What causes a lack of confidence

Self esteem - Better Health Channel

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Read the full fact sheet
  • Self-esteem is your opinion of yourself.
  • Everyone lacks confidence occasionally but people with low self-esteem are unhappy or unsatisfied with themselves most of the time.
  • It takes attention and daily practice to boost a low self-esteem.

Self-esteem is your opinion of yourself. People with healthy self-esteem like themselves and value their achievements. While everyone lacks confidence occasionally, people with low self-esteem feel unhappy or unsatisfied with themselves most of the time. This can be remedied but it takes attention and daily practise to boost self-esteem.

See your doctor for information, advice and referral if you’re having trouble improving your self-esteem or if low self-esteem is causing problems such as depression.

Characteristics of low self-esteem

Typically, a person with low self-esteem:

  • Is extremely critical of themselves
  • Downplays or ignores their positive qualities
  • Judges themselves to be inferior to their peers
  • Uses negative words to describe themselves such as stupid, fat, ugly or unlovable
  • Has discussions with themselves (this is called ‘self talk’) that are always negative, critical and self blaming
  • Assumes that luck plays a large role in all their achievements and doesn’t take the credit for them
  • Blames themselves when things go wrong instead of taking into account other things over which they have no control such as the actions of other people or economic forces
  • Doesn’t believe a person who compliments them.

Low self-esteem and quality of life

A low self-esteem can reduce the quality of a person’s life in many different ways, including:

  • Negative feelings – the constant self-criticism can lead to persistent feelings of sadness, depression, anxiety, anger, shame or guilt.
  • Relationship problems – for example they may tolerate all sorts of unreasonable behaviour from partners because they believe they must earn love and friendship, cannot be loved or are not loveable. Alternatively, a person with low self-esteem may feel angry and bully other people.
  • Fear of trying – the person may doubt their abilities or worth and avoid challenges.
  • Perfectionism – a person may push themselves and become an over-achiever to ‘atone’ for what they see as their inferiority.
  • Fear of judgement – they may avoid activities that involve other people, like sports or social events, because they are afraid they will be negatively judged. The person feels self-conscious and stressed around others and constantly looks for ‘signs’ that people don’t like them.
  • Low resilience – a person with low self-esteem finds it hard to cope with a challenging life event because they already believe themselves to be ‘hopeless’.
  • Lack of self-care – the person may care so little that they neglect or abuse themselves, for example, drink too much alcohol.
  • Self-harming behaviours – low self-esteem puts the person at increased risk of self-harm, for example, eating disorder, drug abuse or suicide.

If at any time you are worried about your mental health or the mental health of a loved one, call Lifeline 13 11 14.

Causes of low self-esteem

Some of the many causes of low self-esteem may include:

  • Unhappy childhood where parents (or other significant people such as teachers) were extremely critical
  • Poor academic performance in school resulting in a lack of confidence
  • Ongoing stressful life event such as relationship breakdown or financial trouble
  • Poor treatment from a partner, parent or carer, for example, being in an abusive relationship
  • Ongoing medical problem such as chronic pain, serious illness or physical disability
  • Mental illness such as an anxiety disorder or depression.

Seek help for underlying self-esteem problems

Chronic problems can be demoralising and lead to self-esteem issues. Seek professional advice for problems such as relationship breakdown, anxiety disorder or financial worries.

Self-esteem building

Self-esteem is strongly related to how you view and react to the things that happen in your life. Suggestions for building self-esteem include:

