We all feel inadequate or foolish at times. When these feelings are chronic, however, they lead to low self-confidence. People with low self-esteem develop habits and behaviors to cope with and avoid these negative, discouraging and uncomfortable emotions.
Healthy solutions to coping with low self-esteem essentially involve two options. First, you have to want to change and be willing to do something about it. And, second, you need to learn effective strategies for accepting what can’t be changed.
Maladaptive Coping Strategies
People who don’t pursue healthy options often default to relying upon “maladaptive coping strategies”. That’s a psychological term that just means “things that probably make matters worse instead of better”. In other words, they’re common, but terrible, ways to deal with low self-confidence.
In the extreme, maladaptive behaviors can include excessive drinking or drug use, abusing others the way you were abused and risky, self-destructive behaviors. All of these are extremely serious, but treatable with professional help. If you are involved in any such behaviors, get help today.
However, some of the other maladaptive coping strategies may actually look good on the outside while doing damage on the inside. Let’s look at three of the most common ones.
Perfectionism can reveal itself in many ways: intolerance for mistakes, procrastination or an “all or nothing” approach to doing things. Perfectionists tend to have rigid standards for how things should be done and focus on flaws or mistakes others don’t see. They often take excessive time to complete a project, and because nothing is ever perfect enough, sometimes they don’t finish at all. Perfectionism demands that you constantly achieve unrealistic standards only to realize that your performance is never good enough anyway, which reinforces feelings of inadequacy.
Healthy self-esteem and strong feelings of self-confidence will motivate you to excellence rather than perfectionism. Striving for excellence involves doing your very best while knowing the result doesn’t define your worth, prove your significance or meet some artificial standard of your value. Instead, it reflects your desire to use your gifts, talents, and abilities to continue growing and making the best contribution you can make.
Seeking Approval from Others
People with low self-confidence are also much more vulnerable to seeking the approval of others. They interpret approval as validating their worth as a person. The unrealistic yearning for approval leads to a life of compromised needs, feelings, beliefs, and values. The approval-seeker believes it is more important to think and act the way others want them to rather than as they genuinely are.
Common approval-seeking behaviors include changing your opinion when you sense it is not accepted by others, flattery, agreeing when you don’t agree, failing to speak up about poor service or disrespect, asking permission when it isn’t necessary, constant apologizing, fishing for compliments, and having difficulty saying ‘no’ to others. Approval seekers are easy targets for people who are compensating for low self-esteem by controlling or bullying.
Another common strategy for covering up low self-esteem and confidence involves continuously seeking achievement. The popular term is workaholism. A workaholic is willing to put achievement over the needs of family, friends, health, and leisure. They place an unrealistic level of importance on success and winning.
Not every high achiever is compensating for low self-esteem, but the achievement-dependent person is driven by the belief that if – and only if – they are achieving, accomplishing, winning, or succeeding they have worth and significance. They are likely to pay a high cost in their physical, mental, and emotional health as well as in their relationships.
Acceptance is the Answer
The ultimate key to eliminating overcompensation is learning to accept yourself unconditionally. Self-acceptance involves knowing and owning every aspect of who you are. When you identify a problem or weakness you can realistically change you commit to the process of doing so. When it is something that can’t be changed you commit to working on the goal of acceptance.
Many circumstances can create limitations in your life, but none of them can diminish your worth and significance as a human being. Acceptance of the things you can’t change never means accepting the notion that you are worthless, inadequate, or unlovable. It just leaves room for celebrating everything that is wonderful about you!
Live, Work & Relate Well!
Dr. Linaman is a psychologist and executive coach providing counseling and professional development services to individuals, couples, work teams and organizations.