Four Behaviors of Low Self-Esteem

“Don’t underrate yourself. Humility deserves honor and respect, but a low opinion of yourself leads to sin.”

Interesting quote, don’t you think? It actually comes from the ancient writings of Sirach. So this self-esteem stuff isn’t some fancy, pop psychology or passing fad. The great authors from all times and all cultures have known the value of self-esteem.

So you can’t expect to be your best if you’re saddled with low self-esteem. That’s why I outlined four of the sneaky, insidious behaviors associated with low self-esteem in last week’s “Tuesday Tip” — so you could spot them and eliminate them. Let’s continue the list.

5. The Rescuer

Like so many people with low self-esteem, The Rescuer believes her value comes from what she does. Her value is not a given. She has to prove it or earn it.

The Rescuer feels worthwhile — “if” she feels needed. So she fills her life with weak, dependent, helpless people. Or she does things for people that they can and should do for themselves.

I remember the parents of an 8-year old boy who was away at camp for the first time. After a few days had passed, and they hadn’t heard from him, they called to see how he was doing.

They were disappointed to discover that their little boy hadn’t missed them at all. So the mother asked, “Have any of the other kids gotten homesick?” Her son replied, “Only the ones who have dogs.”

When your self-esteem is dependent on others, when you “need” others to “need” you, you’re vulnerable. As soon as they grow up or take on more responsibility, you’re bound to feel let down.

6. The Stick-In-The-Mud

Other folks with low self-esteem are terribly afraid of change. They don’t have the confidence to handle it, so they’ll justify and justify the status quo. They’ll give you a million reasons why change isn’t necessary or why it won’t work. They stay stuck in the mud, rigidly adhering to their particular point of view or their way of doing things.

It’s like the man who was told by the fortune teller, “You’ll be poor, unhappy, and miserable until you’re fifty.”

“Then what?” asked the man.

“By that time,” the fortune teller said, “you’ll be used to it.”

People with low self-esteem get used to it. But people with high self-esteem see it quite differently. They know that the only people who don’t change their minds are either stubborn or stupid. And they have the confidence to open their eyes, look at the alternatives, and go for change when they see a better way.

7. The Attacker

One of the sick ways people try to get self-esteem is by putting other people down. Somehow or other they think they’re “not so bad” if other people are “worse.” And so they find fault, attack, or criticize — not to help but to hurt.

You see this behavior in little kids when they call each other names. You see it when spouses continually cut each other down. And you see it when teammates find something wrong with everything somebody else suggests. It’s poor self-esteem in action.

Thirteen-year old Diane Luvensky of Lynn, Massachusetts wrote about that in her poem, “Before The Hole Goes Through.”

“I saw a little boy, my brother – whom I love and accept for what he is –
showing some young children he knew, a beautiful weeping willow tree, one of the wonders and beauties of nature.

“Walking behind him, they were pointing and laughing, whispering and nodding – while my brother, walking, staggering but happy, had no knowledge, was unaware that they were making fun of him.

“He didn’t look back. The children kept laughing and giggling but he didn’t see. They wouldn’t have cared if he did, and he probably wouldn’t have caught on.

“People think that if some people are different in any way that they are like machines, that they have no feelings, need no love, need no friendship nor understanding.

“But they need it even more than we, because they are constantly being rejected, left out or put-down, and although it may not show at the beginning, it is wearing a hole through their hearts and we must help them before it goes all the way through.”

Diane Luvensky knew that attacks and putdowns were simply a cover up for poor self-esteem. And hopefully you know the same thing. Attackers may look like they’ve got it together. They may look like they’re better or superior, but they’ve always got a bad case of the low self-esteem jitters.

Two college rivals were like that. Some 20 years later, they bumped into each other. Joe asked, “Do you remember how I used to be fat and flabby like you? Well I’ve been on an exercise program for a few years, and now I run marathons.”

“That’s great,” said Bill.

“And do you remember how I used to be a poor shy student? Well I took a course on public speaking, and now I make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on the lecture circuit.”

“That’s great,” was Bill’s reply.

Then Joe asked, “How about you? Have you changed at all?”

Bill answered, “Yes I have. Remember how brutally honest I used to be and how, when someone said something uninteresting, I would reply, ‘I couldn’t care less?’ Well, now I just say, ‘That’s great’.”

Healthy people do not engage in these kinds of attacking behaviors. They don’t try to build their self-esteem by extinguishing someone else’s.

8. The Escape Artist

Another variation of low self-esteem is seen in The Escape Artist. The Escape Artist doesn’t believe that she deserves to have her needs met. Or she doesn’t believe she has the ability to get her needs met. And that hurts. It hurts a lot.

So the low self-esteem person may try to escape the pain. She may do that by living in a world of alcohol, drugs, food, sex, work, TV — whatever makes her stop thinking about her life and the pain she feels. She lives in a world of fantasy.

It’s like the psychiatrist who asked the young lady, “Why is your family so worried about you?”

“It’s just that I’m so fond of pancakes,” she replied.

“Is that all? Why I’m very fond of pancakes myself,” said the psychiatrist.

“Oh really? You must come over to our house. I have trunks and trunks of them.” she said.

As silly as it sounds, that’s what the Escape Artist does. Instead of dealing with the pain, instead of fixing the core problem–which is her lack of self-esteem, she focuses her energies on something else. She focuses her energies on something that might make her feel better temporarily.

People with high self-esteem are quite different. They deal with the tough issues in life–rather than avoid them. And their wrestling with the tough issues always gives them a bit of self-respect.

Well that’s four more of the behaviors you’ll see in people with low self-esteem. Of course I’ve been giving you some rather light-hearted examples of each behavior. But low self-esteem is an important and serious issue.

Without a strong self-confidence and a strong belief in yourself, you’ll never achieve all you are capable of achieving. And you’ll never enjoy life to the fullest.

Action:  A problem identified is a problem on the way to being solved. Of the four, low self-esteem behaviors just discussed, which one is most characteristic of you? Name it. Claim it. And then tame it.

Write down five things you can and will do to get rid of that behavior. Write down five more things you can and will do to build your self-esteem.