  • Talk to yourself positively – treat yourself as you would your best friend. Be supportive, kind and understanding. Don’t be hard on yourself when you make a mistake.
  • Challenge negative ‘self-talk’ – every time you criticise yourself, stop and look for objective evidence that the criticism is true. (If you feel you can’t be objective, then ask a trusted friend for their opinion.) You’ll realise that most of your negative self-talk is unfounded.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others – recognise that everyone is different and that every human life has value in its own right. Make an effort to accept yourself, warts and all.
  • Acknowledge the positive – for example, don’t brush off compliments, dismiss your achievements as ‘dumb luck’ or ignore your positive traits.
  • Appreciate your special qualities – remind yourself of your good points every day. Write a list and refer to it often. (If you feel you can’t think of anything good about yourself, ask a trusted friend to help you write the list.)
  • Forget the past – concentrate on living in the here-and-now rather than reliving old hurts and disappointments.
  • Tell yourself a positive message everyday – buy a set of ‘inspirational cards’ and start each day reading out a new card and carrying the card’s message with you all day.
  • Stop worrying – ‘worry’ is simply fretting about the future. Accept that you can’t see or change the future and try to keep your thoughts in the here-and-now.
  • Have fun – schedule enjoyable events and activities into every week.
  • Exercise – it is such a good boost to the brain for all kinds of things but especially in combatting depression and helping you to feel good. Targets need to be step by step, such as starting with a walk round the block once a day, enrolling at a local gym class or going for a swim.
  • Be assertive – communicate your needs, wants, feelings, beliefs and opinions to others in a direct and honest manner.
  • Practise the above suggestions every day – it takes effort and vigilance to replace unhelpful thoughts and behaviours with healthier versions. Give yourself time to establish the new habits. Keep a diary or journal to chart your progress.

Seek out support to build self-esteem

Further ways to build self-esteem include:

  • Talk to a trusted friend or loved one about your self-esteem issues.
  • Browse the Better Health Channel for further information.
  • See your doctor for information, advice and possible referral.
  • Read books on self-development.
  • Take a course in personal development.
  • Discuss your issues and get advice from a trained therapist.

Where to get help

  • Your doctor
  • Your local community health centre
  • Find a GP near you who specialises in mental health issues through the beyondblue website
  • beyondblue Info Line Tel. 1300 22 4636
  • Lifeline Tel. 13 11 14
  • Kids Helpline Tel. 1800 55 1800
  • Suicide Helpline Victoria Tel. 1300 651 251
  • Mental Health Foundation Tel. (03) 9427 0407, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm
  • Relationships Australia (Victoria) Tel. 1300 364 277

Things to remember

  • Self-esteem is your opinion of yourself.
  • Everyone lacks confidence occasionally but people with low self-esteem are unhappy or unsatisfied with themselves most of the time.
  • It takes attention and daily practice to boost a low self-esteem.

  • Self-esteem – feeling OK about who you are, Reach Out, Inspire Foundation, Sydney, More information here.
  • Improving self-esteem – what is low self-esteem?, (218kb, pdf), Centre for Clinical Interventions. More information here.
  • The story on self-esteem, Kids Health US. More information here.

This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:

This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:

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Content disclaimer

Content on this website is provided for information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not in any way endorse or support such therapy, service, product or treatment and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. The information and materials contained on this website are not intended to constitute a comprehensive guide concerning all aspects of the therapy, product or treatment described on the website. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions and to ascertain whether the particular therapy, service, product or treatment described on the website is suitable in their circumstances. The State of Victoria and the Department of Health shall not bear any liability for reliance by any user on the materials contained on this website.

Reviewed on: 21-08-2014

5 Reasons People Have Low Self-Confidence

Source: InesBazdar/Shutterstock

The most important thing to know about low self-confidence is that it is not your fault.

The factors that contribute to low self-confidence combine and interact differently for each person. Your genes, cultural background, childhood experiences, and other life circumstances all play a role. But don’t lose heart—although we can’t change the experiences in our past that shaped us, there is plenty we can do to alter our thoughts and expectations to gain more confidence.

Genes and Temperament

Some of what molds our self-confidence is built into our brains at birth. I mention these factors not to overwhelm you, but to let you know that you shouldn’t blame yourself for your self-image.

Studies have shown our genetic makeup affects the amount of certain confidence-boosting chemicals our brain can access. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with happiness, and oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone,” can both be inhibited by certain genetic variations. Somewhere between 25 to 50 percent of the personality traits linked to confidence may be inherited.

Some aspects of our behavior also stem from our temperament. If you’re naturally more hesitant and watchful, especially in unfamiliar circumstances, you may have a tendency called “behavioral inhibition.” When you're confronted with a situation, you stop and check to see if everything seems the way you expected it to be. If something appears awry, you're likely to move away from the situation.

