What Lowers Self-Esteem? 11 Habits That Can Make You Feel Less Empowered, According To Experts
Self-esteem can be a fickle thing, especially since it's so easy to get caught up in habits that can lower your self-esteem and make you feel less empowered. Little things that many of us do everyday — such as apologizing unnecessarily, giving into negative self talk, or comparing yourself to others — have the power to lower confidence levels in a pretty significant way.
It happens to the best of us, since it's all too easy to let these habits take over, without even realizing the effect they can have. "Humans are creatures of habit and when we spend a lot of time thinking or acting in certain ways, we start to think or act that way habitually," psychotherapist Brennan C. Mallonee, LMHC, tells Bustle. "It's much easier for our brain to rely on these old patterns than it is to develop new ways of thinking, so the choices you consistently make can have a big impact on the way you see the world and think about yourself."
If you're falling into unhealthy patterns or unhelpful ways of thinking, it makes sense why you might not feel so great as a result. But the good news is, it's often easy to replace these negative habits with positive ones. As Mallonee says, "Small changes in the way you approach things can add up to big changes in your attitude and self-image as your brain adjusts to a new way of thinking and begins to learn a healthier habit." Here are a few bad habits experts say to keep an eye on, since they have a way of lowering self-esteem.
1. Having Poorly Defined Boundaries
When it comes to work, friendships, and relationships, boundaries are where it's at if you want people to respect your time and space. If you have them already established, great. But if not, the lack of respect may start to drag you down.
"Every time you allow someone to hijack your time (like pulling you off a priority project to do something for them, canceling on you at the last minute, or being an hour late), you lose a bit of yourself worth," Susan Rose, a happiness and success coach, tells Bustle. "Or every time you say yes to something you really don’t want to do, you feel disempowered. This is hard because we’re taught to 'be nice,' and saying no feels mean. But letting people ignore your boundaries hurts you." Learning to stand up for yourself can take some time, but it's worth it in the long run.
2. Being "Harsh" With Yourself
The way you talk to yourself throughout the day can either build you up, or knock you down. So try to be aware of any harsh words or judgments that may be whizzing around inside your head.
"Every time you say things like 'you idiot, you forgot,' or 'I’m such a flake,' or 'you can’t do anything right' you lower your self-esteem," Rose says. "Words matter, and constantly criticizing yourself for simply being human erodes self-esteem."
While it can be difficult, giving yourself a break is key. And so is replacing this type of negative self-talk with something a bit more positive.
3. Walking Around With Bad Posture
Believe it or not, how you carry yourself through the world physically can affect how you feel mentally, so pay attention to your posture whenever possible, and make sure you're not hunching up into a ball.
When you're slumped over, "your brain picks up on your body, and releases cortisol," Dr. Perpetua Neo, an executive coach an psychologist, tells Bustle. "As humans evolved, we curled up into tiny balls to prevent predators from detecting us. That's stressful!"
But by standing tall and pushing your shoulders back, "you'll feel much more confident and empowered," Neo says. "This is the easiest 'biohack' I teach my clients to raise their self-esteem, by programming their brains and bodies."
4. Hanging Around Toxic People
Who you choose to surround yourself with can have a pretty significant impact on how you feel about yourself. "You may have heard the saying you are the sum average of the five people you hang out with the most," Neo says. And if most of your friends and coworkers are toxic, it will begin to affect your self-esteem.
"Toxic people are energy vampires — they are exhausting, and affect your force field and sanity way beyond the time you spend with them," says Neo. "You will feel consumed trying to figure the toxic person or their behavior out, and feel guilty for thinking them as difficult people, or try to explain it all away for them."
That's why, the sooner you can remove people like this from your life, the better. "I always do a 'People Audit' with my clients to identify who are the toxic influences in their lives," Neo says. "Detox your social scene, [and] you'll have tons more energy and time for yourself, your dreams, and great people."
5. Avoiding Risky Situations
While you don't want to put yourself in danger, that doesn't mean you shouldn't take the occasional risky move when it comes to things like your career — especially since doing so can be incredibly empowering.
"We often think that not failing and constantly succeeding will bring us a feeling of confidence and self-assurance. So many of us play very small in our life to protect ourselves," career coach Erin Foley, PhD., tells Bustle. And yet, doing so can have the opposite effect.
