The subtle signs that your self-esteem is under attack (and how to stop it)

The world is a brutal place and it can be especially brutal on our self-esteem.

E.B. Johnson
Mar 24 · 15 min read
Photo by Taya Iv on Unsplash

by: E.B. Johnson

Our world is a big place. We’re surrounded by billions of other souls, each at a different point in their journey. We connect and we collide with thousands of different people across our lifetimes. We function based on this idea that we must compete with one another and that we must be “good enough” to be a part of the things that make us feel special.

As a race, we like to pretend that we have it all but there’s often more than meets the eye lurking beneath the surface.

We surround ourselves with walls and fronts of self-confidence and it often takes us a lifetime to realize they’re emptier than childhood promises. When we fail to develop a concrete sense of self and self-esteem, we can end up with problems that follow us across the years.

What is self-esteem?

Self-esteem is often used interchangeably alongside self-worth and self-respect, and is the key to any success we hope to achieve in life. When we have low self-esteem, we feel defeated, isolated and depressed. We also find ourselves making poor decisions and slipping into negative behaviors.

In the psychology-sense of the word, self-esteem is simply a person’s overall sense of self-worth and personal value. It is how you view yourself and how much you appreciate yourself.

Our self-esteem is based around a variety of beliefs, and can be impacted by everything from our appearance, to our religious beliefs, and even our behaviors and our emotions.

Self-esteem can be perceived by the people around us as a personality trait, which can draw people to us or repel them from us, respectively. Having such an outward impact on our perceptions (and the perceptions that people have of us), self-esteem is viewed as a long-term trait and is something that is considered to be an defining part of who we are.

Why you need it in spades.

Our self-esteem impacts everything from the way we approach our professional live to the way we approach our personal lives. It defines our relationships and our interactions with the world around us.

Low self-esteem can hold you back at school or at work, and can undermine and destroy the relationships that are critical to your long-term happiness.

When you don’t believe in yourself and don’t think you’re capable of success, you’ll hold yourself back; preventing yourself from achieving the goals that could lead to your ultimate happiness.

Contrastingly, when we have an amplified sense of self-worth, we become more assertive and driven to achieve the things that matter to us. When we have confidence in ourselves and our abilities, it becomes easier to navigate the difficulties of life. Confident peopler are more positive and assertive as well, a trait that serves them well in anything that they do.

Whether you believe you can or cannot accomplish your goals, you’re right. If you want to get to that golden finish line — focus on your self-esteem.

The signs of healthy self-esteem.

Building self-esteem can be a tightrope walk. Too much and you risk alienating yourself and the people around you. Too little and you risk the same. A good place to start is knowing what a healthy sense of self-esteem looks like and learning how to identify those traits within yourself.

1. Knowing your needs inside and out.

Someone who is confident with who and what they are knows what they need inside and out. They aren’t wishy-washy and they don’t mess about. When a person with self-esteem goes after something it’s with conviction. They have this conviction because they are honest with themselves and know what their needs are.

2. The ability to find the silver lining.

When we have a lot of negativity or insecurity going on inside, it becomes easy to focus on all the negative on the outside. People with high self-worth, however, have the ability to be content in the moment and find happiness and contentment in any circumstance.

3. Taking ownership of actions.

Those who are self-assured and confident in themselves and their abilities don’t need to wait for others to repair their lives. People with high self-esteem go after what they want and take responsibility for the steps they need to take to get there. It doesn’t matter if the actions are big or small, they step up to the plate and accept the challenge when it comes for them.

4. The ability to celebrate the triumphs of others.

People who are confident in themselves can celebrate the accomplishments of others. It is only the insecure person who is threatened by the success of other people. Someone who is confident in their direction and abilities knows there’s enough room for everyone to succeed.

5. A growth mindset.

Those who know their self-worth are constantly looking for ways to better themselves. This growth mindset keeps them learning and trying new things, and keeps them experiencing the world in a million big and different ways.

6. Connecting with others and founding new relationships.

When you’re confident, it’s easy for you to connect with the people around you and form new relationships. Self-esteem means knowing what you’re worth and knowing what you have to offer other people. Coming to see the true beauty of your strengths and personality makes it an easy sell to other people.

7. Resilience to disappointment.

Life is full of disappointment, unfortunately; that’s just the nature of things. People who know their value have the confidence to face these setbacks with courage and see them as the learning opportunity that they are.