Behavioral inhibition is not all bad. We need some people in the world who don't impulsively jump into every situation. If you're a cautious and reserved person, self-confidence may have eluded you. But once you understand yourself and the tools in this book, you'll be able to work with your temperament and not fight it.

Life Experiences

A number of individual experiences can lead to feeling completely unsure of yourself or even worthless. Here, I’ll discuss a few.

  • Trauma. Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse can all significantly affect our feelings of self-worth. If you find yourself replaying memories of abuse or otherwise feeling tormented by or ashamed of your experiences, please consider seeking treatment from a licensed clinician.
  • Parenting style. The way we were treated in our family of origin can affect us long after childhood. For instance, if you had a parent who constantly belittled you, compared you to others, or told you that you would never amount to anything, you likely carry those messages with you today. A parent’s struggles with mental health and substance abuse can also change your relationship with the world.
  • Bullying, harassment, and humiliation. Childhood bullying can leave a mark on your confidence when it comes to looks, intellectual and athletic abilities, and other areas of your life. Humiliating experiences in adulthood, including workplace harassment or a peer group that disrespects or demeans you, can also make you less willing to speak up for yourself or pursue ambitious goals.
  • Gender, race, and sexual orientation. Scores of studies show women are socialized to worry more about how they’re perceived and, therefore, to take fewer risks. Racial and cultural background and sexual orientation can make a difference, too. If you’ve been on the receiving end of discrimination, you may have internalized some negative, untrue messages about your potential and whether you “belong.”


Lack of self-confidence can come from not knowing the "rules" of the confidence game. For example, if we think we have to feel confident in order to act confidently, we set ourselves up for failure.

Perfectionism is another form of faulty thinking that contributes to low self-confidence. If we believe we have to have something all figured out before we take action, those thoughts can keep us from doing the things we value. Even learning and understanding what confidence is and isn’t is a big step toward boosting it.

The World Around Us

Many media messages are designed to make us feel lacking. Companies that want to sell you products usually start by making you feel bad about yourself, often by introducing a “problem” with your body that you would never have noticed otherwise. (The movie Mean Girls memorably skewered this idea: The main character, new to American high-school culture after years of homeschooling in Africa, is bewildered when her new clique stands around a mirror criticizing themselves. “My hairline is so weird,” says one. “My nail beds suck!” proclaims another. )

Now that social media has become ubiquitous, the messages hit closer to home. It’s easy to believe that everyone around you has the perfect marriage, a dream career, and supermodel looks to boot. But remember: What people post online is heavily curated and edited. Everyone has bad days, self-doubt, and physical imperfections. They just don’t trot them out on Facebook!

“One reason we struggle with insecurity: We’re comparing our behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel.” —Steven Furtick

Anxiety and Depression

It’s common for anxiety and depression to go hand-in-hand with self-confidence issues. If you’ve already been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or depression and are working with a therapist, you could bring in your workbook and perhaps go through it together. It’s brave of you to address your self-assurance stumbling blocks, and building confidence will also help you lessen anxiety and depression.

Questions to Consider

  • Which of the contributing factors described in this section resonate the most with you?
  • What specific experiences in your life do you think had the biggest negative effects on your self-confidence?

Next Steps

  1. Take this self-confidence quiz. Self-confidence begins with knowing yourself. You might also enjoy spending some time answering these questions designed to help increase your confidence level.
  2. Learn why self-confidence is so important. Start here.
  3. Avoid these self-confidence traps.
  4. Try these four proven approaches to increase your confidence level.

Adapted from The Self-Confidence Workbook: A Guide to Overcoming Self-Doubt and Improving Self-Esteem. Copyright © 2018 by Barbara Markway and Celia Ampel.

LinkedIn image: Hananeko_Studio/Shutterstock

What causes self-doubt and how to overcome it

January 11, 2018 A life

The reasons may be bad experiences in the past or childhood memories.

What gives rise to insecurities

Past mistakes

They greatly change how we feel about ourselves, especially if something serious has happened, such as a difficult breakup or dismissal from work. But the past cannot be changed. Don't dwell on old mistakes. Learn from them a lesson, otherwise you will waste time. nine0003


If your parents were constantly dissatisfied with you, and teachers judged you only according to your grades, you could learn the habit of self-doubt from childhood. But now you are an adult, and this is only your life. You no longer need to seek the approval of parents and teachers.

