What does it mean to live with low self-esteem


You have a dream. Everyone has at least one dream. Maybe – a very small one, for example to go on a solo trip. Maybe – a really big one, which would change your life, for example to start your own business.

Sometimes you are just imagining this dream becoming true – you see yourself in this moment, you see all the smallest details around, you even know how it feels to be there, you hear it and you smell it.

And actually, you have everything to make this dream come true – you have yourself – a person free to choose, to try, to fail, to decide, to change.

But you do nothing for this. Whenever you think about making at least one small step for this dream – something stops you. Something – inside you. Something inside your head keeps repeating to you “you can’t”, “you will fail”, “you are not good enough”, “you are not brave enough”, “there are thousands better than you” and much much much more.


What are we used to say about this kind of person? Well, "they lack self-confidence". But is the real problem just low self-confidence? Or is it about low self-esteem? What is the difference between them? And is it possible to change it?

Well, low self-confidence is a pretty regular feeling. According to Cambridge Dictionary it’s “the quality of being certain of your abilities or of having trust in people, plans, or the future”. 

Self-confidence is quite easy to build – basically the more you do an exercise, the more you get confident about it. You can’t be confident about something that you never did, you might be scared to try something for the first time. But once you try and learn how to do it, you gain self-confidence in this particular area.

With low self-esteem it’s different and much more complicated. Esteem is about your sense of self. Usually, it’s a sense of not being good enough, a sense of “I didn’t deserve”, a sense of “I am defective”.

It’s about how you rate yourself as a human being, how you see yourself - who you are and what you can do. People with low self-esteem often feel incompetent, unloved or inadequate. Those who struggle with low self-esteem are consistently afraid about making mistakes or letting other people down.

So, when actually you are so scared to change or to make your dreams come true, that you simply avoid even trying – this is no more about low self-confidence and much more about low self-esteem.

Low self-esteem usually starts in childhood and follows you all our life. It might be there because of different reasons – maybe you didn’t get enough love and care from your family, maybe someone was always comparing you with others or criticizing, maybe other kids didn’t accept you because of some reasons or were even mocking you, maybe you were told to be „like others“, etc. If you don’t get unconditional love, later you struggle to love yourself unconditionally.

If you have high self-confidence in certain areas, it doesn’t mean you actually have high self-esteem. But if you have higher self-esteem, you won’t struggle with self-confidence either.


We can divide people with low self-esteem in 2 groups:


  • Those, who tries to be invisible


These people are usually more introverted than others. Deep inside they have a feeling that they are less worthy, they are different, worse than others, that they need to „deserve“ everything in life. And all these feelings are slowly growing over life – whenever they make a mistake – they tell themselves that this just proves how bad they are. These people usually also develop a sense of shame.

The worst part is that people with low self-esteem usually have a feeling that everyone sees how different/worthless they are, that everyone sees their mistakes. They may feel as if they are being stared at every day.

So, because of this feeling, people try to be as less visible as possible. You can notice this in their posture, volume of their voice, their outfits and other external factors. Basically, they are just so scared of criticism or negative comments, that even jokes can hurt them.

You can also notice this in their lifestyle – they avoid changes as much as possible, because they are scared to fail. They can grow as professionals only in an environment without high competition, because they feel worse than others. They usually won’t ask for a salary increase or any other benefits, as they feel they don't deserve it.

In general, in life they avoid taking on many responsibilities, because they don’t feel capable of handling it. People with higher self-esteem know that even if they fail – it’s ok. People with low self-esteem simply avoid everything, where they potentially can fail. Even more – they are used to dramatize everything (e.g. "if I take a few days-off, I will be fired").

Due to all these, people of this type are more depressed and suffer from anxiety. Simply, because they don’t change anything in their life, even if they don’t like it (e.g. relationship, career, etc.), they don’t feel needed and lovable.


  • Those, who want to be visible, but try to mask their low self-esteem


People of this type usually feel exactly the same as those discussed before. The only difference is that they don’t try to be invisible, contrary – they want to be visible and prove to everyone that they are worthy.

These people often confuse self-confidence with self-esteem and they end up with a long list of their wins. Rather than just facing up to their imperfections and mistakes, they hide them behind their diplomas, big houses, expensive trips and beauty surgeries, which is giving some self-confidence, but just in certain areas.

They try to fill the emptiness inside them with status, income, possessions, relationships, money, sex, power and so on. However, trying to be better and better at something, means that they are operating from a point of fear.

They often become the best sport-people, best singers, best lawyers or reach highest positions in companies and are well paid. They simply master something. But after they master one specific area, they still see many other areas where they are not good in. And thus, they still do not feel good enough.

And at some point, despite success, positive feedback and self-confidence in those areas, they understand that none of these make them happy and fulfilled. Unfortunately, none of the wins can help them to increase their self-esteem.

People of this type would usually describe themselves as perfectionists, maximalists. They live with a mindset “more”, “better”, “faster”, “brighter”. If you ask them how they are doing, they will start telling you how successful they are, how big are their plans, etc. They basically will try to prove to you that they are good enough.


  • What is in common?


- Self-criticism which might come even without clear reason, focuses on their flaws and weaknesses.


- Higher risk to develop anxiety, depression, also addictions, for example alcohol, drugs or even sex. In general, people with low self-esteem are more unhappy and more jealous. Some studies also show relation between low self-esteem and aggression, anti-social behavior and delinquency. Low self-esteem ranks among the strongest predictors of emotional and behavioral problems.


- Self-comparison - comparing themselves to people who they think are better than themselves. Sometimes this comparison can be a source of inspiration, however for people with low self-esteem it can inhibit self-esteem even more. Social media plays a huge role here.


- Difficulties to accept compliments and positive feedback, as they don’t feel deserved. Usually, these people directly start to explain themselves, as if this positive feedback was not even true.


- Efforts to please others – instead of placing themselves as a priority, they try to make others happy.


- Lack of boundaries – people with low self-esteem don’t feel they have a right to reject something, defend themselves, say “no”, sometimes - even give their opinion.


Self-esteem plays an important role in your ability to reach your goals, create relationships and feel good about who you are. While everybody struggles with their confidence once in a while, low self-esteem can affect your ability to feel happy.


If you think you are living with a low self-esteem and you want to find reasons for it - you might need therapy. 

However, if you don't want to revise your past, but instead you just want to improve your life quality and move further - coaching sessions might be a good choice.