Many who struggle with perpetually low self-esteem experience the situation as something that they simply have to tolerate and bear, as if it were a chronic health condition. The fact is, finding the path to positive self-esteem is a skill people develop.
Do you struggle with low self-esteem? Here are four ways to find out.
1. You rarely (if ever) feel "unselfconscious.
If you struggle with not feeling good enough, then you are likely hyper-attentive to how you come across to others. When in social interactions, you find yourself preoccupied with how others are perceiving you. And you tend toward consistently, negative, conclusions—“not smart enough,” “awkward,” “not funny,” “boring,” “unattractive.”
As a result, it’s impossible to be comfortable in your own skin. You have to gear up for social outings and, yet, on your own you feel lonely and worthless. At the same time, you have a sense of invisibility, as if others don’t really see you as you are. In a way, your instinct is correct. Being painfully self-conscious means you are preoccupied, not present. You are ill-at-ease, looking over your shoulder, waiting for the other shoe to drop, and that leads others in your life to misunderstand you or fail to know you in a meaningful way.
2. You hyper-obsess about your relationships.
Feeling unworthy means you essentially exist in an emotionally impoverished state. Deep down, you believe you are unworthy. And you dread that others will inevitably discover your secret, flawed nature.
So, you work overtime to protect the relationships you do have. Small conflicts or disagreement cause you big hardship. When relationships hit awkward or difficult periods, even if only slight, it feels to you that your entire world is caving in. Because of that, you work painstakingly to ensure that difficulties never arise. You back down too easily, you take responsibility when maybe you shouldn’t, and you are always the first to cave or to seek forgiveness.
3. When setbacks hit, you self-defeat.
When you encounter the normative setbacks that all human’s experience — job loss, work strain, negative feedback, grief, loss, or financial hardship — your coping strategy is to blame yourself. You become so flooded by shame and negative thoughts about yourself that you are unable to take in valuable feedback or problem-solve so as to mitigate the situation at hand. In this way, setbacks accumulate becoming more permanent and more defeating.
4. You’re chronically indecisive.
You rarely have the feeling that you know exactly what to do—a kind of “know it in your bones” type of thing. Instead you self-doubt, analyze, and scrutinize all of your life’s decisions. In addition, you ask others around you for their opinions and overly solicit reassurance. Sometimes you see that your decisions don’t accurately reflect who you are, but your fear of making a mistake keeps you stuck in this pattern.
In my workbook, "Building Self-Esteem 5 Steps: How to Feel “Good Enough," I outline specific, doable, steps for overcoming self-doubt and insecurity. If you are seeing yourself in the above descriptors, know that self-esteem can be improved. You don’t have to live out a life where you are always the flawed party.
Jill Weber, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in Washington, DC, and author of "Building Self-Esteem 5 Steps: How to Feel "Good Enough" and Breaking Up and Divorce 5 Steps: How to Heal and be Comfortable Alone.