Comparing ourselves to others

We compare ourselves to colleagues who are more successful than us. With bloggers in social networks who live more interesting than us. As a result, we become disappointed and angry with ourselves. The solution to the problem is quite banal - learn to value yourself. We are all different, we all understand different things. nine0003

Still, sometimes it's good to compare yourself to others. Notice what qualities you lack and develop them.

Unfamiliar situation

You don't know how to react or what to expect from the situation. Naturally, self-doubt arises. Use this as an opportunity to learn something new. Once you could not walk, but now you can do it quite well. Remind yourself that it's okay to make mistakes. Through mistakes, we learn.

Past success

With it comes the fear that you will never do better. Don't think about how to repeat this success. Think how to surpass yourself. Even if you are good at something, there is still room for improvement. Develop your strengths.

How to get rid of uncertainty

Think positive thoughts

If you notice negative thoughts in yourself, focus on something positive. Prepare in advance something that will help you tune in a positive way. For example:

  • List of counterarguments: “I will succeed”, “This is an opportunity to learn something new”, “I'm just wasting my time, doubts won't change anything”.
  • List of happy memories.
  • A folder with photos that make you smile.
  • A list of activities that energize you.
  • Healthy food for a quick snack.

Change activities

The longer you dwell on one emotion, the more difficult it is to get rid of it. Relax and do something else. You will stop thinking about the unpleasant and look at everything from the other side. nine0003

Get help

The support of relatives, friends or a manager will help in a difficult situation. And their advice will give a charge of confidence and motivation.

Keep notes

Write down every week what makes you doubt yourself. This way you will determine what causes insecurity and how to overcome it. Also write down what you are grateful for. You will begin to appreciate yourself more and focus on what you have.

How to regain your confidence in three weeks

  • First week . Every day, write down three things you are grateful for. Gradually, you will notice that you have many reasons for joy in your life. At the end of the week, review the entire list again.
  • Second week . Write down situations in which you doubt yourself and possible causes of insecurity. By the end of the week, you will identify your main fears. Think about how to deal with them, what to change.
  • Third week . Write down what you did to overcome your insecurities and how you feel. No matter how small your steps are, it is still a victory. You are already a little closer to your goal. nine0038

Self-doubt: where does it come from and can it be overcome

Public speaking as a sophisticated form of torture, a stalled career, a sense of anxiety about the present and timidity before the new - all these are consequences of self-doubt. We talk about the reasons and ways to overcome it

What is self-doubt

Self-doubt is a subjective feeling of doubt in one's abilities and potential for success in various areas of life. By and large, self-doubt is the fear of being yourself, which grows out of doubts about your competence. nine0003

Self-doubt goes hand in hand with low self-esteem, but there is a difference between the two. Uncertainty manifests itself pointwise and refers to how confident a person is in their qualifications in various areas of life: work, personal relationships, and so on. Self-esteem is a complex concept, a global opinion about oneself as a person. Personal insecurity, if a person experiences it regularly, strikes blow after blow to self-esteem, and in the end can greatly shake it.

Also, self-doubt is often confused with introversion . An introvert is a personality type proposed by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung to characterize people who direct life energy inwards. They prefer to think apart from the outside world, with immersion in the inner. But introversion is not necessarily a marker, much less a synonym for insecurity. The German psychiatrist Karl Leonhard saw strength in this individualism. According to his interpretation, the introvert has its own clear values, is not afraid to oppose itself to the environment, unlike the extrovert, whom Leonhard calls a conformist, susceptible to outside influence. nine0003

Another phenomenon that is sometimes confused with self-doubt is social phobia . Social phobia is included in the International Classification of Diseases and is an anxiety disorder. Affected people are afraid of attention from other people, public spaces and large companies - sometimes to the point of panic attacks, and therefore avoid social situations. Social phobia is a medical diagnosis that can be treated.

