“I don’t think I’m any good at dating,” moans a friend after yet another dating app connection went sour. Signs of low self-esteem in a woman aren’t exactly rare, and they do tend to manifest in the arena of dating and romantic relationships.
Maybe it’s because we’re fed a steady diet of how if we’re sweet and accommodating, love will find us quicker. Maybe it’s because we’re always seen in the roles of giver and nurturer. Or maybe it’s because we’re forever made to feel that we’re not quite enough for our ideal romantic relationship and that it’s more practical to lower our standards.
Low self-esteem in a relationship can turn dark and toxic as one partner will start demanding constant reassurance and be consistently insecure. So, how can you tell a woman has low self-esteem? Are there clear signs? And can and should you help a woman with low self-esteem?
These are complex and pertinent questions. So, we asked psychotherapist Gopa Khan (Masters in Counseling Psychology, M.Ed), who specializes in marriage and family counseling, for insights on recognizing signs of low self-esteem in a woman you are dating.
What Causes Low Self-Esteem In A Woman?
“Self-esteem is composed of factors like self-worth, self-competence, and self-acceptance. When a person is depressed or low, their self-esteem is diminished. A person with low self-esteem perceives everything in a dark way and has little hope for change. A person without self-esteem often feels lost, views themselves as worthless, and cannot imagine what others see in them,” says Gopa.
Related Reading: What To Expect When You Love A Man With Low Self-Esteem
“People who take responsibility for their own existence can start building their self-esteem. It does not matter how small the step is as long as it is a step forward,” she adds. Emphasizing that it’s important to understand and identify the root of low self-esteem, Gopa outlines various causes of low self-esteem behaviors:
1. Negative parenting and disapproval from authority figures
“Parents telling a child that they are worthless or good for nothing, or constantly gaslighting them, can become their internal dialogue as adults. For instance, someone could be living with a parent as an adult, but be unable to take any decisions as they feel they are incapable of making the right choices or that they have no right to make their own judgements, as they have been brainwashed right from childhood that their opinion does not count,” Gopa says.
2. Neglectful parents or distant caregivers
“If parents are undergoing depression or they are not attentive, loving, or engaged with their children, it can cause a lack of a nurturing relationship where children are neglected. This, in turn, leads to the kids feeling unworthy. Such kids grow up to become insecure adults and turn ‘clingy’ in relationships. They fear being abandoned by their partners and the more they cling, the more they lose people in their life, reinforcing their belief that they are unworthy,” Gopa explains.
3. Childhood abuse
“This can involve verbal, physical, or sexual abuse which, in turn, defines how the adult sees themselves. Such adults grow up not knowing what healthy relationship boundaries are and as a result, can remain in abusive relationships through their adult lives,” Gopa says.
4. Academic difficulties or bullying in school
“This can have a big impact on a child and subsequent adult’s life. A child bullied for being different or being body-shamed in school can leave a lasting impact in life, leading to signs of low self-esteem in a woman and low self-esteem in a relationship,” she says.
Gopa warns that always wanting things to be perfect can cause a lot of stress and cause a person to feel unworthy. This, in turn, can manifest in low self-esteem behaviors.
Related Reading: Perfect Relationship: Does Love Need To Be Perfect All The Time?
9 Signs Of Low Self-Esteem In A Woman You Are Dating
So, we’ve identified some root causes of low self-esteem in a woman, which is a first step toward understanding them a little better. But what signs of low self-esteem in a woman should you look out for, in order to support her better? Read on to find out.
1. Her lack of self-confidence
“Here, the person has lost belief in themselves and they place their value solely on how others see them. For instance, many women stay trapped in physically or emotionally abusive relationships as they feel they deserve it or are unworthy of a healthy relationship. They may even feel that the abuse is their fault somehow. They are unable to make decisions for themselves and are always unsure of their choices in life and keep seeking validation from others,” Gopa says.
Imagine being in a romantic relationship and constantly being unsure if you’re worthy of being loved or deserving of a great relationship. Does the woman you’re dating constantly hang on to other people’s opinions of her? Pay attention to how even an innocent comment on her looks or a random opinion about her voice, outfit, or her personality trait affects her.
Signs of low self-esteem in a woman can often be seen in how she views herself, how she thinks other people see her, and how much that matters to her. While we all live in the hope that other people like us and think highly of us, there needs to be that little vibranium core of self-esteem within us that stays unchanged even if we’re in an uncertain relationship.
