Self esteem: it’s something you need to have a lot of before you succeed and it’s something that no one can give you.

The first step towards high self-esteem is knowing where your current level of self esteem is. Most people don’t know and it can’t be measured just by looking at a person. So how do you gauge where you are at?

For the most part, if you truly believe you can do anything you want and you don’t let criticism or other people’s opinions bother you, I would say you have a high level of self esteem. If you still get shaken when other people criticize you, click here to learn how you can stay calm in the face of criticism.

I never thought of myself as having low self esteem but from my research and experience, I’ve come to recognize that there are times when I show warning signs of low self esteem. Before I tell you what you can do when you see these warning signs, let me share with you the 7 warning signs of low self esteem:

Can’t Handle Praise

People who have low self esteem are uncomfortable and have trouble accepting praise. They usually deflect it or put themselves down. Being Chinese, I can understand that some of this may be cultural but when you make it awkward for someone to praise you, they are going to stop praising you. The easiest way to graciously accept praise is by saying “Thank you”.

Condescending and/or Puts People Down

I used to trash talk a lot when I play basketball. Although most of it is fun and games, a part of it was making myself look good by making others look bad. The same applies for a belligerent boss or a rude customer. Anytime someone looks down on or tries to put down another person (even if they are just “joking”), they are revealing their own insecurities. People with high self esteem respect everyone no matter their background, situation or condition. They tend to make fun of themselves as opposed to other people.

Controlling vs. Empowering

When you try to control someone instead of empowering them, it shows that you feel threatened. Jealous partners who are manipulative and don’t allow their significant others to talk to the opposite sex or to go out and enjoy themselves act this way due to low self esteem. It stems from the fear of losing that person because they don’t feel they are good enough. Those with high self esteem are always looking to give power to other people knowing that they themselves are in full control of their own life.

Can’t Say “No”

I had a big problem with this one. I found it hard to say no when someone would ask me to do something, go somewhere or join some team. It would be ok if it was something I enjoyed doing, but sometimes I would agree to things that I knew I wouldn’t enjoy. I believe some of it comes from being nice and wanting to be helpful but a big part of it comes from wanting to please people. I wanted people to like me because I was basing my self-worth on what others thought about me and this is a sure sign of low self esteem. If you want to build your self esteem, learn to say “no” when you really want to say “no”.

Being Indecisive

When you can’t decide, there are usually a few reasons: You don’t want to take responsibility for making the wrong decision, you believe that what you want is not as important as what someone else wants and/or you really don’t know what to do. Apart from not knowing what to do, the other reasons are warning signs of low self esteem. Anytime you feel that you are not as important as someone else or you don’t deserve something, you are lowering your esteem. People with high self esteem are decisive because they understand that their opinion is worth just as much as anyone else’s even if they are with high-profile people like the President of the United States.

Blames Others

The inability to accept responsibility is a telltale sign of low self-esteem. This shows up when someone is indecisive and when they blame other people. People blame others because they believe what you do is who you are which means when you make a mistake, you somehow diminish yourself. They don’t realize by blaming others, they have made themselves powerless by becoming a victim of circumstance.

How many times have you heard or maybe even said:

“I was late because of stupid train delays.”,

“I didn’t get promoted because I don’t schmooze with my managers.” or

“I can’t find a job because of the economy.”

Although these may be valid reasons, people with strong self-esteem do not focus on the external factor that may have caused the undesired result but rather spend their energy thinking of ways to achieve the outcome that they want. They don’t put themselves down for making a mistake, they just learn from the experience and move on.

Overly Apologetic

How do you tell if a presenter/speaker is not confident?

The first words they say is “I’m sorry.” even though they haven’t done anything to be sorry for. They are apologizing for being there because perhaps they believe someone better should be in their place. If you ever catch yourself apologizing for no good reason, be aware that something or someone is causing you to lower your self-esteem.

Apologies are important but should be reserved for the occasions when you make a mistake. In all other cases, don’t apologize.

So what do you do if you are showing warning signs of low self esteem?

Recognize that:

Self esteem is just a belief. It takes as much effort to believe you have low self esteem as it does to believe you have high self esteem. All you need to do when experiencing low self esteem is to change your belief about yourself. Remember that no one can give or take away your self esteem.

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.”  -Thich Nhat Hanh

How do you spot low self esteem?

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Robert Chen

Robert Chen is the founder of Embrace Possibility and author of The Dreams to Reality Fieldbook. He helps people who feel stuck move forward by guiding them to see other possibilities for their lives. He specializes in working with high performers get to the next level. If you're going through a tough time right now, check out Robert's article on How to Feel Better Right Away and if you're having trouble getting what you want out of life, check out How to Always Achieve Your Goals.