People who experience self-doubt tend to think that they have got a rare unfortunate ticket to this state. This is not so: everyone experiences this feeling in different life situations. It's natural to doubt yourself when you start a new endeavor or in a highly competitive environment. But sometimes insecurity becomes chronic and reduces the quality of life. According to Yulia Anpilogova, a psychologist and psychotherapist, a member of the All-Russian Professional Psychotherapeutic League, self-doubt, as a main or accompanying problem, is present in almost all appeals to a psychologist: “People who are capable of reflection or self-reflection are people of a certain order of organization of the psyche, who are in doubt. To doubt oneself for such a person is one of the steps, one of the forms of doubt. nine0003

Signs of self-doubt

Every person who has experienced self-doubt has experienced the accompanying emotions, thoughts and bodily reactions.

External (bodily) signs

  • Rapid heartbeat, redness or pallor of the face, uneven breathing when talking.
  • Confused speech, a person chatters and loses the thread of the narrative, jerky movements - a conversational sprint, just to finish the speech faster. nine0038
  • Stooping, hunched figure, unconscious desire to take up less space and be less noticeable.
  • The phrases “I suppose”, “it seems to me” - the person seems to be apologizing for being in his place.

Internal (mental, behavioral)

  • Comparison of oneself with others - in a person who is not confident in himself, it almost always turns out to be not in his favor.
  • The inability to say "no" - it is easier for a person to agree to work that is a burden to him than to refuse. nine0038
  • Downplaying one's merits, inability to accept compliments.
  • Shifting responsibility for one's life to circumstances or other people.
  • Avoidance of initiative and responsibility.
  • Arrogance, which serves as a defense mechanism - it helps to reject others before they could reject a person.
  • Perfectionism - sometimes insecurity is well disguised, but still betrays itself in the eternal pursuit of unattainable perfection and hypercontrol. nine0038

Photo: Unsplash

How self-doubt arises

The very first environment in a person's life, family and school, has a great influence. Among the causes rooted in childhood are:

  • Parental strategies : emotional deprivation from parents, prohibitions and restrictions, excessive criticism or overprotection.

  • Copying stereotypes of behavior that a child observes around him: according to the theory of the American psychologist Albert Bandura, parents' self-doubt is often inherited. nine0038
  • School bullying : peers are quite tough in their assessments and judgments.
  • Learned helplessness : Psychologist Martin Seligman believed that weak skills in controlling the outside world may arise due to insufficient development of the “action-consequence” link, which is often observed in children from orphanages.

But uncertainty can develop at any age. According to clinical psychologist and psychotherapist Yulia Khvorova, when people grow up, they come across various microgroups, and sometimes in a group relevant to a person, they face criticism. An authority may also appear that seems to a person more successful - this can also lay down self-doubt. The danger zone here is excessive parental approval in childhood: it plays a disservice when confronted with the real world. nine0003

Yulia Anpilogova adds that our “I” is most vulnerable in moments of crisis: “An earthquake happened, the walls fell down, and what was our support disappears, and the new one is not yet built. In this period of timelessness, it is difficult to be sure of anything. We are reborn many times in a lifetime, we go through this cycle of destruction-resurrection in a new quality. And this restoration is always accompanied by uncertainty, because what is being built is still very fragile.”

How self-doubt affects life

Block for career ambitions

Insecure people do not ask for a raise, do not express their ideas, even innovative and breakthrough ones, for fear of being misunderstood or rejected. They do not take the financial risks associated with investments, depriving themselves of the opportunity to earn more. They are also afraid to change unloved jobs and to undergo interviews. All this further fuels the uncertainty.

In career terms, self-doubt in some cases turns into impostor syndrome, when a person, having nevertheless taken a step forward and achieved success, stumbles upon a new fear. Here he no longer thinks that he will not be able to reach some goal. Now, having achieved it, he begins to consider his success as an accident and does not recognize his personal contribution to it. He is overcome by the fear of not holding on and not justifying new hopes. Psychologists believe that the mechanisms of formation of these two phenomena are similar. nine0003

At the same time, it is a mistake to assume that self-doubt and, moreover, the impostor syndrome, are inherent only to “mere mortals”. Famous people also face them, and not only at the beginning of their journey. Natalie Portman, speaking in 2015 to Harvard students as an honorary graduate, told them that she did not realize her achievements: “12 years after my graduation, I must admit that I still do not feel my own worth. I have to remind myself that I'm here for a reason. Today I feel exactly the same as when I first started at Harvard at 19.99 year. Then it seemed to me that there was some kind of mistake - I'm not smart enough to be here, and every time I opened my mouth, I had to prove that I was not just a stupid actress. Sometimes insecurity and inexperience can cause you to strive for the standards and expectations imposed by other people. But you can use your lack of experience to forge your own path—one that is not dictated by others, but determined by you.”

