10 Sad Signs You’re Underestimating Yourself (+ How To Stop)

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Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to help you stop underestimating yourself. Simply click here to connect with one via BetterHelp.com.

A surprising number of people underestimate themselves and their abilities.

Some don’t have a clear view about the things that they’ve accomplished, and measure themselves against what others have done instead.

Then there are those who might shy away from amazing life opportunities because they’re afraid of how they might feel – or appear to others – if they fail.

Below are 10 signs that you are underestimating yourself. Different signs will apply to different people, but if you can relate to more than two or three, there’s definitely some self-sabotage going on.

1. Your first response to any endeavor is to assume you won’t be able to do it.

Maybe you’re watching someone do artwork or a physically demanding action, admiring their ability. If you’re invited to join in, your immediate response is “I could never do that.” Without even making the attempt, you assume that the result would be a disastrous failure.

If you find that this is a recurring response for you, try to change the narrative. Instead of a flat-out “I won’t be able to do this,” say “I don’t know if I can, but I’ll try.”

Shifting the energy from “I can’t” to “MAYBE I can” makes a massive difference to your self-esteem and self-confidence. Furthermore, you might surprise yourself to learn that you’re far more capable than you thought.

This happened to me with an exercise called a supine Shaolin plank. My partner is really physically fit, and I watched in awe as he held himself straight across two chairs, supported only by his neck and his heels. When he asked if I’d like to try, I laughed and said there was no way I could do it. But I tried anyway, and you know what? I held it for as long as he did, surprising us both.

You’ll never know what you’re capable of unless you’re willing to try.

2. You ask for help with something before attempting to try it yourself.

Maybe you’re afraid of failing at something, so you ask for someone else to help you do it. Or it’s a task you’ve never tried before and you’re intimidated by it.

Whether you’re daunted by unfamiliar territory or afraid of looking foolish, try to do something yourself first before you ask for someone else’s help.

The internet is an invaluable resource when it comes to “how-to” guides on pretty much any topic. Do you need to stop a leaking faucet? Or make a roux to thicken a soup? There’s a YouTube tutorial for that.

Do some research first, then make the attempt. Chances are high that you’ll succeed. And hey, if it turns out that you do need some help with this, at least you’ve started the process yourself. When help does arrive, ask to watch and take part in the process. This way, you’ll know what you’re doing the next time the issue arises.

3. You assume that endeavors have gone badly before getting any feedback.

You finish a school exam convinced that you’ve failed the test. Or you submit work to your boss and then brace yourself for recrimination because it’s not good enough. Then, when you find out that you’ve aced the test or surpassed your boss’s expectations, you’ll shrug it off as a fluke.

This response is common in people who have been raised in abusive environments. In fact, it happens most frequently when someone has a narcissistic parent. The child is raised to feel that they’re never good enough; that they’re failures and constant disappointments. As a result, they grow up to expect negative feedback for every attempt, even though they’re amazing at what they do.

The next time you find yourself saying something self-critical, try to turn it around to something more neutral. For example: “I did my best, and I’ll wait to respond until I get the results.” That way, you’re choosing to respond to a real outcome rather than reacting to an assumed shortcoming.

4. You have constant negative “self-talk,” whether internal or aloud.

Are you constantly putting yourself down, whether mentally or aloud to other people? Maybe you’ve learned to use joking self-deprecation as a defense mechanism. Or perhaps you talk about how inept you are to avoid doing things that intimidate you.

The problem with this kind of behavior is that our words can help to shape our reality. By constantly talking about how useless you are, you’ll convince yourself that the narrative is true. Furthermore, others who constantly hear you insulting yourself might start to believe it as well, and they’ll join in on insulting you.

Monkey hear, monkey repeat.

5. You place more emphasis on pleasing others than making your own goals/interests a priority.

People-pleasing is a huge indicator of low self-esteem, and can manifest in a number of different ways. For example, let’s say you and your partner have some time off soon, and you’d like to go on a vacation. You’re excited about the idea of going somewhere in Europe where you can explore architecture and museums. Meanwhile, they’d prefer to lounge on a sunny beach with boozy drinks and do absolutely nothing.

You’ll likely acquiesce to their wants rather than expressing what you’re aching to do. Maybe on some level it’s because you want to make them happy, but the more likely situation is that you’re afraid they’ll leave you or punish you if you don’t do what they want.

The best way to deal with a situation like this is to either find a happy medium that satisfies both of you, or agree to take turns. Either you go to a place where they can chill and you can explore, or you go to one person’s choice this time, and the other’s choice for the next vacation.

Both parties end up heard, respected, and honored.

6. You don’t believe other people when they say good things to you (or about you).

Has your response to someone saying that they love you ever been disbelief? Or suspicion that they’re just saying that because they want something from you?

If this has happened, then that’s just heartbreaking. At some point in your life, you were taught that you were somehow unworthy of love and appreciation, and you believed it because it came from someone you cared about and respected. And that hurt has lasted.