2. Her constant negative self-talk
“I dated a woman who always talked down to herself. It went from “God, I look awful today” to “I can’t do anything right”. And that was her constant conversation with and about herself. It’s hard to like someone who clearly doesn’t like herself even a little,” says Charlie.
Related Reading: The 18 Signs Of A Confident Man That Women Look For
“It’s a vicious cycle as the negative self-talk feeds into the negative self-esteem. To break out of the cycle, one needs to learn to neutralize the negative self-talk and replace it with a realistic, rational thought process. Instead of saying, “I am a loser”, replace it with “I am okay”, and you’ll eventually see a difference,” Gopa says.
If a woman has low self-esteem, she’s going to put herself down constantly rather than lifting herself up. Things like “This dress makes me look ugly” might seem normal, but that’s only because we rarely expect women to like themselves, let alone compliment themselves.
Signs of low self-esteem in a woman aren’t always obvious, but it’s actually easier to spot negative self-talk. Not that we need to be exposed as narcissistic and be unable to see any flaws in ourselves – that’s the other extreme and just as destructive. But it’s integral to good mental health that we like ourselves at least a little, and tell ourselves so.
3. Her pessimistic outlook on life
“Many women compare themselves to other women and feel life will never change for the better. It’s as though they are stuck in life and waiting for someone to rescue them. It is important that women experiencing this seek therapy and look for solutions to move ahead in life. Taking responsibility in relationships and for yourself is the first step toward healing,” Gopa says.
Low self-esteem in a relationship for women often shows up as a generally gloomy outlook on everything, especially in their personal lives. It’s tough to see the light at the end of the tunnel when you’re constantly caught in a web of self-doubt and self-flagellation. The natural progression of signs of low self-esteem in a woman is to assume that life is going to be a downer forever.
Low self-esteem makes people fearful of hoping for things to work out, so they simply assume the worst and expect it all the time. Again, this constant negativity only makes their low self-esteem and relationship doubts worse, making them incapable of moving out of the gloom and doom outlook they have cultivated. An acceptance of “nothing works out for me anyway” and the absence of a fighting spirit tell you that a woman has low self-esteem.
4. Her inability to accept compliments or positive feedback
“Whenever someone told me I looked great, or that I was doing well at work, I would brush it off, laugh, and make a self-deprecating comment. It came so naturally that I never thought anything of it,” says Grace.
It took Grace years to realize that what seemed to be a surface-level coping mechanism was actually one in a series of low self-esteem behaviors. She didn’t respond well to compliments or positive feedback.
“Due to a troubled past, a woman with low self-esteem is often unable to believe others when they tell her she is worthy. To help a girl with low self-esteem, it’s important to help her develop self-love and self-trust in order to move ahead. Sometimes, the process can take years, so patience is key,” says Gopa.
Speaking to a professional therapist can be of great use in such cases, as a structured, encouraging form of treatment. If you think you want to reach out for help, Bonobology’s panel of experienced counselors are just a click away.
5. She’s over-eager to please people
Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make people happy or even going out of your way sometimes to help someone. But, as with most things, healthy relationship boundaries need to come into play.
Do you bend over backward to please everyone, including people you hardly know? Are you always anxious and eager to agree with people because you want to be liked and approved of? And, not that a relationship should be about keeping score, but are your needs met as often and as eagerly as you meet other people’s?
“Signs of low self-esteem in a woman manifest not only in them becoming a people-pleaser, but also being unable to say ‘no’ and being non-assertive. They feel immense fear that they may end up alone in life, that they need someone to survive, and that they cannot go through life alone. Thus, many people are scared to walk out of abusive relationships, reasoning that the known is better than the unknown.
“In such relationships, the victim is more likely to be codependent in the relationship. Often, I have clients saying that they “need a man in their life” to survive. Such thought patterns also affect their self-esteem,” Gopa says.
6. She takes failure hard and very personally, and finds it hard to bounce back
“My partner works very hard and her motto is that she needs to win and succeed, else the world will crumble,” says Aisha. “I always admired her drive, but then I started noticing that if a presentation went badly at work, or even if she burnt something while baking, she would have a meltdown. It took her at least a couple of days to come out of it.”
Extreme fear of failure is one of the major signs of low self-esteem in a woman. Let’s face it, none of us like to fail, no matter how much we’re told that it builds character and gives us strength and lessons we’ll find highly useful in the future. If we had our way, we’d all succeed at everything we did all the time.