American writer and Pulitzer Prize winner John Steinbeck wrote in his diary: “I am not a writer. I deceive myself and others." After finishing work on the novel "The Grapes of Wrath", which won him the award, he said: "Sometimes I think that I did something worthwhile, but when the work is finished, it turns into mediocrity." nine0003

Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci doubted their abilities. The latter is credited with the phrase "Tell me, did I manage to do at least something?" Vincent van Gogh, according to contemporaries, suffered from permanent self-doubt, but once said: “If you hear a voice inside yourself telling you that you cannot draw, do it by any means, and the voice will be silent.”

Problems in personal relationships

Uncertainty in personal life is manifested in the fact that a person questions his ability to please someone. At the start of a new relationship, he may experience fear that the person next to him will “notice” his shortcomings and be disappointed. In the existing relationship, this is an infringement of one's needs, because it will be more convenient for someone, jealousy, and sometimes an endless shifting of one's anxieties and doubts to a partner. nine0003

Photo: Unsplash

How to overcome self-doubt

According to Yulia Khvorova, self-doubt is a reversible process if you start working with it. Obsessive thoughts about one's own inadequacy must be compensated by new positive attitudes and thinking techniques. At the same time, getting rid of uncertainty does not go away in a couple of weeks - this is a long work. Khvorova suggests the following steps:

  • Formulate and write down your positive qualities and strengths, without touching on achievements . This is necessary for the formation of a person's understanding that he has something to love for, regardless of achievements.
  • Change self-criticism for self-validation. When a person is not confident in himself, he is more sensitive to mistakes and failures, sometimes imaginary. Validation is normalization: you need to remind yourself that all people make mistakes, this is normal and appropriate. Self-criticism in this case is a useless thing that does not help in any way, only throws up a bunch of thoughts “why I am bad”, but not a single one about how to become better. nine0038
  • Replace the concept of “error” with the phrase “growth zone”: lack of experience or skill - this is not a reason to self-flagellate, because I discovered my growth zone and, therefore, I can work on it.
  • Don't be self-centered. Insecure people are often very egocentric in looking for reasons for failure. In fact, it does not happen that the whole situation goes to dust just because of one person. It is necessary to force thinking not to follow the trodden path of searching for the guilty one in oneself, but to look wider. nine0038
  • Experiment. People with self-doubt often avoid trying things out of fear they won't succeed. But when a person refuses to perform an action, he absolutely receives reinforcement for his insecurity, because he remains there. Trying is always 50/50. If it is successful, this may be the first sprout of confidence.
  • Write down achievements and praise yourself. This is an advanced level. Insecure people tend to underestimate their accomplishments. You should focus on the moments when something works out, and praise yourself, inspire yourself with the idea that this success is not an accident, but the result of the efforts made. nine0038
  • Give yourself time. Uncertainty did not appear in a day, a week or a month, it was formed and consolidated over the years. To fix a new way of thinking, you also need to painstakingly create a habit. It is important to be persistent in applying the described techniques regularly, and not expect quick results.
  • Do not focus on the bad. Don't think that if something doesn't work, nothing will work at all.
  • Pay attention to the body. nine0065 The human brain directly correlates with the body: it sends signals to it and collects information from it. The more a person reflects and maintains an uncertain posture, the deeper one can get stuck in this state. It makes sense to go from the opposite and work on posture, self-presentation and voice. The sooner you can get out of the pose of uncertainty, the easier it will be to let go of this feeling. Acting, singing or dancing courses can help with this.

When to seek professional help

According to Khvorova, one should definitely seek professional help when self-doubt begins to affect a person's life and blocks his personal and professional development. Yulia Anpilogova also lists the loss of healthy criticism as a reason — when a person’s self-image is totally at odds with the opinion of the environment: “In this case, it’s worth admitting that maybe not you are right, but everyone around.

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