9 Signs of Low Self-Esteem & 10 Ways to Build Confidence

It's easy to brush off low self-esteem as a character trait, or mistake it for humility. But low self-esteem has long-term damaging effects, ranging from smaller-scale occurrences – not speaking up in class or work meetings, for example – to longer-term threats, like relationship problems or self-damaging behavior.

Recognizing the signs of low self-confidence is an important first step in growing confidence; recognizing your own worth is the next one. Here's how to get started with both.

Nine signs of low self-esteem

How often do you stop yourself from speaking your mind, due to fear of embarrassment or being wrong? Do you frequently say "sorry" where an "excuse me" would suffice?

These small self-confidence "blips" can add up, and compound your low sense of self-worth. Here are nine such signs to be aware of, so that you can work on overcoming them (e.g., with a therapist or life coach):

1. Difficulty speaking up and prioritizing your own needs, wants, and feelings

This may be especially prominent in the context of what others want or need.  

2. Saying “I’m sorry” and/or feeling guilty for everyday actions

Feeling guilty for things like taking up space; apologizing for things that you have no control or responsibility for.

3. Not "rocking the boat"

Tendency to follow along with what others are doing, saying, wearing, and going.

4. Not feeling deserving of, or capable of, having “more”

This can lead to unfulfilling (or even toxic) relationships; unsatisfactory or low paying jobs; and overall lower standards.  

5. Difficulty making your own choices

And, after making them, having trouble standing by them.

6. Lack of boundaries

Which can lead to vulnerability and hurt.

7. Doing things or buying gifts excessively for other people

Even for those who wouldn’t appreciate it, in order to feel wanted, needed, recognized.

8. Negative self-perception

Not thinking people would like or accept you for who you are.  

9. Critical, abusive internal dialogue  

Such as talking harshly to yourself, and perpetuating negative self-talk.

10 Ways to Build Confidence

Working on building, or rebuilding, your self-esteem can be done! By working on your self-esteem, you will have much higher satisfaction with yourself  – and reconnect with your own truth and joy.  

1. Seek out professional help

Going to therapy for low self-esteem can help you identify and understand the origin of their low self-esteem.

2. Prioritize exercise that feels good for your body

Even small amounts of movement, such as yoga, can actually boost your serotonin levels in the brain and help you feel calmer, help you make better decisions, feel stronger and feel more in control of your.

3. Put your health first with well-rounded meals  

There is a strong mind-body connection, so when we are feeling healthy physically, it can have a dramatic impact on our self-esteem, as well as how we feel emotionally.

It is, of course, important to be mindful if exercise and eating healthy is becoming extreme, compulsive, interfering with other aspects of life, as this can become detrimental to self-esteem and have other emotional consequences!

4. Make a list of your priorities or goals

Make it a habit to outline your goals each day, week, or month. Try to stick to them so you don’t get derailed by other people’s needs, demands, and requests.

5. Pause and assess before automatically saying “yes” to a request

Is this something you can do, want to do? Ask yourself: Am I saying yes because this is something I actually want to do or just so this person will like me/need me/approve of me?

6. Start lifting yourself up!

Leave love notes to yourself around your home, office, car or any other space that you spend a lot of time in. For example, I am beautiful, I am confident, I am successful, I am worthy! (Because you are). Before long, these affirmations will not feel foreign to you – and you will start to feel it and believe it!

7. Start meditating, using positive affirmations

There are a lot of free apps that you can choose from, such as ThinkUp and Shine.

8. Notice, and try to limit, when you are comparing yourself to others

Ask yourself, why is it that what this person is doing/saying/wearing matters to me so much? A concrete way to minimize this is to reduce exposure to social media.

9. Find your favorite way to unwind, relax, and pamper yourself  

This is a wonderful way to invest in yourself and honor your worth.

10. Replace “I’m sorry” with more situationally-appropriate interjections

Such as “excuse me” or “beg your pardon,” where appropriate.

Or, depending on the situation, replace sorry with "thank you" – such as “thank you so much for your patience" when you're running late.

Work with a therapist to boost self-esteem

Understanding where your low self-esteem stems from can help you move away from some of the internally-perpetuating patterns, and towards self-acceptance.

Working with a therapist is a great way to identify and capitalize on your strengths, and pave the way for self-empowerment.