Low self-esteem can manifest as a lack of eye contact, poor posture, and excessive grooming. If you recognize these behaviors in yourself, here’s how to deal with them.

Living with low self-esteem can be an internal struggle, fostering feelings of worthlessness, self-criticism, and anxiety. But how does it manifest outwardly?

Nonverbal cues, like tone of voice, gestures, and eye contact, convey a wealth of information alongside spoken words. In addition, withdrawal from social events and exhibiting passive behavior or a lack of assertiveness can also be indicative of low self-esteem.

Here are seven outward signs — ranging from poor posture to self-deprecating remarks — that often indicate low self-esteem.

Slouching, rounded shoulders, or avoiding an upright stance can reflect a lack of confidence or a desire to appear smaller or less noticeable. In contrast, sitting or standing up straight can actually make you feel more confident.

A 2014 study comparing seated posture found that sitting upright improved self-esteem, mood, and reduced fear during a stressful task. Upright posture was also associated with a higher speech rate and reduced self-focused language.

This suggests that maintaining good posture might help you manage stress by positively influencing your emotions and thoughts.

In social situations, habits like fidgeting or nervous laughter often signal feelings of anxiety. These may be more commonly seen in social anxiety, which tends to correlate with lower self-esteem due to a fear of negative judgment.

A study among 93 university students highlighted that these anxious habits, like fidgeting or trembling, were more apparent during tasks like impromptu speeches or interactions.

Redirecting nervous energy through controlled actions like deep breathing can help manage these habits.

Habitually making self-deprecating remarks, excessively apologizing, or minimizing personal achievements could signal low self-esteem. A 2018 study suggests that there’s a connection between self-deprecation, depression, and anxiety.

Low self-esteem can both contribute to and result from depression and anxiety. When individuals have low self-esteem, they tend to perceive situations negatively and internalize failures or setbacks. This negative interpretation can then trigger or exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Practicing positive self-talk, like affirmations, may be a good way to manage fears rather than relying on self-deprecation.

Individuals with low self-esteem often avoid sustained eye contact, finding it uncomfortable or intimidating, while longer, comfortable eye contact can convey confidence. It can even make others feel more confident in themselves.

In a 1993 study, participants viewed videos featuring models varying in eye contact duration, then rated their own self-esteem based on how they perceived the models would rate their own self-esteem.

The findings show that longer eye contact in the videos correlated with higher self-esteem ratings among the viewers. This suggests that extended eye contact might have contributed to increased perceptions of self-esteem among observers.

It’s important to note that expectations regarding social eye contact may vary in different cultures, and therefore, do not always reflect self-esteem.

Do you find yourself frequently agreeing to things you don’t want to do? Do you fail to express your opinions or needs in a group setting, even if you have important input to share?

Difficulty asserting personal boundaries or expressing needs and wants can be linked to low self-esteem. The good news is that assertiveness can be learned.

In a 2023 study involving 10th-grade female students in Iran, a program focusing on problem-solving and assertiveness training significantly boosted the self-esteem and mental health of participants.

Those who received the intervention showed marked improvements in both self-esteem and mental health compared to those who didn’t.

Spending excessive time on grooming, being overly concerned with appearance, or frequent self-criticism regarding your physical appearance might indicate seeking external validation due to low self-worth.

In a study involving over 96,000 university students in China, researchers explored appearance anxiety, social anxiety, and the impact of self-compassion.

The findings show that, as appearance-related distress increased, so did social anxiety.

Interestingly, the study revealed that self-compassion played a role in lessening the impact of appearance anxiety on social anxiety.

Consistently withdrawing from social gatherings or shying away from interactions could indicate feelings of inadequacy or fear of judgment.

Evidence from 2023 suggests that low self-esteem can significantly impact how we navigate social interactions.

When our self-esteem is low, it can be difficult to accurately understand how others see us, leading to uncertainties in social situations and difficulty in knowing if we’re being accepted or not.

On the flip side, when we have a healthier self-image, dealing with loneliness can be different. Even though we might feel alone, having stronger self-esteem helps us handle these emotions better, reducing the impact of loneliness and making it easier to cope with the isolation.

How to improve self-esteem

Improving your self-esteem involves strategies that promote overall well-being and confidence. Here are some tips:

  • Practice good posture: Be mindful of your posture. Stand tall, relax your shoulders, and maintain an upright stance. This can convey confidence and positively impact mood.
  • Eye contact: Make an effort to maintain comfortable eye contact during conversations. Practice looking at people’s eyes when speaking and listening, as it can convey self-assurance.
  • Relaxation techniques: Incorporate relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to reduce nervous habits and promote a sense of calmness.
  • Assertiveness training: Learn assertiveness skills to express yourself confidently while respecting your own needs and boundaries.
  • Physical exercise: Engage in regular physical activity, which can improve mood, reduce stress, and enhance self-image.
  • Positive self-talk: Replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Encourage and support yourself with uplifting and empowering statements.
  • Focus on acceptance: Embrace imperfections and accept yourself as a work in progress. View setbacks or failures as opportunities for growth and learning rather than as reflections of your worth.
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Improving low self-esteem involves learning to accept yourself, working on making your voice heard, and setting achievable goals. Prioritize your well-being and celebrate small victories.

Remember, improving your self-esteem is a journey — be patient, kind to yourself, and accept that everyone has strengths and areas for growth. Seek professional guidance if necessary, and know that progress takes time.