; it’s about the behaviors that result from those feelings. These behaviors often portray our self-image to the people around us, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy – and yet they can easily go unnoticed by the person displaying them.

As someone who has worked with countless individuals navigating their relationships, I’ve seen these behaviors first-hand. And I’ve seen how they can affect our relationships without our knowledge.

This article will shed some light on the behaviors often displayed by people with low self-esteem. My hope is that this awareness can help us understand each other better and foster more compassionate relationships, including the one with ourselves.

Remember, self-esteem is not a fixed trait; it can be improved with time and effort. So let’s dive in and uncover these 7 often-unrealized behaviors.

1) They apologize… excessively

Ever notice how some people seem to be constantly saying “I’m sorry”? Even for things that aren’t their fault or responsibility?

This is a common trait among people with low self-esteem. They realize they’re apologizing, of course, but to them this doesn’t feel out of place because they actually feel responsible for things going wrong, even when they have little to no control over the situation.

Apologizing can sometimes be a way of seeking reassurance. It’s like they’re saying, “I’m sorry, please don’t be mad at me.” It’s a defense mechanism, a way of trying to maintain harmony and avoid potential conflict.

But constant apologizing can also be a sign of feeling inferior or unworthy. It’s as if they’re expecting people to look at them poorly.

The key here is the word “excessively”. It’s perfectly fine to apologize when you’ve done something wrong. But everyone makes mistakes, and it’s not necessary to apologize for every little thing.

2) They’re often overly kind

Now, you might be thinking, “What’s wrong with being kind?” Absolutely nothing! Kindness is a beautiful and essential trait. But just like anything else, too much of it can be indicative of an underlying issue.

People with low self-esteem often go overboard in their efforts to please others. They might constantly put the needs and desires of others before their own, sometimes to their own detriment.

They do this because they’re seeking approval and validation. They believe that if they can make others happy, then they’ll be liked and accepted. But this often comes at a heavy cost – their own happiness and well-being.

Counterintuitively, this behavior isn’t always about altruism; it’s often an attempt to feel better about themselves. It’s a coping mechanism they use to combat feelings of worthlessness.

It’s important to recognize this behavior so that we avoid taking advantage of others in this position – or putting ourselves in such a position.

3) They struggle to accept compliments

When someone compliments us, it’s a positive affirmation of our worth or our abilities. But for someone with low self-esteem, that affirmation clashes with their own negative self-perception. They simply can’t believe it’s true, so they dismiss it or downplay it.

I’ve seen this time and time again in my work. Someone compliments a client of mine and they instantly brush it off, saying something like, “Oh, it was nothing” or “I’m not really that good.” It’s as if they’re uncomfortable with the idea that they could be worthy of praise.

Now, in my book Breaking The Attachment: How To Overcome Codependency in Your Relationship, I go into more detail about how this kind of behavior can impact your relationships and what you can do to overcome it.

But for now, just remember: if you notice someone routinely dismissing compliments, it might be a sign that they’re struggling with their self-esteem.

4) They avoid eye contact

Eye contact is a powerful form of nonverbal communication. It can convey confidence, interest, and respect. But not everyone feels comfortable with it – such as people with low self-esteem. On the contrary, maintaining eye contact can feel incredibly uncomfortable.

So what do they do instead? They may look down, away, or anywhere else but into your eyes.

The reason for this is simple: eye contact can feel very intimate and revealing. It’s like allowing someone to see into your soul. For someone who is constantly battling feelings of self-doubt or unworthiness, that can be a scary prospect.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” And there’s a lot of truth to that. But when you’re struggling with low self-esteem, it can be hard to remember your own worth.

5) They’re always second-guessing themselves

Have you ever met someone who seems incapable of making a decision? They constantly question their choices, even over the smallest things. For some people, this constant self-doubt is a clear sign of low self-esteem.

In my years of working with individuals, I’ve seen how this self-doubt can take a toll. It’s mentally exhausting and perpetuates a cycle of negative self-talk and indecision.

What’s the reason for this behavior? It’s because people with low self-esteem often struggle with trust – specifically, trusting themselves. They doubt their abilities and question their judgment, which makes decision-making a source of stress and anxiety.

It’s important to remember that it’s okay to make mistakes. In fact, it’s through making mistakes that we learn and grow. So let go of the need to make the perfect decision, and just make the best one you can.

You might find it helpful to remember this fantastic quote by Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

6) They’re perfectionists

Perfectionism is often seen as a positive trait. After all, who doesn’t want to strive for the best? 

But there’s a dark side to it that I’ve seen in many individuals I’ve worked with. They set unrealistically high standards for themselves and beat themselves up when they can’t meet them.

It’s a never-ending cycle of setting high expectations, failing to meet them, and then feeling bad about oneself.

This type of behavior often stems from a fear of failure or rejection. These individuals are full of doubt and fear that they’re not good enough, so they try to be perfect in an attempt to prove their worth.

If you or someone you know is caught in this perfectionist trap, remember that it’s okay to be imperfect. We all are. The key is to strive for progress, not perfection.

7) They constantly compare themselves to others

Social media has made it incredibly easy to compare ourselves to others. We see the highlight reels of people’s lives and start feeling like we don’t measure up. This comparison game is toxic, and it’s particularly harmful for people with low self-esteem.

From personal experience, I can tell you this: it’s a losing game. No one’s life is as perfect as it looks on Instagram. We all have our struggles, our insecurities, our bad days. But when you’re already dealing with low self-esteem, it can be hard to remember that.

People with low self-esteem often use these comparisons as a way to validate their own negative self-perceptions. They look at someone else’s success or happiness and think, “See? I knew I wasn’t good enough.”

The reality is, we’re all on our own unique journeys. We have our own set of strengths, weaknesses, experiences, and challenges. Comparing yourself to someone else is like comparing apples to oranges. It just doesn’t make sense.

So next time you catch yourself looking at the greener grass on the other side, take a step back. Remind yourself that you’re seeing a curated version of someone else’s life, not the full picture.

And most importantly, recall that your worth isn’t determined by how you stack up against someone else.

Wrapping up

Understanding self-esteem and its impact on our behavior is a complex, yet fascinating task. We’ve explored some common behaviors associated with low self-esteem, but it’s essential to remember that we are all unique.

Our experiences, perceptions, and emotions are molded by a multitude of factors, and as such, the behaviors we exhibit may differ widely.

The beauty of this exploration is that it allows us to better understand ourselves and those around us. It empowers us with knowledge, enabling us to extend empathy to ourselves and others, fostering healthier relationships.

To delve deeper into this topic and better understand the complexities of self-esteem and its effects on our behavior, I’d recommend watching this insightful video by Justin Brown.

In it, he explores the concept of “the illusion of happiness” and why chasing it can make us miserable. It’s an eye-opening watch that aligns with the topics we’ve touched on in this article.

YouTube video

Remember, it’s okay to not be okay sometimes. We’re all human, after all. But with understanding and self-compassion, we can recognize these behaviors and work towards building healthier self-esteem.

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