Ashish, a 33-year-old marketing professional, is described by his friends as hard-driven with a go-get-it attitude. Having struggled to scale the ladder for seven years, his mantra is ‘work till your limits’. He finds time to spend with his friends, but does not like to talk about his personal life. Although he’s a super-achiever for his age, Ashish has low self-esteem; he has never come around his ‘inferiority complex’ of coming from a poor rural family.
Like Ashish, many people’s behaviour is coloured by past experiences. Such experiences are the root cause of poor self-esteem or inferiority complex. In order for us to reach our potential, we need to leave our past behind and develop our self-esteem.
Identifying the signs and symptoms of poor self-esteem
It may be difficult to identify poor self-esteem, and you may require professional help to identify it in yourself. However, there are some telltale signs that can help spot the poor self-esteem:
1. Poor self-image
Those with a poor self-image highlight their deficits or negative qualities. They are often dissatisfied with some aspect of themselves. “I’m not as good”, “I’m a complete misfit”, “how much ever I try, I don’t meet the standards” and “I’m defective” are typical beliefs that point towards this tendency.
2. Unresolved past
Some people constantly live in the past, brood over their mistakes and failures and do not forgive themselves. In elderly individuals, this may manifest as an existential crisis characterised by a sense of feeling unfulfilled, incompleteness and waste of life.
3. Rejection sensitivity
Individuals with low self-esteem crave acceptance by others. Yet, when others show interest in liking in them, they are unable to deal with it. Due to this extreme sensitivity to rejection, they are sometimes unable to develop intimate relationships or deliver public performances like presentations or speeches.
4. Inability to take compliments
Compliments cause anxiety in those with low self-esteem and set them thinking whether others really mean it. Such people are notorious about not taking compliments gracefully; they might brush it off, seem off-guard, or even reply sarcastically. In fact, they are more prone to remember negative remarks and be influenced by them rather than praises and compliments.
5. Inability to explore the unknown
Due to their lack of self-confidence, these individuals tend to harbour a loss-oriented mindset. This makes them unable to take risks and, in turn, stick to their ‘negativity hypothesis’.
6. Lack of assertiveness
For people with low self-esteem, saying “No” becomes a matter of risk, because they fear that if they turn someone down, they might offend the person or get rejected in return. Their craving for acceptance and approval by others makes them unassertive and they end up complaining that everybody uses them or takes advantage of them.
You need to introspect
Identifying poor self-esteem is a matter of introspection and requires a great deal of self-awareness. Such individuals may be defensive about accepting that they might be suffering from poor self-esteem, although they constantly harbour self-doubts.
The symptoms of poor self-esteem can be evident or latent, depending on the person. It may not always manifest as low self-confidence and poor self-image. Sometimes, individuals having a deep-rooted issue with their self-esteem may manifest an inflated sense of self: they might imagine themselves to be the best, the greatest, too good for others and so on. Such individuals have the tendency to talk too much, and like to flaunt their achievements, subtly and overtly trying to prove their “superiority” to self and others.
8 steps healthy self-esteem
To introspect effectively, you need to be brutally honest with yourself. If you do so, and discover signs and symptoms of poor self-esteem in yourself, you can make conscious changes to your mindset by tuning your beliefs and choosing your associations with care. Here are a few steps that can help you get started.
1. Identify positive traits and talents in yourself
Those with healthy self-esteem know what they are good at. List your talents and strengths and capitalise on them.
2. Avoid bottling up your feelings
Discuss your feelings with close friends rather than bottling them up. As far as possible, surround yourself with positive people who encourage you; avoid those who discourage you or are overly critical of your thoughts and endeavours.
3. Avoid comparison
Avoid comparing yourself with others, unless you are doing it positively—to derive inspiration rather than to beat yourself up. Remember, you are unique — neither more nor less than others.
4. List your positive traits
Listing your strengths will increase your self-confidence. Positive self-talk is conducive to self-development. Make it a point to pat yourself on the back for every small or big achievement. And when you don’t do well, remember that all humans are fallible and “failure” is par for the course.
5. Do mirror exercises
Stand in front of a mirror and simulate social situations. Practise saying “thank you” upon receiving a compliment and social skills like eye-contact, smiling, greeting. Also practise assertiveness-skills like refusing politely or saying “No”.
6. Work on your goal-setting
Set and revise goals to make them realistic and achievable. [Read You are limited only by your imagination for guided imagery technique to help you with goal setting]
7. Train yourself to deal with difficult situations
Identify situations which induce anxiety and rehearse ways of handling them. [Read Coping with anxiety: 10 things you can do to help yourself right now]
8. Read books on personal growth
Reading books that help you grown in self-awareness can help you become more confident of yourself.
9. Learn from others
Befriend people who have overcome poor self-esteem. This will foster self-acceptance and forgiveness that will help resolve your past.
“Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”
— Louise L. Hay