"Who the f*ck am I?" might be something you toss around in casual conversation, mutter as you gaze in the mirror before a big meeting or whisper through tears as you fall asleep wondering why your life isn’t where you want it to be.
At the core of this question is the underlying assumption that you aren’t good enough. That you don’t deserve happiness. That you should stay entrenched in mediocrity because it's where you belong.
It is a mark of poor self-esteem, and it’s hurting you. A lot.
Self-esteem is having confidence in yourself, in your ability to make the right choices and to handle the consequences. It is also the belief that you have a right to success, fulfillment, and happiness. Whether or not you have it influences every facet of life. It's the difference between reaching the optimal version of yourself and forever wondering what might have been.
Wondering if this applies to you? Here are five signs of low self-esteem and tips on how to reclaim it for the life you deserve.
1. You feel like you always need to prove yourself.
You’re not a newbie. You’ve collected more than a few accolades over your lifetime. But you still feel like you have to continually prove your worth — at work, in classes, even with friends and partners. If you just can’t shake that feeling that you need to do just one more thing to show that you’re good enough, smart enough, or strong enough, then, on some level, you don’t inherently believe in your abilities.
If this applies to you, sit down and map out what exactly you think you need to prove, to whom, and most importantly, why you feel this need. Ask yourself if this has merit. Dispute unhelpful thoughts and exaggerations. Instead, focus on your strengths and achievements so that you can move forward from trying to prove your worth to believing in yourself.
2. You have toxic relationships.
We all know those people — the ones who drain your energy and leave you feeling dejected, anxious, and unworthy. You give and they take. And then they take some more. While you don’t have control over who comes into your life, if you choose to invest your time and energy in a toxic relationship, that spells trouble. Deep down, you think you don’t deserve love and support. That this is the best it can be. That “real” friends don’t really exist.
To give your self-esteem a boost, make a list of the unique gifts that you offer to others. Post it somewhere you can see. When you get a compliment, add it to the list. Once you recognize and own your gifts, you will be better equipped to attract the supportive and loving people you deserve.
3. You're devastated by every setback.
That job loss crushed you. That breakup put you out of commission for months. Not losing 10 pounds by your goal date ruined your self-esteem for half a year.
Life happens, and it’s not always pretty. We are all touched by illness, death, breakups, and disappointment. But if you have low self-esteem, the hit is harder. You don’t have the resilience to bounce back. You feel like things won’t get better — why get up if you’ll just be knocked down again?
By learning to separate normal life setbacks (those that we all face in some form) from your innate abilities and worth is crucial to moving confidently forward. Seeking out support and joining a community of others going through a similar type of crisis can help normalize the experience and get you back on track.
4. You call your success "luck."
If push comes to shove then maybe, just maybe, you can cough up some things you’ve achieved. But as soon as you admit to it, you are quick to dismiss it as “luck.” It wasn’t your talents, hard work, or dedication that prompted your achievements but rather some nebulous force in the universe that just happened to touch you and make things happen.
Wrong. You earned your success, and failure to recognize this can seriously undermine your future efforts in business and your personal life.
While this may feel uncomfortable, document the steps you took to achieve success and why you deserved it. If you map out your journey, you’ll see how the trajectory was shaped by what you did — not by some magical, indiscriminate stroke of luck.
5. You don't pursue your dreams.
For every dream you have, you can find a hundred excuses not to pursue it. Or worse, you may not even allow yourself to dream. Why bother when it’ll never come to pass? Discounting your ability to move toward your ideal life is one of the most detrimental effects of low self-esteem. You might be in a secure position, even in a senior role at a company, but if it’s not what you want to do, then you’re not living up to your true potential.
Dreams don’t have to be wild fantasies — they are just reflections of where you want to go. If you’re not reaching out to find what you really want and where you belong, then you might find yourself wallowing in regret at the end of your life, instead of basking in the joy you’ve found.
If you find yourself daydreaming about your ideal life without taking steps toward it, you may want to try this exercise. Envision yourself on a train — the destination being your best life. What would it look like? Who would be there? How would you feel? What would you be doing?
Once you have a clear enough vision, write down a concrete step you could take to get closer to that dream. Affirm that you are good enough to take that one step. Even a single step can be transformational and send you further on the path to your optimal life.
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Amanda Richardson, PhD, MS, CHWC is a health coach, consultant, researcher and writer dedicated to helping people find balance, reclaim their joy and improve their lives. As the Founder of WellHealth Integrative Health Coaching & Consulting, she helps individuals, small groups and organizations change behavior and get healthy.