There are many signs of low self-esteem, some of which are often suppressed by other attributes. But the most significant ones are the following, in order of importance and their ability to cause damage:
1. Guilt. This often takes the form of self-torture. Seeing your actions as unforgivable, your imperfections as permanent and believing improvement is impossible.
2. Fear and uncertainty. The hallmark of non-confident people is naked fear which they wear like a welcome sign on themselves. They fear everything for a host of reasons. They fear making mistakes, upsetting others or becoming ill. They fear not having material things and not living up to the expectations of someone else. They fear people gossiping and their secrets being known. They fear not being liked, being abnormal and having permanent or terminal illnesses. They fear being hurt, any kind of responsibility for their destiny and, of course, they fear change itself. They fear even being themselves, because of the risk of disapproval from the significant others they value or wish to impress.
Fears are fed and maintained by negative experiences, a lack of self-love, lack of self-belief and an absence of trust. People driven by fear are plagued by self-doubt, submissiveness, over-conformity, isolation, sensitivity to criticism, acute distrust, feelings of inferiority, being unloved or rejected. Based on an unrealistic assumption of perfection in others, this fear mainly shuts off the individual from essential social contact, leaving them feeling isolated and alone. This isolation is noticeable when we put ourselves above others and label them in negative ways to boost our individual egos.
3. Self-Shame. Keeping secrets about yourself which then makes you feel ‘awful’, ‘disgusting’, ‘weird’, ‘stupid’, ‘ugly’ or unworthy, especially as you would believe yourself to be the only one with such experiences.
4. Trying to be a perfect person. True self-confidence means an acceptance of your being, warts and all, with no desire to be anyone else. If you do not accept yourself, who on earth is going to accept you?
5. Unforgiving, unrealistic expectation of perfection in others. They never quite come up to your standard so, indirectly, they are not worth your acknowledgement, your attention, recognition, reward or forgiveness. However, such behaviour says more about a lack of trust in our own abilities and low self-esteem than about the capabilities of others.
6. Lack of trust . When you are isolated, it is easy to believe you have a monopoly of a given emotion or situation. When you never engage others honestly, it is hard for them to open their hearts to you. Yet, without openness, you do not get any feedback because others cannot relate to you. You also never discover that others struggle with the same problems as you do, nor do you learn their solutions, which might be helpful to you. Genuine communication proves there is nothing to be ashamed of in life itself. We are all humans who have to travel the same road together with all our imperfections. Life is more enriching, meaningful and enjoyable when we are more supportive and compassionate along the journey.
7. A focus on your perceived limits. This replaces the focus on your potential and the possibilities for growth and improvement. In this way you seldom welcome or enjoy new experience and also remain in the same fearful state wondering why you never achieve what you really want.
8. Misplaced humility. Not regarding yourself as equal to others, but actually less than they are. Humility is a positive quality. It avoids false pride and is often driven by active compassion for others. A lack of self-confidence is often self-centred (feeling sorry for yourself and looking for excuses not to change your situation). This only prevents positive action and personal growth.
9. Feeling constantly depressed. Indulging in self-pity and negative thoughts of your past without any action, particularly to abdicate responsibility, to seek attention or to control/punish others. Depression keeps you in regret without change.
10. Always anticipating and predicting what happens next. This is often done in a negative way. Without even listening to what is being said, you will tell others exactly what you think they are about to tell you, or inform them of how things will develop, and what needs to be done, even without familiarity with the subject area.
11. Believing that the world is a ‘bad place’. But the world has both good and bad aspects. Our world is often a mirror of what we think of ourselves. A negative world image and poor self-image are connected because they simply reflect what we fear, especially as our own negative actions do not add anything to the positivity we crave. The world is what we make it. If it is bad, it’s down to each of us to do our bit to make it better. For example, if everyone ignores one child behaving badly on a housing estate, because they can’t be bothered, they regard it as nothing to do with them or fear the consequences of addressing the behaviour, as night follows day that child will gradually attract a group who wishes to join in the ‘fun’ and will wreak havoc on everyone. This also confirms our negative perception of our world. Evil only gets worse when we fear or ignore it.
12. Scepticism and being over-critical. An unrealistic expectation of perfection which assumes that if you are not perfect, you are worthless. Scepticism and cynicism (sometimes labelled ‘crystallised forms of anger’) are often detrimental, as they encourage you to feel superior by focusing only on the faults of others. They rarely allow you to enjoy yourself or to accept people as they are.
13. Idolising people. Overestimating the worth of others and putting them on a pedestal, which easily leads to underestimating and downgrading yourself. It also leaves you floundering in a state of perceived inadequacy as you try to measure up in a futile way.
How many of these factors actually affect you now? Most people have to contend with up to six or seven, with the most confident among us having up to three, maximum. If you find yourself with eight or more, you need to start working, urgently, on how you feel about yourself, because that dictates how others perceive you and treat you and, indirectly, the level of success and influence you can expect.