8. Self-respect.

Self-respect goes hand-in-hand with knowing your true worth. Someone who is confident in themselves in someone who respects themselves. They know their boundaries and their limitations and they stick to that, maintaining a healthy mindset for personal growth and happiness.

9. Getting rid of the victimhood.

Those who exude confidence know that they don’t need the shield of victimhood to protect them from their own choices. A self-assured person knows that the woe-is-me game will only get you so far in life. Rather than getting stuck in stasis, waiting for a rescuer, confident people shake off the bad things and press on.

What causes our self-esteem to erode?

Some people are born with a brazen sense of self-esteem but the rest of us aren’t always so lucky. Childhood traumas and decades of internalized fallacies can seriously erode your self-esteem over time.

The Bottom Line.

In childhood, we form what is known as our “Bottom Line”. This bottom line is a kind of rules of living, and affects the way we think, act and believe from a very early point in our lives.

When it comes to our self-confidence, the bottom line is how we allow the people around us to treat us, as well as how we treat ourselves. We grow up soaking in the voices and opinions of the people in our lives and it begins to form the foundation of our self-worth.

Our Bottom Line is how we go about developing the strategies we use to survive. If you start your life with the belief that you are inferior to others, you develop a strategy of melting into the background and not speaking up for yourself. Over time your self-esteem aligns with that belief and begins to wear away.

The external factors.

It’s not just the voices and opinions that can seriously skew our self-esteem, though. When we encounter regularly damaging external situations, it can be hard to maintain any kind of confidence.

Some of the negative experiences that destroy our self worth are:

  • Regular punishment.
  • Abuse.
  • Neglect.
  • Being bullied.
  • Being on the receiving end of stress and despair.
  • Severe parental standards.
  • Existing in a prejudiced family unit.
  • Lack of praise and affection.

Many of these situations and experiences can come in an array of shapes and forms, but they are all dangerous to the person that we are nonetheless.

The subtle signs your self-esteem is under attack.

When our self-esteem is in decline, it’s often a long process that takes places slowly over time. Our confidence declines in stages, often so delicately that we don’t realize there’s a problem until we feel absolutely horrible. Today, more than ever, it’s important to be able to recognize when your self-esteem is under attack.

1. A detachment from happiness and the things that bring you joy.

Often, when our self-confidence is in decline, one of the first symptoms is a loss of passion for the things we once enjoyed.

Just like those suffering with depression, losing sight of our worth has a way of zapping the joy out of life.

When your self-esteem is suffering a dip, you’ll find that you don’t care as much about the things and people you once loved; you can find yourself isolated and feeling hopeless.

If these types of thoughts and feelings have you down, it might be time to stop and assess where you are and what you’re surrounded by. You need to get in touch with the powerful light that’s inside of you, before someone else snuffs it out.

2. You’re obsessed with your self-doubt and failures.

Thinking “I can’t,” a million times a day might be a sign that it’s time for you to rethink how you’re approaching yourself. Being obsessed with your failures and your inabilities is a sure-fire sign that your self-confidence is suffering.

Confident and self-assured people don’t need to think constantly about the things they can’t do. They are growth-oriented people who focus on solutions and the positive way they can spin the situation to their advantage.

Rather than focusing on all the things you’ve done wrong, start focusing on the things that you can still get right. Self-doubt plagues all of us on a daily basis, but it doesn’t have to control us. What’s making you feel this way? The answer might surprise you.

3. The comparisons never end.

When we’re feeling insecure, we can become obsessed with comparing ourselves against others. This can be exasperated by the use of social media and platforms like Facebook and Instagram, which operate entirely around this idea of “keeping up with the Jones’”.

Comparing ourself to others is foolish and one of the key ways we allow our self-esteem to be destroyed.

We focus on an illusion of perfect and base our self-worth against it, without stopping to consider the fact that what we think of as “perfect” is little more than smoke and mirrors.

Envy can leave us feeling anxious, depressed and worse than ever, and those feelings are only exasperated when we spend our time comparing our failures and successes to others. When we compare, we turn our friends into enemies and our loved ones into rivals.

If you want to be happier and more confident, stop comparing yourself to the people around you. Everyone is struggling, they just don’t want to show it.