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50 Responses to The 7 Warning Signs of Low Self Esteem

  1. Robert Chen says:

    Hi Laura,

    I am glad you enjoyed this article!

  2. Nelson says:

    Great write up Rob.

    I think this is a good thing you’re doing.

    • Robert Chen says:

      Thanks Nelson for the encouraging words.

      • Nicole says:

        After I finished reading your article, with pleasure I might add, and then saw your picture, I immediately thought to myself, “Wow, that guys is doing what he’s meant to be doing, & that’s quite amazing thing that he is doing at that!”.

        Thanks for the thought provoking read.

        • Robert Chen says:

          Hi Nicole,

          Thank you for such kind words. I am finding it very rewarding to pursue my passion and I am happy that you enjoyed the article. I would be interested to hear about any successes and challenges that you might be facing while you are striving for your dreams as well.

  3. […] understand that a mistake is something that they do and not who they are. They also monitor the warning signs of low self-esteem to ensure they always keep a positive self-image of themselves. They realize that self-esteem is a […]

  4. […] highlight how it can make your prospects feel even better about themselves. Look out for these warning signs for low self-esteem to help you find potential […]

  5. […] 25. Have high self-esteem – be comfortable with who you are. Don’t try so hard to impress, it makes you look wishy-washy. Be careful about these other warning signs of low self-esteem. […]

  6. […] disaster for one big reason:You have no power over the actions and thinking of other people.So if your self-image is based on what other people think about you, you’re going to be in for some pretty big up and down days. You are disempowering yourself […]

  7. self defined says:

    Consider the idea that self esteem IS as self-esteem DOES. Here, a strong, well-constructed self-concept can be bolstered through engaging in diverse behavioral activity in a variety of areas (i.e. more eggs in more baskets). In this model, strengthening self-esteem occurs indirectly — through behavioral activities that give rise to a wider range of beneficial knowledge and expertise. Thus, improved positive self esteem is the product of a “wider” self-concept, defined by “widening” one’s behavioral repertoire.

    • Robert Chen says:

      Thanks for your comment!

      Excellent point. To add to the idea of a wider behavioral repertoire,a broader self-concept also leads to becoming more resilient when something goes wrong in one area of life. For example, workaholics who are laid-off often take a big hit in their self-esteem because that’s what they are known for. Those who have a much broader self-concept, can rely on other aspects of their lives to keep a positive self image.

  8. Gyan SHARMA says:

    Thank you Robert for such and en-lighting article, after reading the same , i now realize that my son who would be attending the uni from next year, may be having low self esteem. He doesn’t likes to be praised even wining after winning three gold medals in regional English test , which is first time for any one to achieve in the history of the school.
    He does not even want t to face people or take up doing task for for the fear of failing and have difficulties in simplest decision making. He is full of negativity about his capabilities and i fear how will he be able to to stand up to the challenges of the life. MY son desperately needs to be assisted out of his negativeness . pls i need your help .

    • Robert Chen says:

      Hi Gyan,

      Thank you for reading my article and for your comment. It must be scary for you as a parent to see these warning signs but it is something that can be turned around if your son realizes it and wants to change. If he doesn’t recognize it or if he doesn’t see the benefits of it, it’ll be tough for you to be able to influence him.

      As a parent, praise his efforts and not his intelligence. When you label someone as “smart”, they tend to do easy things because they don’t want to fail and lose that identity. Help him realize failure is not only ok but a prerequisite to real success. A great way is to have him read the life of people he admires. Also encourage in him the feeling of self empowerment.

      It is important to make the distinction between high self esteem and being vain. Many people adopt actions of low self esteem as a way to not be perceived as a braggart. The problem with that is your actions influence the way you think and acting like someone with low self esteem can actually lower your esteem.

      I hope this helps.

  9. This is a very great post Robert! Thank you for sharing it. It is very enlightening and makes me rethink of how I’ve been behaving lately (not that I’ve been misbehaving). It has also made me think about a friend of mine who is used to joke about a friend that would make us all laugh. So after reading this post, I;m thinking who has the lower self-esteem – the joker? or the one who’s being laughed at?

    • Robert Chen says:

      Thanks Shariza for your kind words. The one making the jokes shows their low self-esteem but putting others down. The one being laughed cannot control people from making fun of him/her and has low self-esteem only if he/she takes the joke seriously and allow it to lower his/her self worth. A person with strong self-esteem knows that what others say really don’t mean much and still act confidently despite it.