You are absolutely worthy of love, friendship, admiration, and respect. If you have difficulty believing these things from people, try talking to them about it rather than shutting down, and shutting them out. If they understand why you get cold when they try to be kind to you, then they can put more effort into helping you believe that they’re being honest.

If it helps, you can ask them to explain why they feel the way they do, with tangible points that you’ll be able to understand. Maybe they love how kind you are with animals and children, or they admire and respect your dedication to volunteer work. By hearing their rationale, you may be more willing to accept that you are, in fact, the amazing person they see when they look at you.

7. You don’t have an objective view of your accomplishments.

Did you only get a master’s degree instead of a PhD? Or maybe you’ve only achieved a silver medal instead of gold in your chosen athletic pursuit. Can you only speak five languages fluently? Have you only published one novel so far?

All of these accomplishments (and many others like them) are absolutely monumental, especially in this day and age. Sure, Michelangelo did that Sistine Chapel thing, but he had patrons to take care of all his financial needs, not to mention servants to cook for him. No spouse, no kids, no responsibilities other than to paint something beautiful.

You’ve achieved some pretty remarkable things while juggling all the other obligations life has been throwing at you. If anyone gives you grief about these and lists them as shortcomings rather than glorious wins, then they need to shut up. That applies to you too, if you’re the one who’s naysaying yourself.

You ARE enough, and you DO enough. End of discussion.

8. You don’t spend much time or money on yourself.

People who underestimate themselves also tend to have pretty low self-esteem. Part of this might manifest in neglecting self-care. If a person doesn’t feel that they’re worthy of nourishment, care, and tenderness, then they might not eat well, or exercise, or invest in clothes that they adore.

They just “make do” with whatever’s at hand, as though these scraps and handouts are the only thing they deserve.

9. You settle for less than what you’re worth because you feel like you won’t get (or don’t deserve) better.

This expands upon the previous sign, though it mostly applies to things like relationships and jobs. You might not feel challenged at work, but you don’t bother talking to your boss about a promotion because you either feel like it’ll be too much for you to handle, or that you won’t get the opportunity anyway. So you settle.

Maybe you don’t feel fulfilled in your relationship. You might not be physically attracted to your partner, or you’ve disassociated because they always put you down or complain about you. But you don’t feel that you can get anyone “better,” so you settle.

You are worth far more than just “settling.” Write down a list of the things you actually want in life versus what you have. Then consider what you’ll need to make those a reality.

10. You shy away from challenges out of fear, or to avoid potential embarrassment.

Maybe your colleagues have invited you to take part in a charity run, and you’ve found an excuse not to take part. Or your partner won a trip to Costa Rica and invited you along… and you make excuses not to go.

For the former, you might feel out of shape and might be embarrassed if you can’t finish the race. And for the latter, you might be afraid of the insects, snakes, and other weird creatures you could come across in the rainforest.

As a result, you choose to do nothing, and thus experience nothing.

Fear or failure or embarrassment can hold us back from some rather amazing life experiences. Do you want to look back on your life and regret all the things you could have done, but chose not to for lame reasons?

Your track record for getting through difficulty is 100%. Sure, you might get some ugly bug bites or a nasty stitch in your side from jogging, but life is about wonderful experiences, isn’t it? You can do this. And a lot of people believe in you and want to do great things with you, even if you’re having trouble believing in yourself.

As mentioned earlier, one of the main contributing factors to underestimating oneself is an unhealthy, unsupportive environment during childhood. People who were raised with constant criticism don’t develop much faith in their own abilities. As a result, they miss out on a lot of great life experiences because it’s been drilled into them from day one that they’re incompetent, and will fail at anything they try.

If you feel that you’ve experienced this kind of damage, a therapist can help you rewrite your personal script. People who aren’t used to positive reinforcement may be surprised to discover how much they can accomplish when they have a personal cheerleader encouraging them forwards.

You’re an extraordinary expression of the universe made flesh, and you can do anything you set your mind to.

Still not sure how to stop underestimating yourself? Talking to someone can really help you to handle whatever life throws at you. It’s a great way to get your thoughts and your worries out of your head so you can work through them.

We really recommend you speak to a therapist rather than a friend or family member. Why? Because they are trained to help people in situations like yours. They can help you to grow your self-belief and provide valuable tools to handle any thoughts that pop into your head to steal that belief away.

A good place to get professional help is the website BetterHelp.com – here, you’ll be able to connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.

While you may try to work through this yourself, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can address. And if it is affecting your mental well-being, relationships, or life in general, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.

Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.

Click here if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.

You’ve already taken the first step just by searching for and reading this article. The worst thing you can do right now is nothing. The best thing is to speak to a therapist. The next best thing is to implement everything you’ve learned in this article by yourself. The choice is yours.

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About Author

Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais region. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.