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Emotional Symptoms & Consequences of Low Self-Esteem

  • Depression
  • Discouragement
  • Fear and Anxiety (of making a mistake, being rejected, looking foolish or inadequate)
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Mixed Emotions
  • Shutdown Emotionally
  • Self-Esteem Attacks (Similar but different from panic attacks)
  • (Appearance of) Shyness

Behavioral Symptoms & Consequences of Low Self-Esteem

  • Being Needy
  • Chaotic Relationships
  • Defensiveness
  • Eating Disorders
  • Hypervigilance
  • Lack of Assertiveness, Passive, Aggressive, or Passive-Aggressive
  • Perfectionism 
  • Poor Boundaries
  • Poor Communication
  • Poor Relationship & Social Skills 
  • Promiscuous
  • Self-Sabotaging
  • Sexual Dysfunction
  • Wearing a Mask

Cognitive Symptoms & Consequences of Low Self-Esteem

  • Faulty Self Image (The inaccurate view of oneself as inadequate, unlovable, unworthy, and/or incompetent)
  • Inability to Discern Who and When to Trust
  • Irrational and Distorted Self-Statements (Carries on an inner dialog in which he makes untrue/unproven negative statements to himself)
  • Lacking Self Confidence
  • Mind Reading and Projection (Thinks and believes that others view her in the same negative ways that she views herself)
  • Obsessive Compulsive and Addictive Behaviors
  • Overly Critical of Self and Others
  • Reactionary (Overreacts to situations)        
  • Rigidity
  • Self-Focused
  • Storytelling 
  • Unreasonable Expectations


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Signs of Confidence & Healthy Self-Esteem:

  • Looks ahead, setting both long range and short range goals
  • Establishes goals that are reasonable and likely attainable
  • Doesn't procrastinate/is not a perfectionist/is a self-starter
  • Accepts his/her own weaknesses and lack of skills
  • Is highly motivated and determined to succeed
  • Bounces back after a setback, moving forward again
  • Trusts own ideas, perceptions, and opinions
  • Has the courage to say what he/she truly feels and believes
  • Is able to hear and benefit from constructive criticism
  • Can make timely decisions after considering the options
  • Displays good social skills
  • Has a history of far more successes than failures in meeting goals
  • keeps moving to achieve goals in difficult times.
  • Is open to both positive and negative feedback
  • Learns from past mistakes rather than repeating them.
  • Is willing and able to takes risks
  • Is willing to cut his/her losses when a project seems doomed to fail
  • Can change course when it is necessary to do so
  • Is generally positive, energetic, and assertive
  • Takes people at their word unless or until there is reason to do otherwise

Emotional Symptoms & Consequences of Low Self-Esteem


Most cases of depression are the result of low self esteem, not the other way around, as our diagnostic manual would have us believe. This is not the only cause of depression, as some people have chronic depression not related to self esteem and which may require medication; overcoming depression due to low self esteem seldom requires medication and then only for a short period. Most individuals who suffer from low self esteem have differing degrees of situational depression at different times in their lives--some have consistent depression for years and until they go through the recovery process.


Discouragement is a common emotion of those with low self esteem who have unusually high expectations of others and who have either unreasonably high or nonexistant goals for themselves. Striving for unreachable goals is a recipe for feeling like one is failing. Others with LSE are too discouraged and fearful to try anything new, to initiate relationships, or even to attempt to develop new skills. They remain complacent willing to accept what life brings rather than trying to better themselves.

Fear and Anxiety

Fear and anxiety are the cornerstone of low self esteem. Based on early life experiences, people develop a perspective of how they fit in the world: whether they are adequate, lovable, worthy, and/or competent.  If their view of themselves is negative, they go through life fearful and anxious, on guard, disappointed, anticipating the worst, and unable to relax until they recover from this devastating issue of low self esteem. This anxiety is extreme and permeates everything in the person’s life including the ability to make sound decisions, the ability to maintain ambition, the ability to bounce back after disappointments, the person’s basic emotional stability, the person’s sustainability, the person’s energy, the person’s ability to learn from his mistakes, the person’s openness to developing new skills, the person’s ability to be introspective.

