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While low self-esteem may feel like a problem that you left behind in your young adult years, adults suffer from it just as much as pre-teens and teenagers do. It can be hard to spot in adulthood because, sometimes, you’ve dealt with it so long that you just consider those thoughts and feelings to be normal.
And while low self-esteem is normal – people all over the world struggle with it daily – it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t seek help if it’s harming your well-being. If you or a loved one seems to be suffering from low self-esteem, it’s important to recognize where it comes from, what it looks like, and how you can try to improve your mental health and quality of life.
You feel like silence is rejection
One big sign of low self-esteem for adults is feeling like silence from someone, specifically someone you talk to regularly, is a rejection or means that they are upset with you. This kind of situation connects with the need to feel validated by other people, so when someone is seemingly “ignoring” you, you take it as an indication that they are uninterested in you.
While in your head you might recognize the truth – that silence may just mean someone is busy and will get back to you later when they have the time to respond properly – it is still easy to let these small moments spiral into self-deprecating thinking. You may believe that no one actually likes you or that people are only around you because they want something from you. Many times this is not true and is just your anxiety talking, so make sure to communicate these feelings with your loved ones if they happen.
You worry too much about what people think about you
A huge clue that you may be experiencing low self-esteem is by worrying too much about what people think of you. While it may seem like this kind of worry or concern is mainly experienced by pre-teens or teenagers trying to impress their classmates, even adults feel concerned about what people think about them.
We are constantly trying to make a good impression on the people around us – prospective romantic interests, new friends, or employers and coworkers. When your concerns about coming off positively spiral into constant anxiety that they are thinking or speaking badly about you, this could be an indicator that you are suffering from low self-esteem. Some people genuinely don’t mind what others think of them, and they are able to live fulfilling and peaceful lives as they are only worried about the happiness of themselves and the people they genuinely care about.
You build your personality to please others
Riding off the last point, when our self-esteem is so low that we are constantly worried about what others think of us, it is easy to fall into the habit of “choosing” personality traits that are more appealing to the people around us. While we tell ourselves we’re not lying about who we are or creating fake personas because all the characteristics we present are genuinely our own, we still sugar-coat ourselves to make it easier for someone else to like us.
There’s nothing wrong with having different faces for different people and occasions – you don’t have to be 100% genuine and vulnerable with everyone you meet all the time. However, a huge problem with building your personality around other people is that you start to lose touch with what is really you and what is a part of the “easier to swallow” you. My therapist once referred to this as the “real” you and the “fake” you. While the person people know you as isn’t a misguided image, you will never know if the real you is as problematic or unlikable as you think if you never show that part of yourself to anyone.
You have a hard time making boundaries and saying no
While it may seem unexpected or surprising (or maybe not), struggling to form boundaries and saying no is a major sign of low self-esteem. It goes back to needing everyone’s approval – you don’t want to disappoint anyone with a boundary or seemingly negative comment because they may not like you anymore. By saying no, you are displeasing someone else, and obviously it’s better to put yourself into a slightly uncomfortable position rather than lose that external validation…right?
However, boundaries are both a healthy and necessary way of taking care of yourself and your needs. Setting boundaries helps you to protect yourself and make sure that you aren’t overworked or treated badly, and if you’re not willing to create and adhere to boundaries that make you feel more comfortable, then life will always seem a little more difficult or stressful than it needs to be.
You struggle with accepting compliments
Another clue that you might deal with low self-esteem is that it’s hard for you to accept a compliment. No matter how genuine the person complimenting you may seem or how small the compliment is, you will always find a way to downplay it or twist it away from yourself as though you are undeserving of it.
For example, I went into an appointment with my therapist once where she complimented how I had braided my hair and told me that it looked professionally done. My first instinct (after I thanked her for the compliment) was to say, “Ahh, yeah, it looks good today because my hair was cooperating. But I can only do braids on myself, I can’t do them on other people.” While this seemed like a genuine and normal response to me, my therapist pointed out that I didn’t really accept the compliment – instead, I downplayed my accomplishments by saying what I couldn’t do.
You are worthy of being told you are good, and if someone wants to give you a compliment that comes from a kind place, it’s okay to accept it.
When you’re overwhelmed, you pull away from the people around you
One of the worst parts about having low self-esteem is that when life is particularly bad or hard, your first instinct may be to pull away from the people who care about you. This is mainly because you don’t want them to see you in a “negative” light – i.e. sad, anxious, stressed, etc. – and you would prefer to sulk in silence than let them see your less shiny characteristics.
It’s okay to want or need time for yourself when going through a difficult situation, but make sure that it’s for self-care purposes and not because you think people won’t like you if you’re not as bubbly and fun as you normally are. Everyone needs help sometimes and we all have bad moments, so it’s okay to open up and be vulnerable with the people who love and care for you.
You’re sensitive to being criticized
While it may seem a little backward since low self-esteem often leads to countless self-criticisms, having low self-esteem may also make you sensitive to external opinions that seem negative. Many times, this is because you feel as though criticisms from others are only proof that you were right in believing you weren’t good enough. Nobody wants to feel that way or hear that, so it’s easy to feel hurt by critical comments.
People with low self-esteem are particularly weary of situations where they feel like they’re disappointing someone, and oftentimes it’s easier to take a more defensive tactic than to allow yourself to be sad or emotional about it. You’re not really angry that you were criticized, though – you’re angry because you feel like it’s the world telling you that you’re not doing enough no matter how hard you work.
But criticism is necessary for growth, and more often than not someone giving you comments for improvement only wants to see you evolve into the person you have all the potential to be. You can choose to accept it or you can choose to let it alone, but don’t allow it to take over your mind and tear you down.
Do you know of any more signs of low self-esteem in adults? Tell us in the comments!
About Draven Jackson
Draven is an avid writer and reader who enjoys sharing her opinions on movies, books, and music with the rest of the world. She will soon be working as a teacher in Japan and hopes to use her experience to connect with other teachers and students around the globe. Draven spends most of her time at home with her family, her dogs, and her ferret.
To see more, view all posts by Draven Jackson here.