4. Irrational hostility.

We tend to believe that people with low self-esteem won’t fight back, but we forget that cornered animals can be more dangerous than when they are encountered out in the open.

Feeling insecure can lead us to snap and strike out at people that don’t deserve it. Irrational or undeserved hostility is one of the ways we protect ourselves when we feel like we’re losing control of ourselves or a situation, and it’s one of the key ways we signal that things aren’t quite right beneath the surface.

Rather than identifying our issues and dealing with them honestly, we attempt to conceal them behind defensive rage. We keep the game up until we’ve alienated ourselves completely, but no matter how you shake it you end up feeling worse about yourself by the end.

5. A fear of social settings.

Low self-esteem triggers our social anxiety in truly jaw-dropping ways. When we’re feeling bad about ourselves, it’s impossible to see how others could view us any differently. We start to avoid the things we love — socializing included — in the belief that we are just not good enough to be around the people we love.

When our relationships degrade, our self-esteem degrades. Avoiding the social engagements that you once enjoyed will only go to push away the people who can see the best in you; something that’s desperately needed when you’re feeling bad.

6. Inability to be happy for other people.

Not only can insecure people struggle to feel happiness themselves, they struggle to feel it for other people too. When your self-esteem has degraded, it can make it impossible to celebrate the success of others. Being unable to honor ourselves mean we can’t honor other people, and that leaves us feeling more lonely and isolated than almost anything else.

7. Inability to identify strengths and weaknesses.

Losing your sense of self-worth can push you into some dark places, and in that darkness it can be hard to catch sight of your own strengths and weaknesses.

Our strengths are the things that come naturally to us that help us to succeed, while our weaknesses are simply the things we need to put a little more effort into. When you can identify your strengths and weaknesses, you can identify your capabilities, and this allows you to build a plan for the future.

Being lost in insecurity, however, will leave you stumbling blind and make it hard for you to see anything past your current discomfort.

8. Dismissing and minimizing compliments.

People that don’t feel good about themselves don’t feel good getting complimented by other people. A sign that your self-esteem is under attack might be your inability to take compliments when they’re given.

When we’ve depleted our self-worth it’s impossible for us to see ourselves as anything other than worthless; when people challenge that belief by paying us a compliment, it can make us squirm. Hearing compliments when we’re down on ourselves is hard because it contradicts the narrative we obsessively feed ourselves.

As humans, we actively seek to verify the perceptions that we have of ourselves. When those perceptions are negative we only really want a confirmation of that negative. Low self-esteem keeps us scared and keeps us thinking the worst instead of the best.

9. You can’t appreciate your victories.

Just like people with low self-esteem can’t celebrate the victories of others, they can’t celebrate their own victories either. When we have a poor opinion of ourselves we don’t think we deserve praise when we get things right. Our successes suddenly become things worthy of dismissal and there’s no joy or validation to be found in our work or surroundings.

10. You’re hard on yourself but lenient with others.

When the self-esteem erodes, we lose the ability to stand up for ourselves when people start taking advantage of us. Without knowing the value of your time and personal worth, it becomes easy for you to give pieces of yourself away to others.

Being hard on ourselves creates a negative feedback loop that leads to self-sabotage. While self-critique is important for growth, an obsessive inner critic can be a destructive force. Constant negative self-assessments lead us down the road to misery and pessimism and forces us to lose sight of all our beautiful originality.

You have to be as fair with yourself as you would be to others and remember that your thoughts, feelings and opinions are just as valid as another person’s.

How to improve your self esteem over time.

The difference between someone with self-esteem and someone without it is far more than just a few simple traits or behaviors. The only real different between someone who knows their worth and someone who doesn’t is their choices. Building confidence takes a conscious choice and commitment.

1. Take inventory.

You can’t fix the problems that you don’t know you have. If you want to boost your self-esteem you need to take a step back and consider taking an inventory of where you’re at and how you’re feeling.

When we’re feeling stuck or like we aren’t good enough, we have to get to the root of those feelings in order to conquer them. We all get stuck, but the solution is not wallowing: it’s getting proactive.

Get a piece of paper or a blank sheet in a journal and draw a line down the middle of it. On the right hand side, list the things that you like or the things that are going well in your life. On the left, list the things that are going wrong or the weaknesses that are making you feel insecure.

