It’s a lovely Friday morning. You’re at your desk with a nice hot cup of coffee in your hand while going through your emails, feeling a sense of accomplishment.
You’ve managed to complete everything on your plate this week. You’re proud of yourself for delivering all the tasks before the deadline. The only thing between you and your weekend is this one sprint review at noon.
You’re already planning your weekend. A lazy Saturday to sleep in late and binge-watch Bridgerton. And a lovely Sunday brunch with your besties, followed by a movie with your partner.
Suddenly your colleague comes up to you saying, “the manager had to leave for the day because of some emergency. You’re going to have to present the review this week.”
You feel a weird tingly sensation in your stomach. Your mind is racing, and your palms are slightly sweating. These scenarios of “what if I tank?” or “what if they ask me some question and I don’t answer?” start popping up in your mind one after another.
You feel your heartbeat getting louder. All you want to do is hope your boss finds someone else to present the review, so you can take your flawless week and move ahead with your perfect weekend plans. Is that too much to ask for?
But, you wonder, where is my self-confidence?
Well, you’re not alone. In life, there are many such moments that reflect when our self-confidence is low:
- When we worry about losing our job because we didn’t perform a task as we’d hoped.
- When our closest friends seem to enjoy someone else’s company more than ours.
- When we’re worried if we’ll be able to hit the financial goals we’ve set for ourselves.
- When we look at Instagram and wonder why our bodies aren’t like the ones we see there.
- When we want to open up and be vulnerable about ourselves to our close friends but are afraid of being judged by them.
- When we’re so scared of trying something new thinking, we’ll look stupid doing them.
- When we’re so anxious about failing that we don’t even try.
- When we’re worried about people judging and labeling us for our difficult emotions (anger, pain, guilt, and shame).
You get the gist. But the million-dollar question is, “why is our confidence so low?” In my previous articles, I’ve detailed how to improve self-confidence. However, in this one, let’s look at the reasons for low self-confidence and what are the signs to look out for.
But First, How Do We Define Low Self-Confidence?
Before we define low self-confidence, let’s understand the definition of confidence:
Oxford defines confidence as a feeling or belief that a person can have faith in or count on someone or something.
Therefore, when we talk about self-confidence, the ‘someone’ or ‘something’ becomes us.
In a nutshell- “I can.”
Conversely, “I can’t” can perfectly define low self-confidence. But, let’s elaborate on this thought.
On page 17 of her book, So long insecurity; you’ve been a bad friend to us, Beth Moore talks about insecurity being a deep sense of uncertainty and self-doubt about our sense of worth and place in this world. It’s associated with never-ending self-consciousness and a persistent lack of self-confidence. An insecure person goes through life constantly, fearing rejection. They’re endlessly questioning the legitimacy of their feelings and desires.
Now that we understand low self-confidence, let’s look at where these insecurities come from.
What causes low self-confidence?
As much as we’d hate to admit it, our past shapes our present. Unless we become mindful of our past, we don’t understand the patterns we need to heal to change our future.
Let’s take your example. You’re here because you understand that you wouldn’t grow to embody confidence if you continued to do nothing about your unhelpful patterns.
So, let’s look at the leading causes of low self-confidence.
- Genetic markup
I bring up this point because we need to be kinder to ourselves. Your brain produces “feel good” chemicals like oxytocin, serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, and endorphins. They each have a role to play in your overall mood and temperament. Sometimes, the body doesn’t produce the expected levels, resulting in a lack of self-confidence.
Additionally, people are born with certain temperaments. Some people are naturally risk-takers, while others are a little more cautious. But, we need both people in the world to create balance.
- Personal experiences
Traumatic events, difficult parents, demeaning educators, bullies, humiliating experiences all lead to your body wanting to stay locked in a cocoon. If you think about it, when you’re insecure and fearful, your body is only trying to protect you from the instances that brought you shame in the past.
- Maladaptive coping mechanisms
Today, we hear of perfectionism much more than in yesteryears. Once upon a time, perfectionism was celebrated. That doesn’t mean it was helpful then. Perfectionism is a coping mechanism. It’s your body trying to do things perfectly so no one points the finger at you. Similarly, addictions, people-pleasing, comparisons, catastrophizing, isolating, and living in denial are some maladaptive coping mechanisms that slowly make you more insecure.
- Mental health disorders
Mental health disorders like depression and anxiety disorders can leech away your confidence. People struggling with personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, psychotic disorders, and eating disorders are victims of low self-confidence. And, if you resonate with this part of the article, know that you can build self-confidence with professional help.
- The world around us
Look at the influencers today, the diet culture, the hustle culture, mainstream movies, advertisements, etc. They all promote “you have a problem, and I’ve got the solution.” While it might seem innocent on paper, when the world is constantly bombarding you with messages telling you “you’re not enough,” sooner or later, you buy into that thought.
So, you must be thinking, “Woah, I get it now! There’s a reason behind my low self-confidence.” It’s a significant first step into mindfulness. Now, you need to become aware of your patterns. You need to notice moments of low confidence. Let me help you.
What are the signs of low self-confidence?
We’ve defined low self-confidence and looked at what causes it. But now comes the transformational part- the signs you should look out for to slay your insecurities.