Unfortunately, that’s rarely how things work and if you’re in a fairly healthy state of mental health, you’ll hopefully learn to leave mistakes and failure in the past and realize that they do not define you. If you suffer from low self-esteem, however, it’s another story and even the smallest of setbacks can affect your entire sense of self.
7. She rarely challenges herself personally or professionally
When a woman has low self-esteem, she’ll settle into ruts easily, both professional and personal, not only because she’s comfortable, but also because she fears that she doesn’t have what it takes to take on new challenges and venture boldly into the unknown. Even if there’s boredom in a relationship or stagnation in a job, she’ll stay on.
“I would actually turn down encouragement from my boss to take on bigger roles at work because I honestly didn’t think I could do it. I had a learning disability as a child and I come from a background where I was constantly made to feel like I was less than my peers and siblings. That intense insecurity stayed with me as an adult and gnawed away at my self-esteem,” says Allie.
How can you tell a woman has low self-esteem? Pay attention to how eager she is to make the best of a bad situation, how ready she is to remain in a job or a relationship that is clearly not working for her. There could be signs she needs a divorce or a new job, but she won’t do anything about it.
Everyone has different ambitions, of course, so don’t go judging her for not taking a certain path. But if a lot of her life has been the same and is not making her content, there’s a good chance she has self-esteem issues and can’t bring herself to make a change.
8. She is defensive and lashes out easily
If you’re going to help a woman with low self-esteem, you need to tread carefully because she’s probably ultra-sensitive and deals with it by going on the defensive. Don’t push her too much in the name of tough love because it’s liable to backfire. If you’re going to bring up her self-esteem issues, do it with delicacy and care.
It’s tough for most of us to face up to our relationship insecurities because then, we’re forced to confront the fact that we need to do something about them. It feels easier to live with them rather than doing the work required to do better. Your girl will very likely feel like you’re being overly critical and flare up.
Being defensive is definitely one of the signs of low self-esteem in a woman, especially if she’s also got a little self-awareness and knows she could be more assertive and so on, but hasn’t quite gotten to the point where she can take that step. Be patient when you help a girl with low self-esteem and let her go at her own pace. Remember, self-esteem isn’t lost overnight, neither will it grow back that swiftly.
Related Reading: 11 Expert Tips To Communicate Better With Your Partner
9. She finds it difficult to set healthy boundaries
We’re big fans of healthy relationship boundaries, and if you’re wondering, “How can you tell a woman has low self-esteem?”, well, she’ll definitely have issues setting boundaries in all her relationships.
“I remember dating someone in college and we’d gone to her family home for Thanksgiving. I knew she didn’t really get along with her family, and once I was there, I could see why. There were so many criticisms thrown “jokingly”, about her looks, her weight, her academics, and so on, and she either smiled and played along or flared up angrily and then felt guilty,” says Aaron.
Again, it’s never easy to set boundaries with those we love and who assure us that everything they do and say to us is in the spirit of love. But boundaries are often the line and the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships and a major part of (re)building self-esteem.
An extreme inability to work on them is one of the signs of low self-esteem in a woman for sure. If you’re planning to help a woman with low self-esteem, work on relationship boundaries together if possible.
To respect and like yourself is a lifelong pursuit, and not one that comes easy. None of us love ourselves every day, and that’s all right. But it is exhausting to live every day doubting whether or not you have any worth, and that’s all the more reason to work on it.
To support your partner with low self-esteem can be a tedious undertaking as she probably comes with a good deal of emotional baggage that led to her self-doubt in the first place. Understand that these doubts will also leak into your relationship and affect the connection you’ve built.
It’s easy to take advantage of a woman with low self-esteem, even when you don’t mean to. Patience, therapy, and a steady, secure love can go a long way toward healing, and we hope that she, and you, get there.
A woman with low self-esteem will have little confidence, will constantly talk down to herself and assume the worst. Low self-esteem also makes women doubt whether or not they deserve healthy, loving relationships and cripples their ability to make decisions for themselves.
A woman with low self-esteem needs to be treated with gentleness and understanding. Shore her up as much as possible, make her see that she is capable of living life on her own terms and that no matter what trauma transpired in her earlier life, she can move past it and live with joy.
A woman can regain confidence by practicing self-love. This can begin with small steps such as treating herself and reminding herself that she is worth it. It’s also important that she step out of her rut of low self-esteem and challenge herself to live a bold and full life.