by Pamina Mullins
It’s hard to believe, but as a child my insecurities were visible from another solar system! I earned my Master’s degree in cultivating creative excuses about why I couldn’t do the scary stuff, lying to myself to avoid having to face situations where I felt hopelessly out of my depth. So for years I repeated the same
frustrating patterns—in business, relationships and finances. I could have written a thousand page theses on How to Sabotage Yourself with Low Self Esteem!
And no, there was nothing positive about the way this made me feel—until I pushed the pause button and started to ask why.
Being needy is one of the many footprints low self esteem leaves on our lives—and it’s a valuable diagnostic clue.
Why would we be needy? Since one of our basic human needs is to feel loved and accepted, when we don’t value ourselves we are constantly anxious about this. So we obsessively seek proof from others. We become hyper-vigilant—watching people’s behavior, listening intently to their words and tone of voice, mentally recording how they act toward us in an effort to seek reassurance of our value.
In addition, reading what’s going on in other people’s heads is notoriously tricky, so the conclusions we come to are frequently inaccurate.
Often if the behaviors we believe ‘prove’ that others appreciate us are not forthcoming, we keep trying harder to please—then get resentful and angry when we think they are ‘withholding attention.’ So when our self confidence levels are low, we become a bottomless pit for constant external affirmation of our worth.
This has nothing to do with other people or situations—but everything to do with our insecurity. Irrational storytelling, people pleasing, unrealistic expectations, blame and an unwillingness to analyze our own issues are the byproducts of low self esteem.
Frequently when we have low self esteem we find ourselves in relationships (personal and professional) with people who are very similar to those who created our lack of self worth in the first place—people who did not or could not
make us feel valuable. And so the low self esteem cycle continues.
Chaotic relationships are another common clue.
Given our insatiable neediness, those of us with low self esteem almost always have chaotic relationships. It is almost impossible to build a healthy, stable relationship with someone who is excessively self-focused, hypersensitive, insecure and defensive. Trust me, I tried—and I know! Misunderstandings, unreasonable expectations and blaming everything and everyone else for our misfortunes make us emotional landmines. We launch defensive attacks before anyone’s opened their mouths. We pre-empt criticism and lack the confidence to take responsibility for our flaws.
Hyper-vigilance is another common clue.
Since those with low self esteem are constantly fearful of making mistakes, they are hyper-vigilant of their own and others words, actions, and appearance. They tend to vacillate between blaming themselves and blaming other people when situations don’t go as anticipated. This is a very energy intensive and exhausting way to live, since almost everything is out of their control.
Lack of assertiveness, manipulative, or aggressive, behavior is another clue.
Being authentically assertive when you are so unsure of yourself is impossible. You’re too afraid of offending people to tell the truth, ask for what you want, or share your feelings. Instead, you appear to be passive until that accumulated resentment bursts its banks, like a river in flood manifesting in aggressive, defensive, sarcastic, rude, and even violent behavior. This bottled resentment can also manifest as manipulation, hinting, sulking, insinuating or gossiping to coerce people into doing what you want.
Don’t be fooled by perfectionism.
It’s often just fake confidence. We may act ultra sophisticated, learned, or authoritative. But the cost of maintaining this façade, while being constantly anxious that someone will see through it, is draining. It also leads to more feelings of failure when we can’t maintain this act. We think in terms of extremes—right/wrong, success/failure, acceptable or unacceptable. Anything less than the unrealistic benchmark we have set is a failure. We don’t have the confidence to risk mistakes, so we often don’t take risks at all.
Poor communication skills often indicate a lack of self esteem.
Fearful of offending by stating their true feelings, those with low self esteem often cannot communicate clearly. They beat about the bush and indulge in ambiguity and generalizations; while never having the courage to state their opinions or preferences.
Poor social skills often hamper those with low self esteem.
They can feel ashamed or inadequate around others. Sadly this dynamic is circular and they often receive (or perceive they do) negative feedback, which further damages their self esteem and social skills. Some ‘act out’ in a dramatic or inappropriate way, as if to prove they are confident. Since they lack the courage to face their problems, they have no concept of cause and effect. No matter how obnoxious or inept their behavior they assume they are blameless, and that others are simply abusive.
Promiscuity can be a byproduct of low self esteem.
People who don't value themselves often use sex as a way to get attention and approval from others. This is especially true of those who have low self esteem as a result of having been sexually abused. This ‘fix’ is seldom rewarding and the feelings of being unloved and inadequate return—prompting a repetitive pattern.
Self-Sabotage is almost mandatory for those who lack self esteem.
Because they believe themselves to be unworthy at a deep level, they invariably develop coping strategies and behaviors that are based on these beliefs and insure they won’t succeed at whatever it is they wish they could do or be. This often manifests in the following ways:
Under achievers: Unable or unwilling to take charge of their lives or make changes, they drift through life accepting what comes their way. Because their fear of failure or rejection is so strong they stay in unrewarding or abusive jobs or relationships. Fear of failure or looking stupid prevents them from bettering themselves. Fear of not fitting in prevents them from joining groups and more often than not they don’t seek therapy or coaching because it would be an admission of inadequacy. So, they remain trapped, in this self-defeating cycle.
