People who seem happy but deep down lack self-esteem often display these 9 subtle behaviors

Can someone seem happy outwardly but secretly be battling inner feelings of low self-esteem? 

You might have encountered people who seem to project happiness but something tells you it’s not real. 

Maybe they’re really struggling with insecurity and lack of confidence and try to compensate by feigning happiness. 

Who was it that said, “Empty boxes rattle the loudest?” 

According to Psychology Today, roughly 85% of people worldwide suffer from low self-esteem — but it’s not always obvious. 

You might mistake feigned confidence for real self-esteem. 

Confusing, right?

In this article, I’ll discuss everything you need to know about this paradox. I’ll offer tips to help you tell the difference between real and fake confidence.

1) The smile that hides

Smiling is a universal expression of positive emotion. It’s a nonverbal way to communicate happiness, contentment, and even joy. 

But is smiling always genuine? How can you know? 

For decades, psychologists have surmised that can smiles reflect a vast array of emotions — not just happiness. 

Here are a few things to pay attention to: 

  • Eye Contact
  • Symmetry
  • Duration
  • Context
  • Microexpressions
  • Sincerity in the Eyes

If something seems a bit…. off, it usually is. 

So, now you know — if someone’s smiling, it’s not always a sign that they’re okay. 

2) Constantly seeking approval

Seeking approval is a double-edged sword. 

While it can reflect a healthy desire to help others or even get feedback, it can also cross the line into being pathological. 

This need for approval may stem from a deeper perfectionistic tendency.

3) The perfectionist dilemma

We all want to be perfect, do we not? 

At what point does trying to improve become … too much? 

You know that person who just seems ultra-talented at everything they do? 

They make you think they’re just superhumanly talented. 

You know what I mean. Like the kid at school who always got amazing grades and claimed to never study — even though everyone knew he studied the hardest. 

What drives someone to be like that? 

Deep insecurity. 

Low self-esteem

People like that don’t feel like they’re good enough just by being them. 

Their inner need to excel at everything they do might actually stem from feeling like they’re not enough. 

It’s okay to fail sometimes. After all, who among us is perfect?

In general, healthy people don’t destroy themselves with guilt each time they fall short of self-set goals. 

Rather, they embrace mistakes as opportunities for growth and accepting imperfections is key.

Researchers highlight how striving for perfection can lead to anxiety, burnout, and a decline in mental health.

4) Self-deprecating humor

Humor is like a friendly companion in life. It makes tough times a bit lighter and good times better.
A good laugh between friends brings joy and helps us see the brighter side of things. And it’s good to be able to laugh at yourself. 

It shows humility and an ability to step outside yourself. But can it go too far? 

Self-deprecating humor has been a long-standing comedic tradition. 

It can be a tool for endearment, a mechanism for coping with life’s pressures, or a method for maintaining social harmony.

But many people use self-deprecating humor as a coping mechanism — a way to deal with stress, anxiety, and low self-esteem. 

If you know someone who seems to always make dark or self-deprecating jokes about themselves, it could be their way of saying “I don’t think I’m good enough.”

You might also notice how a person like that seems to be in a perpetual state of saying sorry. 

5) Excessive apologizing

So, you know how sometimes we just can’t stop saying sorry

According to Jocelyn Hamsher, a therapist from Arizona, It happens for all sorts of reasons. 

One common reason is this thing called false guilt – basically feeling responsible for stuff that’s not even our fault. 

You wouldn’t believe how common this is in Ireland. 

A while ago, I was having a drink at a bar with a friend. And needing to go to the bathroom, I worked my way upstairs. 

On the way to and from the ladies room, 12 said sorry to me for practically no reason. 

They may have just gently brushed off me or met me on the stairs. But the whole way there, it was just “sorry,” “sorry,” “sorry.”

It’s quite endearing, really. 

But there is a point where it goes too far.

6) Reluctance to express opinions

lacks self esteem People who seem happy but deep down lack self-esteem often display these 9 subtle behaviors

Insecurity often stops people from expressing their opinion. And where does it stem from? 

