5 Signs You Have Low Self-Confidence (and What to Do)

For many of us, self-esteem can be fleeting. One minute, you feel sky-high on the heels of a promotion at work. The next minute, your ego is badly bruised when your Tinder date ghosts you at a restaurant. But while particularly good (or bad) outside events can cause our confidence levels to spike and plummet throughout the week, oftentimes, there can be a deep-seated, perpetual lack of self-worth plaguing us. And chances are, we don’t even know about it.

“Self-esteem is defined as how one values or regards themselves,” explains psychotherapist Dr. Fran Walfish, who specializes in treating families, couples and children. “But in my world of psychology, self-esteem and confidence is impacted by many factors.” Dr. Walfish cites our upbringing, first and foremost, in addition to how we were treated by peers throughout school—or even if we’ve spent too much time comparing our appearance to models, actresses or other public figures in the mainstream media.

But, as Dr. Walfish explains, we can have high levels of self-esteem in certain areas of our lives, and low self-esteem in others, which can help to disguise our true feelings. That said, Dr. Walfish and life coach Monique Demonaco have helped us identify some of the small, seemingly insignificant (but absolutely critical) signs you might have low self-esteem and what to do about it.

You find yourself putting people down pretty often.

As humans, we judge one another. There are no two ways around it. But if your inner criticisms of complete strangers and endless gossiping about your coworkers over Slack is starting to consume a hefty chunk of your daily conversations and thoughts, according to Dr. Walfish, you might have the first telltale sign of low confidence.

“People who are angry, critical and mean do not have high self-esteem,” she explains. “People with low self-esteem tend to boast and put down others.” And the same goes for boasting, bragging and putting down others’ opinions. “People with high self-esteem never brag or show off. They are not shaken if other people disagree with them, but remain clear and confident in their own ideas or opinions.”

You start seeking validation in everyday speech.

Although putting others down constantly is a fairly telltale sign of low self-esteem, according to Demonaco, slight variations in the way you speak could also be a key sign.

“Ending statements with questions, like “right?,” broadcasts to your listeners you aren’t confident about what you just said,” Demonaco explains. “Be decisive in your speech and speak clearly.”

You apologize, even when there is nothing to apologize for.

Humility in the form of apologizing is an excellent personality trait to embody. But when that humility becomes constant, according to Dr. Walfish, you are projecting a lack of self-esteem left and right.

“Many people with low self-esteem apologize for their behavior when they have done nothing wrong,” she says. “This is as a defense against people being angry at them. Those individuals can’t bear to be the target someone’s anger or rage.”

You aren’t speaking up (literally).

Is the feeling as though nobody can hear you getting you down? Well, chances are, they really can’t hear you.

“You also indicate you aren’t confident in your speech when you don’t broadcast your voice but instead lower the volume as you make a statement,” says Demonaco. “When you want to project confidence, speak clearly and definitively and keep the volume in tune with other people in the conversation.”

Your body language is less-than-powerful.

Finding yourself constantly slouching, looking down or attempting to take up as little space as possible in public? According to Demonaco, you could have a lack of confidence.

“Your body language can be a big ‘tell’ that you lack confidence,” she says. “People who lack confidence literally make themselves small by lowering their chin, bringing their shoulders in and folding in on themselves. Confident people take up more space by keeping their head up, chin out, and have open shoulders and hips.”

She recommends that if you’re sitting, keep at least one of your arms outside of the frame of your body.

How to improve that confidence…

Self-esteem booster #1: Fake it until you make it.

“To give yourself a boost of confidence, use your body to trick your brain,” says Demonaco. “Stand akimbo, or feet hip-distance apart, hips and shoulders open, and put your hands on your waist with fingers forward and thumbs behind you. Be sure to keep your head up and straight.”

Demonaco recommends holding this power pose for two minutes. “Your body will send a message to your brain you are confident, and your brain will respond by emitting testosterone which is associated with confidence.”

Self-esteem booster #2: Be an observer, rather than a judger.

“To improve your self-esteem you must first replace the harsh self-judge with a benign self-observer,” advises Dr. Walfish. “To establish a benign self-judge, you must first turn up the volume of self-awareness.  Each time you notice yourself being hard or self-critical, gently shrug your shoulders and think, ‘Oops, there I go again.’ You are exchanging criticism with gentle acceptance.”

Self-esteem booster #3: Treat the people around you a little better.

Although boosting others up before yourself might seem counterintuitive in regards to self-esteem, according to Dr. Walfish, it’s one of the quickest ways to start injecting yourself with more confidence. “When we are kind, generous, fair and empathic to others,” she says, “we build a foundation for our self-esteem.”

Julia Sullivan is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. When she's not picking heavy things up and setting them down again (more commonly known as weight lifting), trying to prepare healthy meals in her doll-sized Manhattan studio or writing about the latest fitness craze, she chronicles her zany adventures as a new New Yorker in her blog, Jules & the City. You can also follow her on Twitter.