Co-dependants: Lacking the courage to stretch or improve themselves, co-dependants rely on others for decision-making, defer to others’ ideas and values, try to please others to be liked, and act helpless. When things don’t work out the way they had planned they can get mightily pissed off with those they rely on to live their lives for them.
Workaholics: Wealth, professional recognition or social status give a workaholic the positive feedback s/he depends so heavily on. So s/he will often work him or herself into an early grave in an effort to prove how valuable and indispensable they really are. Other areas of their lives tend to atrophy from lack of attention, because of this single minded fixation.
So what could possibly be positive about excuses and procrastination?
These self sabotaging habits kick in when the boundaries of your comfort zone are threatened—the safety stop that protects you from venturing too far into dragon territory. The following behaviors are signs of this:
Habitual stress and drama
Relying heavily on a ‘public image’
When your subconscious mind installs “safety measures” like this, it’s protecting you. Your chosen challenge is too extreme—that leap across the ‘reality’ chasm, is too vast, too fast and too terrifying to contemplate.
Self sabotaging habits kick in when the potential consequences of failure are too frightening.
Here’s how to get around this. Establish a series of smaller challenges that are not particularly threatening inside your comfort zone. Then establish one or two just outside it. This process of hypnosis lulls your unconscious mind into feeling safe; believing that nothing is really changing. Then when you approach your comfort zone boundary you’ll only need to stretch those fear fences a little to move through it—not set in motion a paralyzing paradigm shift. Repeat this process again and again.
With consistent incremental repetition the process becomes cumulative—and this new mental territory you have just colonized becomes your new comfort zone boundary. By gradually and consistently breaking new ground in this way, you automatically gain confidence. And new behaviors automatically arise to support this new reality.
This is how momentum builds!
In order to keep that momentum, it is vital to celebrate every milestone along the way, as you reach it. If possible this self celebration should include tangible “proof” that you are making progress in the right direction. It is this positive feedback that keeps the momentum towards your goals increasing. It energizes the creation of new successes and rewires your brain’s reality system. It gives you a sense of ownership, pride and control over where you’re going.
Your journey is unique. So what if it isn’t as fast or dramatic as someone else’s—yet?
What others think is irrelevant—just continue challenging yourself and celebrating each step of the way. If you’re immobilized by fear but wish you had the confidence to reach out for the fulfillment and satisfaction that you really
desire—you are not alone! It is a natural human reaction to danger; a survival instinct programmed into us to prevent our ancestors from becoming lion lunch or dinosaur droppings!
Behaviors born of fear and insecurity stem from feeling we don’t have the answers to these questions:
• Fear of failure -If we take a risk and fail, will we be able to protect, feed and shelter ourselves and our loved ones?
• Fear of Success – If we become too successful will we run the risk of alienating friends or family? Will success entail extra responsibilities that we are not comfortable with?
• Fear of Rejection or exclusion - Fear of losing the love, respect or acceptance of family, friends, employers, employees, colleagues, peers or community? Fear of being ridiculed.
• Fear of Pain or Discomfort – Are we risking psychological, emotional or physical pain, embarrassment or discomfort if we take this course of action?
• Fear of the Unknown – Will we make fools of ourselves or risk danger, loss, or uncertainty?
• Fear of vulnerability – Will we be criticized, judged, lose face or be rejected if people know what our weaknesses are?
How do confident people overcome these fears?
1. Their single minded focus on the ultimate benefits overrides their fears.
2. They get to know and accept their fears and what drives these. They know that everyone has fears. It’s just a matter of whether they paralyze or propel you.
3. They accept that fear is a fact of life; that it will always be there.
4. They face situations that force them to be authentic; to align themselves with who they really are. They don’t allow the threat of censure, disapproval or exclusion to intimidate them.
5. They recognize that courage is not the absence of fear but the embracing of it. They turn fear into fuel.
6. They take action. And they keep acting, knowing that it is action that breeds confidence and courage. They know that action is all that’s standing between them and their dreams.
During the course of working with countless people; some with chronically low self esteem I have witnessed them make miraculous transformations into glowingly confident individuals. Why? Because they learn to fully appreciate their own value—something which is totally within their control. They no longer rely on other people or situations to peg their value for them.
We all procrastinate and make excuses from time to time. But we always have a choice. Do we let it paralyze us—or propel us? Ask yourself:
What is this debilitating habit trying to tell me?
If you found this post helpful, please don’t keep it a secret—share it with your own networks. And watch this space for my new website, including FREE Break Free Discovery Sessions, and online Quit Stress, Stop Self Sabotage and Create Confidence courses.
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