Consider the things that have gotten you down the most over the years, and consider the things that people have said to you. Think of all the good things and the bad. No matter how stupid or small something may seem, write it down if it elicits an emotional reaction from you. When you have an honest assessment of where you’re at and where you want to go, then you can start to move forward.

2. Cut the comparisons short.

Unfair comparisons wreck our self-esteem, so even though it’s tough we have to retrain our brain to end the pointless comparisons. Sure, your friend might have a bigger house or a nicer car, but what’s going on beneath the surface? Chances are, things aren’t as rosy as you think.

The only person we need to compete against is ourselves, but it can be hard to remember that when we’re caught up in the world of social media highlight reels. These comparisons are unfair because we don’t actually know anything about the people or lives we compare ourselves against. While you might think they have everything you want, the reality of their lives might force you to think again.

Stop the negative comparisons as soon as they begin and remind yourself that the grass is always greener on the other side.

3. Embrace the adjustment.

Our self-esteem is useless when it’s based upon a version of ourselves that’s outdated or out of line with who our authentic self is. You have to be willing to embrace the new you, whoever that is, if you want to transform your self-esteem and find a new more-confident you.

Holding on to the person that you used to be is poisonous to the person that you are today.

When you adjust your self-esteem, you adjust your beliefs, and the person that’s left over at the end of the journey often looks much different from the person that began it.

Our skills and our strengths change over time and we have to change our self-esteem and our self-image to match these changes. Embrace the change with open arms and embrace the strength that comes with courage — no matter how foreign it might feel at first.

4. Set some expectations.

Nothing can kill a self-esteem journey faster than a failure to set expectations right out of the gate. Our expectations can be big or small, but they’re critical to managing our path to success.

Expectations can help us stop the cycle of the negative thinking that reinforces our negative beliefs. Setting realistic expectations allows us to stop berating ourselves and get real about our circumstances, which helps us meet an idealistic goal. If you want to feel more confident, start managing your expectations.

5. Embrace your mistakes.

We all want to be perfect, but one of the first things we have to learn on the road to happiness is that perfection doesn’t exist.

Perfection is unattainable. No matter how hard you try, you will never achieve it. You might want the perfect body and the perfect life, but you won’t get it. You can get close, though, and you can learn to embrace your imperfections and mistakes as lovingly as you embrace your strengths.

Mistakes are a learning opportunity and it’s important to embrace them for the value they add to our lives. Everyone make mistakes and simply making one misstep isn’t an excuse to discount all the progress you’ve worked so hard to secure. Embrace your mistakes and enjoy the opportunity they provide for you to grow.

6. Get to know who you actually are.

Knowing yourself is the key to unlocking all the happiness and self-confidence in the universe. Engage in some self-exploration and get to know who you really are on the inside. Perhaps you’re feeling low because you don’t realize everything you have to offer. Spend some quality time with you and explore new activities and viewpoints that help you expand your perception of self.

When our self-esteem takes a hit it can be easy for us to internalize all the blame and punish ourselves far beyond anything that was deserved. Learning about how we’ve changed over the years is a matter of trial and error. It’s how we become who we want to be.

Spend some quiet time getting to know yourself and you can find a way to become the person you’ve always wanted to become. Finding our confidence again isn't’ easy, but it’s empowering. Get to know the you that’s hiding beneath the surface.

Putting it all together…

Rediscovering our sense of self and our self-esteem can be hard, especially when it’s under attack from a barrage of external forces. Everything from the childhood trauma we experience to the stress of our professional lives can erode our self-esteem, but we have to get back in touch with our self-worth if we’re ever to have a hope of reaching success.

If you’re feeling like your happiness is depleted and it’s hard for you to set boundaries with others, it might be a sign that your self-esteem is under attack. When we start to feel bad about ourselves and the passions that bring joy to our lives, it often means radical changes are needed.

Get to know who you are today and celebrate the victories you’ve won on the path to get here. Only when you learn how to start loving yourself will you be able to teach the world how to love you. Pick up the pieces and find your self-confidence again by committing to your happiness.


Lady Vivra

Self, relationships and mental health. If you’re looking to make your life better, this is where you start.

E.B. Johnson

Written by

Writer with a passion for personal development, modern living and social media. Founder @ Dragr LLC.

Lady Vivra

Self, relationships and mental health. If you’re looking to make your life better, this is where you start.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade