Humility and low self-esteem are different traits sponsored by different mindsets and they produce different effects. However, they seem similar and are often mistaken because they are both centered around lowliness.
In this post, I’ll be highlighting 8 differences between humility and low self-esteem to help you quickly spot when your humility is tilting towards low self-esteem.
Before considering the differences, here are some reasons why humility and low self-esteem look the same.
Similarities Between Low Self-Esteem And Humility
- Both humility and low self-esteem don’t make you shout your results (compare with difference #6 below)
- Both humility and low self-esteem make you not openly crave spotlights (compare with difference #8 below)
- Both humility and low self-esteem make you open to giving up your ways and doing things the ways of others (compare with difference #1 below)
Differences Between Humility And Low Self-Esteem
1. Humility is seeing yourself as not better than others while low self-esteem is seeing yourself as lesser than others
This simple distinction is the biggest factor that sets low self-esteem and humility apart. With humility, you understand that every human is equal regardless of their social, economic, or racial status.
Specifically, you understand that whatever you are or have doesn’t make you better than others and because of that you don’t belittle anyone or exalt yourself above anyone.
When you have low self-esteem, on the other hand, you believe there is a hierarchy of importance among humans and you don’t measure up based on that hierarchy. You see yourself as lesser than others. Humility says you are equal; low self-esteem says you are lesser.
2. Humility is receptive to feedback/criticism while low self-esteem is afraid of feedback/criticism
When you have low self-esteem you aren’t confident in your work or yourself so you’ll be scared to open your work to criticism or receive feedback for your behavior because people might just confirm what you have always believed— that you are not good enough.
If your lowliness is sponsored by humility, on the other hand, you are not afraid of your work being criticized and receiving feedback because you are confident in yourself.
3. A humble person doesn’t crave affirmation from others while a person with low self-esteem can only thrive on affirmations
Because you aren’t sure of yourself when you have low self-esteem, you are always craving people to affirm you or compliment the things you do, even when you know they are good or you like them before you become confident to continue doing them.
With humility, however, you are not waiting on people around you to give you permission to do what you know is right or you like. You can be skeptical when you don’t know if it is right or not, but once you know, you don’t have to be constantly given a “you are doing great” signal to move on.
I shared my experience of practical low self-esteem displayed while I was learning to drive here.
4. A person with low self-esteem is a people-pleaser while a humble person isn’t a people pleaser
Similar to seeking affirmations from others is people pleasing. When you have low self-esteem, you are always trying to earn the favor and approval of the people around you.
Now, everyone wants to be liked, but a person with low self-esteem goes to very uncomfortable lengths in gaining approval. They do things they don’t want and live in continual self-sacrifice just to be liked.
You are a humble person, on the other hand, when you are not trying to make other people like you— you are just yourself. Once you put up a false or forced humility to get people to like you, it is low self-esteem manifesting.
5. A humble person can express their displeasure while one with low self-esteem can not express their displeasure
The ability to express displeasure is another vivid distinction between humility and low self-esteem. Because you think you don’t measure up to others when you have low self-esteem, you are afraid to l clearly tell people when they do something you don’t like or want.
This is also because by expressing your displeasure, you are risking hurting them and you might lose the favor you have always wanted. People with low self-esteem are generally social slaves.
Humility on the other hand doesn’t stop you from expressing your displeasure. When people do things you don’t like, you are clear about it in a way that doesn’t belittle them.
6. A humble person appreciates their strength while a person with low self-esteem focuses on their weaknesses
When you have low self-esteem, you are constantly thinking about how you are not good enough, how much of a flaw you have/are, and how people might not like you. You also belittle your successes and make your strengths look like nothing.
On the other hand, when you are just humble, you are aware of your strengths and abilities; you don’t deny or belittle them— you simply aren’t obsessed with them. You recognize that your strengths or abilities do not make you better than others.
The third extreme of this (obsessing about your strength and feeling above everyone) is pride.
7. A humble person does not compare themself with others while the person with low self-esteem constantly compares themself with others
Since your sense of worth is determined by how you measure up to others when you have low self-esteem, you have to keep comparing yourself with others to appraise how well you are doing.
When you are humble, on the other hand, you don’t need to compare yourself with others. You understand that regardless of what any metric of measurement reveals, all humans are equal.
8. A person with low self-esteem secretly craves all the admiration they put away while a humble person sincerely doesn’t fuss about it
The irony about having low self-esteem is that, although on the surface you look like you don’t want all the spotlight, deep within you, you want the spotlight— you just aren’t brave enough to ask for it or are afraid to show your desire for it (people-pleasing again!). So you look for subtle ways to get it.
A humble person also doesn’t chase after the spotlight but sincerely isn’t secretly craving for it. If the spotlight comes, fine! You accept it, but if it doesn’t, you don’t sit back wishing for it.
These distinctions can serve as guiding rules to criticize your mindset and figure out what is sponsoring your lowliness either low self-esteem or humility.
You Can Have Low Self-Esteem And Still Be Humble
Dissecting the differences between low self-esteem and humility doesn’t mean all those who have low self-esteem are not humble. Many times, people who have low self-esteem are humble.
Unfortunately, they also do not understand the boundaries between low self-esteem and humility so they switch to displaying behaviors sponsored by low self-esteem in the name of being humble.
The moment you understand, however, that low self-esteem can be cured without resulting in pride, you can fish out your low self-esteem-sponsored behaviors and maintain humility.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is low self-esteem the same as humility?
No, low self-esteem is not the same as humility. Low self-esteem means you see yourself as not measuring up compared to others while humility means you see yourself as equal and not more important than any person.
Does humility lead to low self-esteem?
No, humility does not lead to low self-esteem. Humility means you don’t see yourself as more important, not that you see yourself as less important.
Can I have high self-esteem and still be humble?
Yes, you can have high self-esteem and still be humble. High self-esteem means you see yourself as worthy and important. With humility, you also see yourself as worthy and important. It only becomes pride when you see yourself as more important than others.
See the 10 differences between pride and high self-esteem here.
What is the difference between humility and inferiority?
Humility is seeing yourself as equal and not more important than others while inferiority is seeing yourself as being less important than others.
How can I have confidence and humility?
You can have confidence and humility by being secure in the fact that you are equal to everyone else (not more important or less important) and play your own role without being intimidated or showing off.
What does humble confidence look like?
Humble confidence is when you are assured of yourself and what you can do without belittling others and what they can do.
Olusegun Iyejare is a career coach and certified counselor. He helps individuals discover and maximize their potential to live satisfying lives regardless of obvious limitations holding them back.