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  • Writer's pictureSarah Dresser

5 Unusual Signs of Low Self-Esteem - And How to Heal

We all know some of the typical signs of low self-esteem: feelings of inadequacy, dismissing achievements as "luck", and an inability to accept compliments.

But low self-esteem can also show up in ways that may not be obvious at first glance. Read on to find out if any of these five characteristics resonate with you.

5 Unusual Signs of Low Self-Esteem - And How to Heal

1. Overachievers

Low self-esteem is usually associated with an attitude of "playing it safe" behaviour to avoid risk, but not so for overachievers. They are all about action. They have a sense of agency; they do, they win, they set and meet goals. On the surface this may seem like confidence but it isn't. Overachievers seek to fill the internal sense of inadequacy by overcompensating with external achievements.

The irony is that the drive to achieve so much is not really about accomplishment or perfection. It comes from a deep desire to be seen not as perfect but merely good enough.

"Overachievement is an ongoing struggle to obtain not perfection, but approval."

But once one goal is achieved, another is set further away. Once one standard is met, the bar moves even higher. The subconscious belief that drives this behaviour is that love is given or withdrawn based on what you do, not who you are. And love is only temporary. So the compulsion continues. Does this resonate with you?

And the truth about being perfect is it simply doesn't exist. Unless you are working with maths or data, there is no objective form of living and being that is perfect.

Ultimately, perfectionism enslaves you to work relentlessly to meet an ideal set by someone else. And when someone else sets the bar for your own standards, they can move it whenever they want.

This may or may not come from ill intent. Because someone demanded more of you may mean that they experienced the same themselves. But we can only heal ourselves, no-one else.

If you recognize yourself as a perfectionist, you may find this Meditation to Overcome Fear of Failure and Perfectionism helpful.

2. People Pleasing

If you suffer from low self-esteem, you may often feel that you must earn others' approval and love. Similar to overachieving, any approval is transactional; based on what you do, not who you are. And if you don't do what others want, approval is withdrawn and you are excluded.

On a day-to-day basis, people-pleasing can mean you overextend and exhaust yourself to accommodate others at the expense of your own needs, not just one time, but regularly. You may struggle to say no to others, and have an intense fear of not meeting others' expectations.

To the outside world you may look like a happy-go-lucky person who has time for everyone, but inside you are anxious or depressed and feel a void within you. And the void exists because you empty yourself to give so much to everyone else.

"You feel a void within because you empty yourself to give all of you to everyone else."

Those who have a nurturing role in the family may find it particularly hard to say no. When your child was a baby, of course you got up in the middle of the night to feed them. It feels good to be the friend people turn to in need, the one others can depend on. It makes sense to help cover someone's shift who must leave work early because of a family emergency.

So how to tell the difference between being a helpful, compassionate individual and a chronic people pleaser?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  1. When someone asks you for a favour, do they assume or expect you to say yes because of your history?

  2. Do you secretly harbour resentment, anger or frustration after saying yes?

  3. Do you feel guilty at the thought of turning down someone's request and say yes even when you want to say no?

Guilt is one of the strongest signs that someone is trying to manipulate you. When you feel it, ask yourself: what is someone trying to take that I am unwilling to give?

When you say yes to others, makes you are not saying not to yourself.  Set boundaries

The consequences of people-pleasing run deep. Long-term, you may find that you are frustrated, resentful, and angry, and those frustrations will show up somewhere in your life. You may find yourself more and more exhausted at the end of every day. You have no time or energy for self-care and you never begin any of your own long-term goals or dreams.

People-pleasing, like all other strong emotions, comes from subconscious patterns of responses and beliefs. I know it may feel hard to say no at first, but the temporary discomfort will give way to greater relief long-term.

Remember that every yes is always a no to everything else.

If you need more help, listen to my short meditation The Power of No. Start to shift your mindset with this meditation.

3. Poor Boundaries

Poor or absent boundaries go hand-in-hand with the disease to please. Boundaries are often considered to be how people talk to you and treat you. But boundaries go beyond words and incorporate:

your time your mind your values your emotions your money your physical space and environment your body

Boundaries are different from person to person. There are three steps to setting boundaries:

  1. define them

  2. communicate them

  3. defend them when violated

You can communicate your boundaries up front, and you can also warn someone when they are at risk of crossing the line. And there are indeed times when you can maintain your boundaries.

But there are also situations when they are violated; for example, when someone sends you an inappropriate email or message, touches you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, humiliates you in front of others and dismisses it as a joke.

Don't blame yourself. You are responsible for communicating boundaries, but you are ultimately not responsible for others' behaviour.

"If you are a people pleaser you most probably do not know how to react when someone violates your boundaries. You dismiss it, you laugh it off, or simply freeze."

If you are a people pleaser with poor boundaries, you likely do not know how to react when someone violates your boundaries. You maybe dismiss it as a misunderstanding, you shrug it off, make a joke to mask the hurt and confusion, or simply freeze. If this resonates for you, here are a few steps you can take even after boundaries are violated.

  1. Make it absolutely clear that the other person crossed a line

  2. Be clear and specific about the behaviour that needs to change or stop

  3. Set stronger boundaries with them, even limit their ability to do the same again. If you don't want to give second chances, you are free to do that too.

