The Difference Between Low Self-Worth and Selfishness

Low self-worth causes collateral damage, such as the difficulty to interact with others in a cooperative and supportive way. Indeed, the fear of rejection or of making a mistake often leads to seemingly selfish attitudes.
The Difference Between Low Self-Worth and Selfishness

Last update: 13 July, 2021

Low self-worth is one of those burdens that can hold you back or limit you in many ways. It can lead to other problems, big and small, such as a hard time starting or maintaining a healthy relationship with other people. One can see it in their excessive shyness or difficulty to naturally express themselves.

Although it may not seem so, low self-worth nurtures certain seemingly selfish attitudes. These don’t really mean that people with these traits don’t care about others. It’s only that they place little value on themselves and tend to overestimate their vulnerability. They express it by being defensive and thinking that what they contribute is so unimportant that it isn’t even worth the effort.

In many cases, this is why some people don’t speak or don’t take initiative. They’re just assuming they have nothing valuable to give, which comes out as selfishness.

“I have great faith in fools, self-confidence my friends call it.”

-Edgar Allan Poe-

A seemingly sad woman.

Low self-worth and solidarity

It’s common for an insecure person to assume that nobody needs their help and that they’re irrelevant to others right off the bat. It happens in all sorts of situations.

In addition, it’s also common for them not to step forward when someone requests volunteers, for example. As you can imagine, it’s a self-perpetuating spiral. Lack of self-confidence leads to secrecy and secrecy leads to lack of confidence. A person with low self-worth reinforces the feeling of incompetence or inadequacy by positioning themselves as such.

It’s always a good idea to ask yourself if there’s something you can do for others in situations involving needs or problems. Contribute something if you can, just go ahead and offer help. Always express a willingness to help even if they don’t take you up on it for whatever reason. It’s the right thing to do.

Failure management

It’s also common for someone with a lack of self-confidence to refrain from sharing or giving out of fear of making a mistake. Their level of self-criticism is quite high and they aren’t able to intelligently position themselves in the face of failure. As you can imagine, they’re terrified when someone asks them to participate in a project, for example.

Fear triggers insecurities and this kind of person might be thinking they just can’t do it. That others expect too much from them and they’re just going to let them down. This kind of thinking blocks any interest in participating or any possibility of contributing more to a group.

It also happens in personal situations. For example, you want to give a special gift to someone but feel that it might be too “cheesy” or might not please them. Thus, the options to participate or to give more of yourself end up becoming threats you give in to.

A distressed woman.

Low self-worth, communication, and self-fulfilling prophecies

Lack of self-confidence also often affects communication with others. They can’t say what they’d like to say, so they act as if the issue doesn’t matter to them. It’s also possible to develop the opposite attitude: wanting to monopolize conversations or being threatening or intransigent with others.

An insecure person takes many interactions as attacks and takes criticism personally. Thus, they either shut themselves up, preventing dialogue, or strike back and turn it into a battlefield. Any of these attitudes worsen the problem.

In the end, their low self-worth way of thinking becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because they do everything they can to make it happen, even if they don’t do it consciously. It’s likely that many people will end up rejecting or minimizing the help or contribution of a person with broken self-esteem because they’re quite anxious about it.

It’s also possible that such a person will end up labeled or singled out as “selfish”. To that extent, it’ll be difficult for others to seek their participation, and it’ll only lower their self-esteem even more.

This kind of person feels worthless and others, somehow, end up making them feel that way (self-fulfilling prophecy). Thus, it’s a complex vicious cycle, which they can only break by becoming aware of the way they act.

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  • Riso, W. (2003). Aprendiendo a quererse a sí mismo. Editorial norma.