Fear of rejection. Yeah — that old beast.

If it’s not taken care of, the fear of being rejected can get worse over time.

In extreme cases, people can even develop something called rejection-sensitive dysphoria (RSD). It’s pretty much a really intense sensitivity to criticism or disapproval.

A study by the Pew Research Center found that 64% of people worry about saying what they believe.

Given this statistic, it makes you wonder how much of what other people give you is really true, doesn’t it? 

Fear of rejection shows up in a few ways:

  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Assertiveness struggles
  • Constant need for approval
  • Perfectionism
  • Negative self-talk
  • Battling a negative self-image
  • People-pleasing
  • Sensitivity to criticism
  • Difficulty with expression

If this sounds familiar to you, just remember — everyone’s voice matters,  and sharing ideas is how cool things happen.

7) Avoidance of eye contact

Someone with low self-esteem might also have trouble expressing themselves openly. They might hesitate to share their thoughts or ideas, fearing judgment from others. 

It’s like their body is telling a story of self-doubt, even if they don’t talk about it.

“The eyes are the mirror of the soul and reflect everything that seems to be hidden; and like a mirror, they also reflect the person looking into them.”― Paulo Coelho 

For example, they might avoid eye contact, slouch their shoulders, or fidget nervously. These actions speak louder than words and can give us clues about their self-confidence.

Sometimes, people with low self-esteem might seem overly sensitive to criticism or overly worried about what others think. They might apologize a lot or seem unsure in their actions.

Understanding these non-verbal cues helps us support our friends or family who may be struggling with their self-esteem.

Simple gestures, like offering encouragement or a friendly smile, can make a big difference in helping them feel valued and accepted.

8) Constant comparison

In today’s digital age, social media has become an integral part of our daily lives, shaping the way we perceive ourselves and others. A significant aspect of this influence is its impact on self-esteem.

According to recent studies, nearly 70% of individuals admit that social media plays a role in shaping their self-image. Constant exposure to carefully curated posts and images can lead to unrealistic beauty standards, fostering feelings of inadequacy among users.

This phenomenon is particularly evident among the younger demographic, with over 80% of teenagers reporting that social media negatively affects their self-esteem.

Moreover, the toll on mental health extends beyond self-esteem, impacting overall well-being. The incessant comparison to others and the pressure to conform to societal ideals contribute to heightened stress levels and anxiety.

Alarmingly, research indicates a 30% increase in mental health issues among those who spend more than two hours daily on social media platforms.

It’s crucial to recognize the potential downsides of social media and take steps towards fostering a healthier digital environment.

Encouraging authenticity, promoting body positivity, and setting realistic expectations can contribute to a more positive online experience, ultimately benefiting both self-esteem and mental health.

9)  Forced extraversion

It’s not news that the trait of extraversion is linked to self-esteem. 

Extraversion is like being outgoing and social, enjoying the company of others and being talkative. 

It shows confidence.

Extraverts often seem comfortable in social situations. They may be the life of the party, always chatting and making friends easily.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. 

Sometimes, someone who seems super extraverted might be dealing with low self-esteem deep down. 

It’s like they’re putting on a show, being the loud and social person to cover up their own insecurities.

Last thoughts 

The facade of happiness can be a powerful mask for those grappling with low self-esteem. 

The impact of social media also plays a massive role in shaping our perceptions. 

It can easily lead to feelings of inadequacy. The constant comparison fostered by carefully curated posts can take a toll on mental health. 

If these signs sound familiar to you — whether about you or someone you know — it might be time to redefine what happiness and confidence looks like. 

Learn to see through the outer layers of a person and get directly to what’s inside. That way, you can help others grow. 

Picture of Ava Sinclair

Ava Sinclair

Ava Sinclair is a former competitive athlete who transitioned into the world of wellness and mindfulness. Her journey through the highs and lows of competitive sports has given her a unique perspective on resilience and mental toughness. Ava’s writing reflects her belief in the power of small, daily habits to create lasting change.

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