  4. Above all else, do not apologize for your boundaries.

Boundaries reflect your values and your comfort levels. Not setting boundaries is not a way to avoid conflict because you will internalize that conflict. Those who are genuine friends will respect your boundaries.

If you need more support, you can listen to my Setting Boundaries Meditation in which you write your own book of Rules of Respect.

4. Abusive or Controlling Relationships

Those with very low self-esteem may find themselves in toxic and controlling relationships.

At first, it can feel great to have someone else make all the decisions. It can feel safe; reassuring even. You may have grown up with unhealthy co-dependency and insecure attachment to your parents or caregivers. So a controlling relationship becomes a natural progression as, on the surface, they promise stability. The other person may seem decisive, have very clear opinions and seem to be a natural leader.

But what initially seems like leadership is actually a desire for domination, what starts out as protection is actually ownership over the other person. Decisiveness becomes a need for total control.

And, over time, narcissists will want to undermine any remaining sense of self in the other person. The controlling party of the relationship will be offended if you dare to voice any need that is not their own because they view everyone as an extension of themselves.

"Over time, narcissists will want to undermine any remaining sense of self in the other person."

But I am here to remind you that you are not one half of a relationship or an extension of someone else; you are a whole and complete person.

So ask yourself: are you in a nourishing relationship or a parasitical one? One person does not exist to feed the other's ego.

If you want to improve your relationship and think there is hope to do so, start by documenting your wants and needs. Get them down on paper to clearly articulate them. If you have yet to voice them, now is the time.

Recognize that your partner is not a mind reader and give them the opportunity to hear and understand your wants and needs. If you need additional support to do so, you can always work with a third party to mediate, a family therapist, for example.

However, if the other person treats you as an extension of themselves or tries to deny that you could ever have your own needs, different to their own, this is a red flag.

If you have left a toxic relationship and need help healing, my Meditation to Find Freedom From Toxic Relationships may help. You can also listen to my Take Your Power Back Meditation and more from my relationships playlist.

5. Self-Sabotage

The final point I want to cover is self-sabotage because self-sabotage can show up in a couple of different ways. It can masquerade as caution or "analysis paralysis" but is actually frozen fear. Or it can manifest as the complete opposite: a total abandonment of consequences, an apparently care-free attitude that is really a "flight" response. Extreme risk-taking can actually be a way to escape from a present day reality that evokes a painful past.

Although it is the opposite of perfectionism in action, self-sabotage has common roots. Both sets of behaviours play out subconscious patterns learned in childhood.

My own theory is that self-sabotage comes from two powerful beliefs: the belief that you do not deserve success and the belief that failure is inevitable.

So rather than wait for failure, you subconsciously accelerate the path to doom to free yourself from the anxiety of waiting and anticipating. The subconscious mind clings to the known beliefs, not the most helpful beliefs, by default.

"Self-sabotage originates from two powerful beliefs: the belief that you do not deserve success and the belief that failure is inevitable."

Self-sabotage is usually linked to negative messaging received in childhood related to abundance and self-worth. I discuss more about the identification with lack or poverty in my article on mindset shifts needed to set yourself up for success.

Maybe you came from a family that always told you that you were undeserving, or perhaps that money was evil, or maybe they gave you the identity of "loser" the one that always fails exams, or some other damaging label. And as children we have a subconscious drive to fit in. This may even mean conforming with a negative image of yourself, crushing what is wonderful in you to remain part of the tribe.

Child playing with paint confident in themselves

Whatever the messaging, we subconsciously fulfill our own prophecies. He who thinks he can and he who thinks he can't are both usually right.

"He who thinks he can and he who thinks he can't are both usually right."

If this resonates for you, my Hypnosis to Transform Self-Sabotage to Success may well help.


I hope this read has proven helpful and has given you greater insights into your own self-image. The first step to change is awareness. Now I hope that you take the next step to change.

And if you are hesitating, if you think your self-esteem only affects you, allow me to remind you that we are all connected. Who we are has a ripple effect throughout the world, not just from parent to child but from human to human; from soul to soul.

You cannot reason our way out of a powerful emotional state. For true, deeper change to take place, you have to engage the part of the mind where all emotions and beliefs are stored: the subconscious. You can listen to my meditations to release limiting beliefs, hypnosis to transform self-sabotage to success, and my session to overcome perfectionism, all available to you at no cost on my Youtube channel. I also have several hypnosis, affirmations and meditations to help heal and rebuild self-esteem. I hope that one or more of these serve you well.

Thanks for Reading

Thanks for reading. My name is Sarah Dresser from Unlock Your Life, and I quit a 17-year corporate career in IT (Information Technology) to retrain and start my career over again.

I am a qualified Clinical Hypnotherapist and I've been doing the work I love for over 9 years now.

And I am passionate about providing low-cost and no-cost support for all.

You can access over 200 hypnosis, meditations and affirmations sessions on my YouTube channel here and connect with me on Facebook and Instagram.

If you have benefitted from my work, please donate to support me here on Paypal or through Donorbox. Donations do help sustain my work and allow me to continue to give to all.

As always, I am here to support you on your journey, Sarah


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