Those with low self esteem have four basic fears: 

  1. The fear is of doing something that will confirm their own inadequacy.  
  2. The fear is that others will see what they've done and also recognize their inadequacy.  
  3. The fear is of losing what one has; fear that success cannot be sustained; fear of abandonment.
  4. The fear is of once more experiencing humiliation, depression, devastation or despair.

Through recovery these fears are gradually dispelled and the person becomes able to respond in healthy ways to the situation in his life.


Overly sensitive, those with low self esteem frequently get their feelings hurt, are easily offended, are quick to become angry or defensive, and are easily provoked. They tend to be overly self-focused and can appear insensitive to the feelings of others or can inaccurately look as though they are narcissistic. Basically they are constantly looking for signs that others are rejecting or disapproving of them and then conclude this is happening even when it is not.

Mixed Emotions

Those who suffer from low self-esteem find their emotions fluctuating frequently and without warning. They may “think” that someone is rejecting or disapproving of them and then feel hurt and despondent, or they may respond with anger. Also, they may at one moment feel confident, worthy, and self-assured and then take a downturn at a perceived slight from someone. At times they may feel competent only to question and berate themselves and then become depressed when they make a simple mistake. Thus the tumultuous roller coaster ride of life is one of unexpected emotions and reactions, usually ending in negative self-talk.

Self-Esteem Attacks
(Similar but different from panic attacks)

Often mistaken for panic attacks, Self Esteem Attacks are always related to how the person feels about himself or herself: inadequate. These attacks then lead to depression and feelings of humiliation and devastation. Common to some degree to all who suffer from low self esteem, self esteem attacks occur when a person perceives she has made a mistake in front of others or that others will hear about and begins to berate herself, to hate herself for her own perceived stupidity. She then not only reacts to those incidents but dreads the possibility of a situation where another mistake is made and such self-loathing reoccurs. Reacting to this fear, she may then: a) isolate or refrain from new activities to avoid looking foolish or inept, b) stay quiet and not share ideas or perceptions for fear of saying something "wrong," c) not initiate with others for fear of rejection, and d) not look for a better job because of feelings of inadequacy, or e) remain in a destructive relationship because of feeling too inadequate to be alone.

"Self Esteem Attacks" occur whenever a person with low self esteem does or says something that he afterwards deems to have been inappropriate, stupid, rude, obnoxious, off target, or inaccurate. At that time, the person may experience immediate remorse, excruciating anxiety, his heart racing, his face turning red, a sinking feeling of embarrassment, depression and/or devastation. Wishing he could sink into the floor or disappear, he may immediately look for a way to escape. He may feign illness, sneak out without saying anything, or just become totally silent, hoping not to be noticed. He will believe that everyone saw his blunder and is thinking poorly of him, maybe even laughing at him. This is a full blown Self-Esteem Attack that may last for minutes, hours, even days during which he berates himself, is fearful of seeing anyone who was in attendance at the time he made his "mistake," and remain seriously depressed. All people who suffer from low self-esteem have these attacks though they vary in degree of severity and in length depending upon how serious the person judges his gaffe, how highly he values the opinions of those in attendance, and what he surmises the repercussions will be. As people go through recovery, these attacks gradually become less frequent, less severe in their intensity, and shorter in duration. The goal of my Recovery Program is that those with LSE would get to the point where they rarely have a self esteem attack, and that if they do they can control it within 10 minutes; thus it would not control the person’s feelings and behavior.

Shutdown Emotionally

It is not unusual for those who have low self-esteem and who have been abused, abandoned, or literally to have been treated as being in the way, to be unable to recognize what they feel. Having suffered from many emotionally charged and hurtful situations, they automatically feel a need to shield themselves from more such experiences. Having practiced denying their feelings or even acknowledging them. They now find themselves unable to know what they fee.  Having been hurt repeatedly, whether verbally, emotionally, or physically, they may also lower their expectations of others and of life in general. They may be available but never initiate with others; they may feel they have little or nothing to offer and above all, are unable to risk rejection.

(Appearance of) Shyness

Low self esteem and shyness are different from one another. A person can be shy and not have low self esteem. A person can have low self esteem and not be shy. Shyness has more to do with introversion and learned behaviors that are contrary to a casual and social society. Shyness is not a sign of dysfunction.

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The Self-Esteem Institute