10 nonobvious signs your last breakup deeply affected your self esteem (according to psychology)

Breakups can turn our world upside down.

At the end of the day, it’s a loss and research has shown that the grief we experience is much like bereavement from a death.

Identities can become very intertwined leaving your self-esteem profoundly shaken. Particularly if you were left feeling rejected you may be feeling insecure and question your self-worth.

While some signs of low self-esteem after a breakup may be obvious, there are also more subtle indicators that can reveal the extent of the damage.

1) You don’t trust your judgment anymore

I’d always seen myself as a good judge of character.

But the man I loved and trusted cheated on me and then left me for her.

Afterward, I wondered if you could ever really know anybody. I had no clue it was happening, so how could I protect myself from this pain in the future?

Particularly when breakups don’t end well, it can make you doubt yourself and your judgment.

This may make it harder for you to trust again. As they say, once bitten twice shy.

Yet this hesitancy you feel is also a subtle form of a knock to your self-esteem. Numerous psychological studies have noted a link between self-doubt and low self-esteem.  

Deep down it’s you who you don’t trust. You question your decision-making ability.

That can make you more reluctant to make important choices or commit to things.

2) Constantly reinventing yourself

The post-breakup makeover is probably the most common manifestation of this. It can give you a little boost when you need it most.

Changing your hairstyle and buying new clothes is not only about improving your appearance in an attempt to bolster your confidence. It can also be a symbolic step towards change.

It’s a psychological way to remind yourself that it’s out with the old and in with the new. As explained by psychologist Dr. Graham Hole, for many of us, it’s a way of trying to reassert authority.

“It might be in order to make a statement, for example announcing ‘I’m in control of my appearance as well as my life’”.

This desire to “improve” yourself is a sign of your self-esteem taking a knock.

Whilst there’s no real harm in indulging in pick-me-ups, jumping into drastic changes post-breakup can be a bad idea. You’re not necessarily in the best frame of mind to make big decisions.

If after a breakup you’ve been constantly reinventing yourself ever since, it suggests you haven’t been able to settle into your identity. As we’re about to see…

3) Feeling lost and like you don’t know who you are anymore

In the direct aftermath of a breakup, it’s totally normal to feel at a loss.

Psychotherapist Michaela McCarthy says that’s because it takes time to readjust.

“Ending a relationship can cause us to question everything: who we are; what we are; where we in this world; and whether we have any worth. We all put a lot of ourselves into a relationship, and over the years it can become a sort of pillar by which we define ourselves. So it’s no surprise really that your self-esteem shatters when that pillar falls or is taken away.”

We may not have seen all the ways our own identity becomes woven with someone else’s.

But being able to separate yourself from your ex and reassert your own identity is crucial to the healing process.

One study confirmed that a failure to redefine the self contributes to post-breakup distress.

Feeling unsure of who you are anymore, your desires, dreams, likes, and dislikes, is part of the hit your self-esteem has taken.

4) Negative self-talk

Self-criticism is rife. So many of us have become numb to that voice in the back of our heads that feeds us unkind commentary.

So you may not even notice it ramp up after a breakup. It can show up in things like:

  • Obsessing over perceived flaws
  • Poor body image
  • Difficulty accepting compliments
  • Perfectionism
  • Constantly berating yourself

Internalizing negative beliefs about yourself is bound to knock your self-esteem eventually, as psychological Dr. Jan Roberts explains.

“Our perceptions eventually create our reality. If we have negative thought processes, we will see things — including ourselves — negatively. Therefore, poor self-esteem becomes the result of our own poor view of ourselves and capabilities”.

5) Chasing a good time

travel 10 nonobvious signs your last breakup deeply affected your self esteem (according to psychology)

After that particularly nasty breakup I mentioned earlier, I thought I had handled it all quite well.

That’s because rather than sit around wallowing in my misery, I decided to go off on an adventure. So I quit my job and went traveling.

I came to realize that the new fun-seeking me was a reaction to the pain and dip in my self-esteem.

When we’re feeling low about ourselves it’s a defense mechanism to hide in distractions.

