What Does Low Self--Esteem Look Like?
Updated: Nov 17
***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical, legal, or health advice and is not a substitute for mental health services
Low self-esteem can affect many people and show up in different ways. The intent of this article is to explain the various ways it can impact you so that you can learn to recognize it and, in turn, begin your journey to rebuild your self-esteem so that you learn to love, respect, and appreciate yourself for who you are.
In my body
When you are feeling low about yourself, you may observe some physical and physiological signs, including:
anxiety-related symptoms, such as:
- rapid breathing
- fast heart rate
depression-related symptoms, such as:
- low appetite
- slowed movement
These bodily signals are like clues that could be activated in certain situations when you feel rejected, dismissed, or inadequate or when you are in performance-based scenarios and worry about being judged or criticized.
Learning to recognize these signs as they occur can help you realize what is happening to you in the moment and enable you to calm yourself down with relaxation or mindfulness strategies (e.g. deep breathing, meditation, grounding techniques, calming music, visualization, etc.).
In my feelings
If you are suffering from low self-esteem, you might experience some of the following emotions on a regular basis:
These deep feelings can be hard to go through and they may be heightened when you feel triggered. Consider the following examples: you feel guilty for not doing enough for a loved one; you feel shameful or embarrassed when you think you did something wrong; you feel sadness around not being able to achieve your goals; you feel excluded or feel that you don’t belong; you feel anxious or overwhelmed by a task and believe you are incapable of doing it successfully; you feel stressed because you think you cannot cope.
As you can see, there is a broad range of feelings you might go through depending on the particular situation and what triggers it – be aware of what comes up for you. It may help to journal about your feelings to gain more clarity regarding your emotions as awareness is often the first step towards making positive changes in your life.
In my thoughts
In addition to a variety of feelings connected with low self-worth, you might observe that you think in a certain way about yourself.
These thoughts may sound like:
ignoring your strengths, skills, and abilities
not being able to see the positives in a difficult situation
finding self-compassion challenging to implement
not accepting compliments from others
Your thoughts may involve thinking that you are stupid, unloveable, unworthy, incapable, unable, and any number of things that do not factor in what is good about you.
You may blame yourself when something goes wrong even if it has nothing to do with you or is due to circumstances outside of your control. You may doubt your ability to do something even if you have skills in that specific area. You might make fun of yourself regularly and try to mask it as being funny but, deep down, you believe the negative things you are saying about yourself are true.
You could also find it hard to recognize what could go well in a difficult situation or disregard what you have done to help something go better than it would if you weren’t a part of it. You could also disregard any positive comments you receive from others about how you helped them and find other reasons about why things worked out that don’t involve you.
These negative thoughts about yourself can go a long way towards shaping how you perceive yourself or your role in a given situation. This skewed interpretation often factors you out of it and serves to keep you stuck in a repetitive, negative thought pattern.
Learning how to reframe your thoughts in a way that allows for a more balanced view and using positive affirmations (e.g. “I am loveable”, “I am good enough just as I am”, “I am worthy”, etc.) can be part of a cognitive strategy for changing how you see yourself with practice and over a period of time.
In my behaviour
If you are feeling badly about yourself, you may notice that this can be reflected in how you behave and act.
These behaviours and actions can look like:
difficulty speaking up for your needs
challenges setting healthy boundaries
having a hard time prioritizing yourself
In this context, you may hold yourself back from trying new things for fear of failure, overly apologize and take responsibility for things that are not your fault, be hesitant when speaking with others, have challenges being direct, firm, and clear in your communication (for example, when explaining your needs or developing boundaries), and have difficulty putting yourself first such that other people’s preferences carry a heavier weight than your own.
However, you have the power to change these behaviours and actions by testing out a new approach that factors you into the equation at front and center. For example, you can try replacing “I’m sorry” when you did nothing wrong with a “thanks for being understanding”, practicing assertive statements, asking for what you want, and adjusting your posture – put your head up and your shoulders back – to exude more confidence. Trying some of these behaviour changes in a gradual way can help you develop a new way of relating to others that shows you matter and that you are important.
In this article, you learned about how low self-esteem can affect you in terms of how you feel in your body, the types of thoughts that may cross your mind, how you act in your daily life, and the kinds of emotions you may experience as you face difficult situations.
Low self-esteem may feel impossible to overcome in the moment but making a conscious effort to redefine how you see yourself by changing how you think, how you behave, and learning to accept yourself for who you are can allow for a new healthy self-perception to emerge.
And, for some, seeking professional help to increase self-awareness and learn how to change negative thinking and behaviour patterns can all be part of a plan for starting to see yourself in a positive light and approaching the world with renewed confidence.
Wishing you well on your mental health journey.
Davina Tiwari MSW, RSW, CSFT Registered Social Worker and Certified Solution Focused Therapist
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