It's a question you may ask yourself from time to time. It might be tossed around in casual conversation, muttered as you gaze in the mirror before a big project meeting, or whispered as you lay in bed at night wondering why your life isn't where you want it to be.
After all, you ask yourself, "Who am I anyway?"
The answer is usually not in words but a feeling. A feeling that you are no one special. That you could never succeed. That you should stay put in that hole of mediocrity where you belong.
It's called poor self-esteem, and it's hurting you. A lot.
Self-esteem is having confidence in yourself, your ability to make informed choices, and to handle the consequences. It is also the belief that you have a right to success, fulfillment, and happiness. Whether you have it or not will influence every facet of life -- and be the difference between reaching that optimal version of you and forever wondering what might have been.
Unsure 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've passed the point where you're a newbie, and you've collected more than a few accolades over your lifetime, and yet you still feel like you have to prove your worth... at work, in classes, even with friends and partners. If you just can't shake that feeling that you need just one more thing to show that you're good enough, smart enough, strong enough -- then, on some level, you don't inherently believe in your abilities.
If this applies to you, sit down and map out exactly what you think you need to prove, to whom, and 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 that 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, you do have control over how much time and energy you invest in a relationship. Engaging with toxic people may indicate that you don't feel like you deserve love and support. That you feel that this is the best you can get.
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 able to attract supportive and loving people into your life.
3. You are devastated by every setback
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 -- so why get up if you'll just be knocked back down again?
By learning to separate life setbacks -- those that we all face to some degree -- 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 life crisis can help to normalize the experience and get you back on track.
4. Passing off your success as "luck"
If push comes to shove then maybe you can cough up some things you've achieved. But as soon as you admit to it, you are quick to cast it aside as "luck." It wasn't your talents, hard work, or dedication that prompted your achievements, but rather some nebulous force in the universe that made things happen.
You earned your success, and failure to recognize this can seriously undermine your future efforts in your personal and professional life. To combat this, create a detailed document of the steps you took to achieve success. If you map out your journey, you'll see how the trajectory was shaped by what you did, rather than some magical and indiscriminate stroke of luck.
5. You don't go for your dreams
You have a dream but so many excuses why you can't follow it. Or worse, you don't even allow yourself to dream. Why bother when it will never come to pass?
Settling for a life that isn't fulfilling is one of the most devastating correlates of low self-esteem. You might be in a secure position, even in a senior role at a company, but if it makes you miserable, then you're not living up to your potential. Dreams don't have to be wild fantasies -- they are just reflections of where you want to go. If you're not pursuing your desires, then you might find yourself wallowing in regret at the end of your life instead of basking in the joy you've found.
If this sounds like you, try this exercise. Take out a piece of paper and write down one of your dreams. Ask yourself honestly if you could ever achieve it. Prepare counterarguments for doubts and consider all the reasons why you deserve your best life. Maintaining awareness of low self-esteem can set you on the path to repairing what is broken and help you become the person you know you were meant to be.