  • Jumping into rebounds
  • Partying to excess
  • Engaging in risky or thrill-seeking behavior
  • Drinking more or drug taking

The problem is that hiding prevents us from moving forward, as psychotherapist and author Jonathan Alpert explains.

“Popping pills, drinking heavily, and doing drugs will only numb your sad and anxious mind, and it won’t teach you how to mourn the loss of a relationship, provide you with any insight, or help you move on”

From the outside, it may seem like you’re having a good time, but deep down inside you’re likely still in turmoil.

6) Attention seeking

When your self-esteem stocks are low, you may seek to replenish them.

That can tempt us into attention-seeking behaviors as we hunt for the validation we no longer feel inside of ourselves.

Constantly seeking approval becomes a way to try and patch up your broken heart.

  • Fishing for compliments
  • Flirting non-stop
  • Sympathy-seeking posts on social media
  • Increasingly craving comments and likes on social media
  • Posting sexy pics on social media
  • Matching and chatting with lots of people on dating apps, but never meeting

Whenever you are reliant on others for self-worth it’s a clear indication your own self-esteem is missing in action.

7) Rumination and blaming yourself

Regret can be very cruel. It keeps us captive in “what ifs” when we will never know the answer.

Overthinking and replaying events is understandable after any loss, but it can become an obsessive habit.

Studies have shown how low self-esteem is a predictor of rumination.

It also becomes a vicious cycle as research suggests that repetitive negative thinking has an important role in both the development and the maintenance of low self-esteem.

According to psychologist Lisa Marie Bobby ruminating about a past relationship or ex is a sign of unresolved pain.

“You break your arm and there is this pain signal that is coming from your body that says, ‘I’m hurt, pay attention to me, I need to be healed. Ruminating is your mind’s way of showing you that there is an emotional injury that needs to be healed.”

8) Becoming socially withdrawn

We all react differently to low self-esteem.

Whilst some may seek to bridge the gap from external sources, others choose to hide away.

That’s why if your last breakup deeply affected how you feel about yourself you may be avoiding social interactions. You could feel withdrawn from friends and family.

Rather than seek comfort from others, your lower self-esteem makes you fear judgment or rejection.

You may also feel like you’ve lost interest in activities or hobbies that you once felt motivated to do.

You are feeling disconnected from things you once enjoyed because deep down inside you are feeling disconnected still from yourself.

9) Comparing yourself

Research paints a clear picture between comparisonitus and low self-esteem.

The worse we feel about ourselves, the more we are likely to compare. This can show up in plenty of ways:

  • Social media stalking of your ex to see if their life is “better” than yours
  • Feeling inadequate compared to your ex-partner’s new relationships
  • Constantly measuring your worth against other people
  • Feeling the need to compete and prove yourself to people

You may find that this habit of comparing intensifies when you’re on social media. As highlighted in The Conversation:

“Research shows that the more time people spend on Facebook and Instagram, the more they compare themselves socially. This social comparison is linked, among other things, to lower self-esteem and higher social anxiety.”

10) Struggling to set boundaries

When our self-image is low we’re not feeling our strongest. And that puts us at greater risk of people taking advantage.

When your defenses are down your boundaries could be a bit shaky.

Perhaps because you no longer feel inner confidence you find it much harder to assert yourself.

Whenever we are craving love and attention that we’re not finding within ourselves we can feel more desperate for it and so are prepared to put up with shittier behavior from others.

Scared of pushing people away, you allow mistreatment that once upon a time you would have firmly put your foot down about.

Final thoughts

When your self-esteem has been affected by a breakup, the worst thing you can do is give yourself a hard time about it.

Self-compassion and understanding are how you build up your self-love again.

Yet recognizing these nonobvious signs can help you address the impact of your breakup on your self-esteem and take steps towards healing and rebuilding your confidence.

Picture of Isabella Chase

Isabella Chase

Isabella Chase, a New York City native, writes about the complexities of modern life and relationships. Her articles draw from her experiences navigating the vibrant and diverse social landscape of the city. Isabella’s insights are about finding harmony in the chaos and building strong, authentic connections in a fast-paced world.

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