The effects of low self esteem can be painful and varied. How it shows up in one person may be different to how it shows up in another.
Like a vicious circle, the signs of poor self esteem are quite often the same behaviours that cause it. For example, lack of assertiveness, self-doubt, excessive self criticism and lack of self awareness all contribute to low self esteem and are also signs of it.
Other indicators are anxiety, insecurity, and feelings of being unhappy and discontent with your life. Feeling unable to cope, fear of the unknown and a tendency to put yourself and other people down can also signal poor self esteem.
It can also be seen in trying too hard to control things, taking on too much or trying to avoid responsibility. Aggressive as well as unassertive and passive aggressive behaviour can indicate low self esteem, and feeling humiliated at admitting a mistake is also a sign.
There is another, sneakier, way that low self esteem can operate in your life. It is sometimes called pseudo self esteem.
When you don't trust your own abilities or feel confident, you tend to avoid opportunities that seem too challenging. Sitting on the sidelines means you don't make a fool of yourself, but you also tend to miss out on the fun and experience of participating. You also don't give yourself the opportunity to have the success experiences that confidence is built on.
By sticking only with what is easy, or what you know, you keep your circle of experience really small. You may grow older with whole areas of untapped potential that you never explore. That is why one method for improving low self esteem is to get to know your real capabilities by trying new things.
Because poor self esteem often goes hand-in-hand with a lack of self awareness it can, strangely enough, also sometimes result in aiming too high. The result is often failure and embarrassment. For example, not knowing their own abilities and limitations can result in someone trying out for a national pop competition when they don't have much singing ability. Watching it on TV you may think it weird that they don't know how terrible they are, but you must know that they didn't get to this opinion entirely on their own. They had help of the wrong sort.
Sometimes we have dreams and cling onto them in spite of signs that we are not cut out for something. We ignore what we don't want to hear. Unfortunately, well-meaning parents or friends can reinforce skewed perceptions by praising poor performances. The intention might be to avoid discouraging the person, but providing inaccurate feedback is very unhelpful.
While encouragement is good, a great disservice is done to a person when they are given false praise and told they have done well when they have not. This is particularly harmful when that person is prone to mistrusting their own opinions. They might override their own inner doubts, believing what they have been told, e.g. you're an amazing singer! Only to have their hopes and confidence crushed in a publicly embarrassing failure.
Failure can teach useful lessons, but trying and succeeding is a more effective way of building confidence and self-esteem. False praise merely clouds self awareness. And lowered self awareness supports low self esteem.
The closer you get to the reality of who you truly are, the most solid your self esteem is.
It is much better to give someone kind, but accurate feedback. Having a true idea of your capabilities helps you take the right actions e.g. getting voice training to improve your singing, or if this doesn't help - taking up guitar instead. In this way you set your sights on realistic targets and increase your chances of success.
With each real success you learn to rely on yourself a little more. You add to your confidence in your abilities and increase your trust in yourself and your decision-making. This improves self esteem.
Parents who want to avoid contributing to low self esteem in children should focus on providing honest, helpful and encouraging feedback together with a large dose of loving acceptance when things go wrong. Acknowledging what the child does well and helping them to accept their weaker areas is good. Helping a child develop their own ability to accurately evaluate things is even better.
Low self esteem is not always the main cause, but can contribute to the following:
If you are dealing with loneliness or trying to overcome jealousy, low self esteem might also be playing a role in your life.
On the plus side, almost all of these are to some degree learned behaviour. And because we are learning and re-learning all the time, this means with the right level of motivation, insight and perseverance, any of the above can be changed.