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12 Red Flags You Might Actually Need to Get Help for Your Self-Esteem

On my first day of high school, I was alone. I was already being bullied again — something I thought I’d left behind in my previous school — and nobody seemed to want to know me. Lunchtime came, so I got something to eat and looked for a free table. There wasn’t one. Utterly anxious, I sat beside a group of older girls, much to their surprise. “Erm, who are you?” they asked.

“No one you’d like to know,” I said without really considering my answer.

If the above sounds familiar, I promise you aren’t alone. At 11 years old, I was depressed and self-deprecating, feeling utterly worthless. Nobody should feel this way, let alone an 11-year-old kid just trying to make it through the day. Looking back on this now, this was a huge red flag for how low my self-esteem was for someone that age, which I know now went beyond “I have no friends.” Now, I know looking for these red flags is so important in understanding yourself.

So many of us grew up with low self-esteem and self-worth. While we might be unable to change the past, it’s so important to look inwards and be kinder to ourselves for our perceived “failures.” Nobody should feel wrong, or worthless, or like they don’t matter. It’s easier said than done, of course, but you deserve better.

That’s why we asked our mental health community for their own red flags that told them they needed to get help for their low self-esteem. If you recognize yourself in their answers, then rest assured: help is available. You’re going to get through this.

Here’s what our community had to say:

1. When your low self-esteem affects your ability to work.

“Always afraid of being fired, no matter how well I do my job. It’s never right; it’s never good enough.” — Vicki V.

“It doesn’t matter how many times my boss tells me he’s happy I’m on the team. I still feel like I can’t make a single mistake or it will all fall apart.” — Justina P.

“I’m 26, I have a master’s degree with honors and I’m continuing to study without working because, even if everybody tells me I’m really capable in my job, and even if I myself see I have good ideas, I can’t get out of my bed thinking I can succeed in something. My illness and I will always ruin everything, and I don’t have the strength to show myself it isn’t true.” — Marta L.

2. When it affects your ability to make decisions.

“I was becoming so used to second-guessing everything I did that I wasn’t able to make even the smallest decision without feeling ‘wrong.’ Even deciding on dinner never felt good enough. I still struggle with this every day.” — Phaedra M.

3. When you apologize for everything.

“I would apologize for ever speaking if not spoken to first. My self-esteem was so low that ‘sorry’ was basically my second name.” — Nicole V.

“I often apologize for having mood swings, anxiety, panic attacks and having bad days in general. And I realized people don’t care either way; they still view me as a waste of space, as a lost cause. So maybe I should lose the habit, but it’s easier said than done. That’s my red flag — when I start apologizing for anything and everything, when in fact I should be the one receiving apologies.” — Sylvia K.

4. When you feel “ugly” no matter what people say.

“I felt ugly no matter what. No matter how ‘cute’ everyone thought I looked, I just didn’t feel it.” — Starr M.

“When I compare myself to other guys and how much greater they are than me, and how so many women reject me because of how ugly I am.” — Mark S.

“When even the reflection in my computer screen at work as it powered up made me lower my eyes so I didn’t see my own reflection. Throughout the day, I found the biggest chairs and the furthest corners from co-workers to hide myself in, even if it made work harder. I do it to an extent at home as well, just not as bad as when in public or work.” — Cheyenne L.

“I’d always walk with my arms crossed over my stomach. I hated the shape of my body and would do anything to hide it.” — Caitlin T.

5. When you can’t accept compliments.

“When I could no longer properly accept compliments. When people tell me I’m beautiful or pretty, I don’t believe them. I have gained so much weight I don’t even feel myself anymore.” — Hali B.

“I can’t accept compliments. I turn them into jokes about myself. Only because, growing up, I got joked about or the compliment was fake and a gateway into a joke about me.” — Pixie E.

6. When you care about everyone but yourself.

“At one point in time, a friend of mine said to me: ‘You are so strong and you will fight for everyone else, and fight hard, but you won’t fight for yourself. Why is that?’ That was a red flag for me. I realized I didn’t think I was worth fighting for. I fought so hard for everyone else, hoping I could prove to them I was worth fighting for. But I realized I could work on changing my way of thinking about myself.” — Kindra L.

7. When people caring about you comes as a surprise.

“When it hit me that people could care about me. I always assume people would only hate me, but any time I’ve been acutely suicidal, people come around to check on me and encourage me to seek help. I don’t know why I deserve it, but it appears they care. To me, that shows my self-esteem and self-concept are slightly off. That scares me.” — Maddison D.

“Not believing my boyfriend could really care about me when my family couldn’t even show they cared that much. I didn’t think I deserved to be cared for and felt more like a burden on my boyfriend. It scares me how badly I think of myself sometimes.” — Ciana T.

8. When you struggle to be alone.

“I couldn’t do anything on my own: sleep, eat or live. I was fearful of being alone and petrified of living my life without anyone else. It was scared of finding my true self.” — Amanda M.

“When I stayed in an abusive relationship simply because I was afraid of being alone. And now, I’m so scared I’ll get hurt again that I can’t let anyone in.” — Brianna P.

9. When you push everyone away because you’re waiting to be hurt.

“Not being able to trust anyone and pushing people away before they could abandon me or hurt me. I’m so used to rejection and being made to feel like a burden to others that I stopped trying to form relationships with anyone for quite a while.” — Danielle R.

“Isolation and pushing people away. That’s the number one thing people notice first.” — Liz C.

10. When you call yourself a failure over the smallest mistakes.

“When my boyfriend brought it to my attention and I observed myself. The slightest mistakes cause me to shout at myself at how much I am a failure at something. Never having realized it, I discovered I’m the one who destroyed my own self-esteem over time and that filtered into my job and my life decisions. Now that I am trying to pick up the pieces, it is like a puzzle, putting everything back together to repair my self-esteem and confidence.” — Joshua S.

11. When you let others walk all over you.

“When I was letting others walk all over me in an effort to get them to like me, especially my ex. He took full advantage of my inability to say no, and despite the toxicity of the relationship, I honestly believed I was going to eventually marry him anyway because whatever we had was the best I could do. Thank God I finally woke up one day and realized it didn’t have to be that way anymore; I eventually did meet someone who showed me I deserved better and showed me there really is life after heartbreak. That someone is now my husband, and I’m so thankful he rescued me the way he did.” — Alihanra G.

“When I realized how often I was letting people take advantage of me.” — Paris H.

12. When your humor is (always) self-deprecating.

“I tend to use self-deprecating humor quite a bit. It was always just how I handled stuff, but the older I grew, the more people I met, I realized the only people who found that funny were also people who put me down. The good, healthy people in my life always looked at me with sadness until, one day, they asked, ‘Why do you put yourself down?’ That was a moment I had to re-evaluate.” — Brittni R.

“I would always, always find a way to make the ‘fat joke’ no matter what the conversation was. I felt this overwhelming need to beat everyone around me to the joke before they could make it. Even though they weren’t even likely to do so. But, I had to go on the defensive and body shame myself or make it all about my insecurities when it wasn’t needed or appropriate. I masked it as an “if you can’t laugh at yourself…” personality. It took me many, many years to realize this was a defensive mechanism that was from my childhood and teenage years. And it was just a huge cry for help. I now know the differences between my physical health (specifically weight management) and mental health. And I focus on how they really are connected, not just how my low self-esteem tries to connect the two.” — Laura H.

What would you add? Let us know in the comments below.

Photo by Sorin Sîrbu on Unsplash