Eckhart Tolle once said, “awareness is the greatest agent for change.”
Understanding your lack of self-confidence while not realizing the signs of low self-confidence can’t help you understand why self-confidence matters.
To transcend your insecurities and embody confidence, you must become aware of the situations where insecurities arise. Here are a few examples to kickstart your awareness:
- You feel a lack of control over your life.
How often have you felt helpless about what happens in your life? Like you’re actively thinking there’s a string of bad luck hovering over you?
What about resorting to pleasing people so everything can go on smoothly in your life? You fear confrontation so much that you think it’s best to agree with everything they say, even if you don’t agree with them.
Do you have habits like perfectionism that help you feel in control? Faultlessly working to ensure nothing goes wrong in any task, so you have one less area to worry about?
External validation can keep us protected from the internal storm that’s responsible for leeching away our confidence.
Sometimes, we get too caught up in trying to control the external circumstances, not realizing that we can only ever control everything that falls within our circle of control. That’s why self-confidence matters.
- You compare yourself with others.
“Why didn’t I do this like them?”
“If only I were more XYZ as them, I’d have ABCs like them!”
Our brains constantly keep us feeling stuck in this loop of comparison. It’s unhelpful, and you know it. But you don’t know how to stop it.
We don’t often realize that we’re frequently busy comparing our gag reel with others’ highlight reels.
Next time you catch yourself comparing yourself to others, remember this quote.
- You shy away from asking for what you need.
You’re so afraid of taking up space. A lot has to do with our upbringing. In its own way, the world teaches young kids not to be “demanding.”
If the child’s needs are something that the parents or educators can’t provide at the time, instead of rationally explaining the situation to the kid, the world takes an easy way out by reminding the child to “be seen and not heard.”
It’s easy to tell the other person “you’re in the wrong” than to showcase vulnerability and empathy. Most people lack the skills and resources.
That’s how people pass on their traumas. And you will have to learn to work through these tendencies with a life coach or a therapist.
But you can begin to build awareness around the times when you catch yourself minimizing your needs and desires for the comfort of others.
- You’re overthinking everything.
One of the reasons we overthink is that we feel overthinking can keep us safe. “If I picture every possible outcome, I’ll be better prepared for any outcome.”
Sadly, we don’t realize that overthinking robs us of our present moments, and when the time comes, we’re hardly as prepared as we hoped we would.
A simple example, you know deep down this relationship is not going to work. You think of every possible thing your partner could say to break up with you, and you’re preparing yourself for the same. Yet, when the time comes, even though you’ve prepared your reactions ahead of time, the PAIN IS STILL REAL.
You thought overthinking could help you with the pain, but it robbed you of being present with your partner, and it didn’t shield you from the pain either.
Another problem with overthinking is that it makes you feel anxious and helpless over time. You begin to feel like everything is your fault.
- You find it hard to accept positive feedback.
How many times have you downplayed yourself when someone complimented you?
Why do you think you do this?
Why do you think you’re not deserving of praise?
Why do you think you have to justify your compliment?
- Your self-talk is pretty negative.
When you lack self-confidence, a good place to start is tuning in to the thoughts in your head about yourself.
It’s like a plant that can’t grow with rots in its roots. How can you expect to become more confident when your self-talk is negative?
- You fear failure.
Do you find it hard to decide without worrying about if it’s the right decision?
I get it; the thought of failing can be enough to make you feel powerless and helpless.
But, remember staying stuck isn’t the answer. Becoming aware of this fear can help you identify your problem and work towards improving your low self-confidence.
- You’re afraid of what the future holds.
Like the above point, Do you feel anxious about the future, so you don’t even try to move ahead with your decisions?
How often have you thought of a gloomy future that you’ve felt paralyzed moving towards it?
Our anxieties about the future can keep us stuck in our current times for more than we’d like. And the worst part is, we hate feeling stuck. So, we cope in unhelpful ways. We might brood on our past decisions, encourage negative self-talk, resort to perfectionism, and all these add up to keeping you stuck feeling insecure.
- You have difficulty establishing and upholding boundaries.
Do you know the number one way to ensure sustained confidence? It’s boundaries.
The problem is that many people worry about losing their current relationship with the people in their life because of establishing boundaries. So they continue to betray themselves and please others instead.
This unhelpful habit can be disastrous when it comes to your confidence. To build confidence, you’ll have to show up for yourself and remind yourself that you’re worthy to stand up for your needs and desires.
If establishing boundaries is difficult for you today, why not start with becoming aware of your needs and desires for now? That’s the first step to creating boundaries.
- You feel compelled to please people.
A tell-tale sign of low self-confidence is people-pleasing. A lack of boundaries and low self-worth can create a coping mechanism, people-pleasing.
After all, if you behave and say as this person wants you to, you feel safe knowing you’re maintaining this relationship.
But, at what cost? You feel miserable inside. You long for a time when you feel confident enough to not long for their validation.
As with every symptom before this, awareness is the first step to bringing about a change.
In the end
From defining low self-confidence to going through the causes of low self-confidence to the signs of low self-esteem, we’ve gone through the origin story of insecurities in detail. In a way, we reflected on why self-confidence is important in life through this guide. To understand what you can do about it, check out my article on building self-confidence.