Playing small "sends a message to ourselves that we can’t handle scary things, we can’t handle messing up," says Foley, when in reality, "deep confidence comes from knowing you can handle failing." Once you put yourself out there, and ride through any rejections or failures you encounter, you'll feel like you can do anything.
6. Not Saying What You're Thinking
OK, so this doesn't mean you should be rude, or say whatever pops into your mind just because you want to. But there is great power to be had in speaking your mind, and being a bit assertive when it comes to having group conversations.
And that — however uncomfortable it may feel — often means refusing to be talked over or interrupted. "Holding others accountable when they interrupt and talk over a speaker restores empowerment and builds the confidence of the original speaker," relationship and life coach Lauren V.T. Irish tells Bustle. So if this happens to you, stand your ground, speak up, say your piece, and then let others have the floor.
7. Comparing Yourself To Others
In this day and age, it's all too easy to fall victim to comparison. It can happen IRL, possibly while you're at work or while out with friends. But more often than not, comparisons happen whilst scrolling social media.
"The challenge with social media is that you naturally compare yourself with others," psychotherapist and life coach Jasmin Terrany, LMHC tells Bustle. "Either you feel bad about yourself because you compare your own experience with your false perception of another’s life, or you judge others to make yourself feel better about yourself. Either way you are experiencing negativity."
While there's nothing wrong with social media, it can help to be aware of how it makes you feel. "It's important that we stay in tune with what we are thinking as we are exploring social media to ensure we are not unconsciously measuring our life against the lives of others," Celeste Viciere, LMHC, a cognitive behavioral therapist, tells Bustle. If you catch yourself feelin' bad, give yourself a break.
8. Criticizing Yourself (Or Somebody Else)
It's not healthy to criticize yourself, since doing so will deflate you pretty much instantly. But be wary of passing judgment on others, as doing so will leave you feeling bad, too.
"Whether you are saying it out loud or thinking it to yourself, either way you are sitting with negativity, which in essence makes you feel bad," Terrany says. "It’s like taking poison and expecting the other person to die." It only leaves you feeling less empowered, and less confident. So try to build yourself up, by thinking good thoughts whenever possible. And while you're at it, try to spread some positivity around, as we could all use a little more of that.
9. Apologizing When It's Not Necessary
Knowing how to apologize, and doing so in a timely fashion is important — whether you're saying sorry to a partner, a friend, or even a coworker.
But if you're someone who throws apologies around all willy nilly, it'll be difficult to keep your self-esteem at a healthy level. "If you're always the one to apologize, even when the other person is responsible, it can leave you feeling as though you're the sort of person who's often wrong and owes everyone an apology just for being you," Mallonee says. "While a sincere apology is a healthy and healing thing when it's called for, consistently putting yourself in the position of apologizing can wear away at your self-image and make you think of yourself as 'less than.'"
It's an easy habit to fall into, and women especially have a hard time going through the day without apologizing. But it's a knee-jerk reaction that can be improved, once you're aware of it. If you can save apologies for when they're necessary, you'll feel so much better.
10. Putting Everyone Else's Needs Before Your Own
Caring about others, and being a good friend, is obviously important. But if you go overboard, it can backfire. "What ends up happening is that your wants and needs get put on the back burner while you help and empower those around you," professional counselor Heidi McBain, MA, LMFT, LPC, RPT tells Bustle. "So, other people end up feeling really good and really supported, while you end up with lower self-esteem and feeling less empowered."
Again, this is about boundaries, which can take some time to establish. But once you do, you'll feel all sorts of empowered.
11. Caring Too Much About What Other People Think
Are you someone who asks for advice 24/7, or who worries about what everyone will think when it comes to your every move? We've all been there. And yet, "caring too much what others think," can lead to lowered self-esteem and less empowerment, life-freedom coach Amy Matthews, founder of Woman UnRuled, tells Bustle. "It’s your life and no one knows better than you what’s right for you."
It's fine to ask for help, and to seek guidance whenever you need it. But at the end of the day, you should be able to make and trust in your own decisions, and generally focus on what makes you happy.
By fixing little habits habits that leave you feeling less empowered — and replacing them with ones that boost your self-esteem — you can ultimately feel better about yourself, as well as super confident. And who doesn't want more of that?