Self-esteem, quite simply, is how you feel about yourself. It’s the subjective self-evaluation of your own worth. Low self-esteem culls all those self-perceptions that are negative and presents them as a diminished sense of self.
The person with low self-esteem lacks confidence and often feels unlovable, awkward and incompetent. S/he also tends to be hypersensitive, with a fragile, easily wounded sense of self.
If you have a low self-esteem, you have probably carried it with you from childhood.
Experiences like rejection, disappointment and disapproval may have deep roots in your life. If so, you are likely to be hypervigilant and hyper-alert to threats of those experiences in your adult life.
The tragedy of this sensitivity — this fear of making mistakes, of doing something embarrassing, offensive or unacceptable — is that life itself becomes a threat. You become your own worst critic as you observe and then judge your own thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
Low self-esteem, by its very nature, makes you seek to avoid threats from the outside that you are already living on the inside. You fear being judged. But you harshly judge yourself. You fear being rejected. But you have already rejected yourself. You fear being unloved. But you don’t even love yourself.
Avoiding difficult — even potentially difficult — situations is just safer. If you were your own ally, you wouldn’t worry about what others think, say or do. You would be your own advocate. You would make your life safe to live.
And so you avoid life…because the extent to which you engage with life and others is a direct reflection of your self-perception.
What are some of the signs of low self-esteem? Here is a ‘short list.’
- You socially withdraw.
Finding a corner at the party feels safer than engaging in conversation. “No one wants to hear what I have to say, anyway.”
- You defer your own thoughts and opinions to those of others.
Because you don’t trust yourself, you assume that others must know better than you, even when it comes to your own wants and needs.
- You can’t make decisions…or stick to them.
“I don’t care. You decide.” Even the smallest decisions can leave those around you wanting to scream, “Make up your mind!”
- You lack boundaries.
You may not think that withdrawing into your own corner of the world could be a violation of boundaries. But if the reason that you don’t engage, respond or express yourself honestly is that you are making assumptions about what others think, then you are out of bounds.
Even the mind has boundaries, and your only rightful access to someone else’s thoughts is to ask and listen. And that means you have to risk engaging.
- You feel shame.
Healthy shame says, “I made a mistake.” Toxic shame says, “I am a mistake.” If you have low self-esteem, you likely feel toxic shame at your core. And that will show up in ways like avoiding eye contact, slouching and insecure body language.
- You give up too soon.
Because you lack both the motivation and confidence to take risks and see them through, you throw in the towel on projects and dreams.
How, then, can you overcome a low self-esteem? Is doing so even possible?
Two key components are essential for taking control of your self-perception and bringing it out of the negative into the positive.
The first is to stop the moving train of your inner critic. You will never be able to turn your thoughts upward if you don’t first stop their downward spiral.
Stop listening to your inner critic. Learn to recognize when you are thinking negative thoughts, then choose not to listen. The goal is to stop the shame spiral — to put the brakes on the runaway train.
The second component is to practice self-compassion. Research has shown that self-compassion is even better for mental health than self-esteem. Treat yourself with the same kindness that you would extend to a friend who is suffering.
Within these two healing components are a wealth of specific strategies for elevating your self-esteem.
But in one way or another, they all come down to stopping and challenging what isn’t right, true or loving to yourself. Only then can you take positive steps that honor what is right, true…and worth loving about yourself.
If low self-esteem is holding you back from your life, we can guide you into a healthy sense of self that will restore your life’s vitality. You can reach us here.