      • Khumalo says:

        Hi Robert, I work for multinational service delivery firm as the IT guy. When I first got there I was very nice and I had this huge self-esteem I carried around with me. After a while some of my colleagues(females) will always say something in their language that I do not understand and looking at me and laugh. I always avoid them and don`t ask why or what they are saying and why they are laughing because it is clear that they are saying something about. I will feel a little down as i really wish I knew what they were saying so as to get back at them. Then i thought to myself, I am a man and men do not engage in open confrontation with a lady and moreso at a corporate environment. Please tell me what to do in this type of situation.

        • Robert Chen says:

          Khumalo, thank you for sharing your experience. When you allow others to have such an effect on you, you’re giving them your power. Just because someone laughs at you or thinks a certain way about you, it doesn’t mean it’s true. Only you can determine your self-worth. I encourage you to separate fact from opinion. Your females colleague looks at you and laughs – that’s a fact. They are making fun of you – that’s your opinion. Your reaction is usually to your opinion of the situation which is in your control.

          Short answer: stop worrying about what others think because it’s out of your control. Take comfort to know that other people’s opinions have no impact on your self-esteem unless you allow it.

          • Khumalo says:

            Hi Robert,
            Thank you for the response. Actually you said it right. My approach now is to get closer and natural with them. I have realized that getting closer and doing my work and not being their friend but a colleague is really making them on edge.

            I also realized that, they are the ones with low self-esteem not me. I show them an innocent face and act according to as work demands; like sorting IT related queries and that is it.

            Thank you Robert

          • Robert Chen says:

            My pleasure Khumalo – best of luck to you.

  10. M says:

    I thought this was quite interesting.
    I feel that I have low self-esteem because my parents always praised me too much when I was a kid (I was always “the smartest” and “the prettiest”) and I felt like I was never allowed to have flaws, to fail at things, and that I couldn’t possibly live up to the standards they were setting for me. What do you think? Have you heard of similar cases?

    • Robert Chen says:

      Hi M,

      That situation is quite common as parents try to show their kids their unconditional love by praising them all the time. Praise is good but it must be done the right way. There was a study done about this very topic where it showed that kids who were praised to be smart took the easy way out more often because they didn’t want to disappoint their parents by doing something challenging where they may possibly fail. In contrast, children who are praised for their effort will continue to take on more challenging tasks because they are more confident about their efforts.

      Of course, your parents probably didn’t know about this study and they acted in what they thought was the best thing to do at the time. The important thing for you is to know that your self esteem is in your hands now and that you can have high self-esteem if you choose to. Never allow our past to dictate your future.

      Great comment and insight M. Let me know if you have my questions

  11. Anita says:

    Being indecisive is what is bothering me lately and I was glad to stumble upon this article. After digging into the causes for the same, I came up with the possibility that there could be a self esteem issue involved. After reading this , I feel I am still unclear about what i really want out of the situation. Actually, I have always been an individual who has always weighed ‘What is right’ more than ‘what I really want’. So maybe it has been pressing down on me because what I currently want out of the situation is not a ‘generally accepted’ thing. Plus I have been let down the last time I took an offbeat path. So maybe I’m just little nervous. Once bitten twice shy is quite a normal defence mechanism, isn’t it?

    Could you suggest me if this is my intuition trying to warn me or is it that I am just scared to row the boat my way or is it really a self esteem issue?

    • Robert Chen says:

      Hi Anita,

      If you are in a situation where “what is right” is in competition with “what I really want” then there is a good chance that your values for “what is right” has come from someone else. Growing up we adopt a lot of our values from our families, authority figures and society. We accept them without really questioning whether they are valid or not.

      This might be a time to decide whether “what is right” is really what you consider to be right or what someone else has said is right. “Acceptance” depends on those around you and if you change your environment, you will change what is accepted. This makes it somewhat crazy to try to gain acceptance because it will always change independent of what you do. I have found that no matter how others view me, I am who I believe I am. The most I can do is to make myself happy.

      Someone with low self-esteem usually allows others to dictate how they should feel about themselves. Those who think of themselves highly, usually will consider the opinion of others but understand that it is their own opinion that really matters.

      I hope this helps.

  12. Google says:


    […]the time to study or take a look at the subject material or sites we have linked to below the[…]…

  13. Linda says:


    I can certainly identify with “Being Indecisive”. I look forward to reading more posts. Thanks again…

  14. Suzanna Khan says:

    Thank you for writing this!

  15. ArchibaldHukler says:

    I have such great self-esteem that I realize that all value is subjective, it’s all up to me. So I might trash talk if I think it will be fun. I don’t care if the other person feels put down or not, that’s not my objective unless I’ve decided that’s part of the fun. They can even think that doing so means I have low self-esteem. I don’t care. I have such great self-esteem that I don’t care if other people or this article think I have low self-esteem.
    When I say “I was late because of stupid train delays” inside I am still perfectly aware of all the things I could’ve done differently and I quietly imagine in my head how I will do things differently so train delays won’t be a problem in the future. I just say that because logically I see no reason why the other person has to know I screwed up. It’s not because of some stupid emotional attachment I have to the person’s opinion either. I want more promotions, I want more money, I want more respect so why give that information to another person? Maybe if the person is a close friend who already knows all my faults I will tell them. Otherwise why limit my future financial opportunities?

    • Robert Chen says:

      You’re right ArchbaldHukler. No one can tell you what to do or how to feel. As long you believe in your worth, then that’s all that matters. Thanks for the comment.

  16. Phoua says:

    Hi Robert! Thank you so much for you’re awesome article. I somehow, miraculously, stumbled upon it and it was definitely a pleasurable read. Not only that, I REALIZED so many things about myself. Unfortunately, that realization was that I MEET every one of your points. Being a person who have thought that I had higher than normal self esteem, I was in somewhat taken back. But I am very thankful for the realization. Every point you made was very valid and I realize that all these years that is probably all these things I found ‘little’ played a huge role in my personal development and self-esteem and thus how I lived my life. Now, I know what to focus on to get ahead. THANKS. :)


    • Robert Chen says:

      Hi PY,

      I’m glad you enjoyed this article. I have similar revelations with every new book I read or person I meet. Self-awareness is powerful. Best of luck to you.

  17. Lamb Burne says:

    Great post Robert!! Really interesting.
    I can see a possible explanation here about self esteem.

  18. Kallisti says:

    One symptom of low self-esteem, that I had was the attitude of doormat, and thats because I had a “benefit” , it took a couple of realized that it was not good for me, and then I was ready to let go of such “benefit”..My self esteem went up and I decide to change the attitude. Its was not easy to let go, of what I have been living, because changes are scary, and yet necessary. The sun is always there…even in cloudy days….Thanks for giving the opportunity to express myself. Have a great life :)

  19. Sandy M says:

    Wow!!! I just stumbled on this accidentally!!! I cannot believe that I have low self-esteem! I fit every characteristic! Thank you so much, Robert. This has been a real eye opener. I’ve always been the push-over, self criticizer, perfectionist, shy, anti- social girl. After reading this, I will make gradual, but permanent changes in my life. I realize that it’s not good for me and others around me. I am the oldest of three and I do not want my younger sisters to pick up on my behavior because I know behavior is contagious. This will not be easy, but I’m willing to make the change! Thank you so much and good luck in all your endeavors and keep these articles coming.

    • Robert Chen says:

      Thank you for kind words Sandy. I’m glad you found this article helpful and it’s great that you’re doing something about it. You’re right to lead by example and feel free to reach out if you have any questions. Good luck!

  20. Wolfgang says:

    Positive Affirmations are quiet simply short and powerful statements that you read aloud to your self on a daily basis, similar to positive thoughts, affirmations will slowly re-program the subconscious part of the mind and relay a new positive can do attitude to the conscious part of the mind.

  21. […] Week 3 – Monitor what you are saying to others about yourself. Observe how you introduce yourself, your answers to questions and the way you deal with compliments. […]

  22. This is a real must read for everyone! Too many times do we see ourselves getting into these patterns and it just isn’t healthy.

  23. christopher says:

    I had my suspicions that i may have a confidence issue, and yes to a lot of what has been explained,. I can see low self esteem now in myself.. But i can also see low self esteem in others too, sometimes thinking i may have confused rudeness with low self esteem!!

    • Robert Chen says:

      Thanks for sharing Christopher. It’s interesting how low self-esteem manifests itself and when you begin to recognize it, you might begin to have more empathy for people who you thought were just rude or displaying other warning signs of low self-esteem.

  24. It is nice article. I enjoyed it.

  25. Upon realizing the true self, we express the natural genius and
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    the life form in its true creative genius we connect to our body, mind and
    spirit as it was meant to be. The learning from our inner experience in
    meditation allows us to know who we are. In meditation, we reevaluate life and
    are inspire ourselves to experience more fully our best selves.

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