Insecure: Define And Manage It
By: Stephanie Kirby
Updated February 15, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Laura Angers
Most of us want to live a life rich with happiness and fulfillment. Unfortunately, some emotions keep us from living out the true potential of our dreams. Self-doubt and insecurity can have a devastating effect on the way we live our lives.
How Do We Define Insecurity?
Modern usage of the word “insecure” is rooted in the medieval Latin “insecurus,” roughly translating to “tenuous.” One popular dictionary gives us two definitions of “insecure”:
- In the person: lacking confidence or doubting one's abilities. This involves a person feeling inadequate about personal traits like physical appearance, intelligence, or accomplishments.
- In objects or situations: believing things are not fixed or safe. This could include relationships, jobs, and financial stability.
Abraham Maslow, the famous American psychologist, described the insecure person a little differently as, "(The insecure person) perceives the world as a threatening jungle and most human beings as dangerous and selfish; feels rejected and isolated, anxious and hostile; is generally pessimistic and unhappy…is troubled by guilt feelings, has one or another disturbance of self-esteem…and is generally egocentric and selfish."
As you can likely tell, Maslow didn't seem to have a very high opinion of those experiencing insecurity. He does do a great job, however, of addressing the core beliefs of some of the most insecure people. Being insecure does not make someone an inherently bad person, and feelings of insecurity of valid and can be worked through and overcome. Many working through insecurity have just had previous negative experiences affecting their self-confidence and esteem.
What Makes Us Insecure?
When a person feels threatened by losing relationships, careers, acceptance, and whatever else is important to him or her, the fears often lead to lower self-esteem and confidence. Here are some common causes of insecurity:
- Temperament: Inborn personality qualities may make someone more susceptible to insecure tendencies. This could include introversion vs extroversion and being naturally more reactive vs calm.
- Parenting: Our parents play a significant role in our formative years. Overly critical parents and parents with very high expectations may make a child feel inferior or like a failure from a very early age. This, of course, could lead to issues later in life. Also, overprotective parents can prevent their children from doing necessary things for the growing process. This robs children of the chance to grow from the experience and become more self-confident.
- Bullying: The anti-bullying movement has been strong over the last decade or so for a good reason. Children picked on for things that they can't control, such as gender, race, looks, and ethnic differences, often feel powerless about their situations.
- Body Image: The media has no problem glamorizing stereotypically beautiful and fit people. Unfortunately, most of us can't live up to the airbrushed, surgically enhanced images found everywhere. Nor do we need to! It's easy to feel insecure in a world obsessed with beauty and “perfection.”
- Learning Problems: Those with learning disabilities or those struggling in school or work often feel inferior to those around them. For example, a child may feel insecure if they’re struggling to master a concept while a classmate next to them seems to get it right away.
- Guilt: If there are things in your life you’d rather hide from others, the insecurity of having them revealed and being vulnerable could cause a fear of others' disapproval.
- Life Failures: The frustrations of life do no favors for self-confidence. Divorce, losing jobs, and unfulfilled goals may make you feel inferior to the seemingly successful people around you.
- Trauma: A traumatic experience could quickly whisk away your sense of safety and security. Those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often fear to relive the experience and the distressing feelings it caused. This withdrawal and isolation from potentially traumatic experiences may make them feel inferior and less connected with others.
- Aging: As we get older, our health, looks, and independence often fade. Relying on others as well as seeing that aging image in the mirror can make us feel inferior to our more youthful self.
- Instinctive Biological Insecurities: Through evolution, our brains were wired to pick up on signs of disapproval or anger in others. Prehistoric humans who didn't realize others were unhappy were often thrown out of the protective group. Those with the ability to be intuitive often stayed in the group and passed their genes to modern civilization.
Depending on the person's emotional resilience, one or a combination of these factors could contribute to their lack of self-confidence. If your life experience included any of these causes, it might be affecting your sense of security.
Define Insecurity In Yourself
Lacking self-confidence is something we all go through from time to time. Sometimes we may act insecure without even knowing it. By knowing the common signs of insecurity, you can determine if it's having an impact on your life. Do any of these behaviors describe you?
- Difficulty Giving And Receiving Compliments. If you are unsure of yourself, a compliment can be hard to take or accept. Often, those with insecurity dismiss or deflect praise directed to them.
- Unable To Maintain Eye Contact. Holding the gaze of someone else is often difficult for those lacking confidence.
- Excessive Apologies. Insecure people often apologize for their statements or behaviors because they fear being corrected or challenged.
- Difficulty Sharing Personal Information. Those with insecurity have a fear of being judged or feeling vulnerable by revealing too much about themselves.
- Trouble Making Decisions. Asserting choices is difficult for insecure people because they don't want to be held accountable for making the wrong choice.
- Making Too Many Excuses. People unsure of themselves often give explanations when none are required. Like making decisions, insecure people don't want to be put on the spot.
- Inability To Say "No." Those lacking self-confidence often let others dictate their lives, and may struggle to set clear boundaries or simply say “no.”
- Trouble Asking For Favors. Difficulty with self-assertion leads to the anticipation of rejection or disapproval from others. Those with insecurities may find it difficult to rely on others, or may simply be afraid to somehow inconvenience them by asking for help.
- Desiring The Spotlight. It is not only the timid who may live with insecurity. Some people seek constant recognition as a way to validate their existence and cover up their insecurities.
Tips For Managing And Overcoming Your Insecurity
If you feel insecurity is impacting your happiness and relationships, taking an active role in managing it is necessary. Here are a few tips to help you overcome insecurity in any aspect of your life:
- Take A Step Back And Create Perspective. Do you have irrational beliefs about your relationships, career, or accomplishments? Do you feel the need for everything to be perfect in your life? Look at the world around you. Nobody is perfect. And that's okay. Regardless of what the media says, what others tell you, or how you view the rest of the world, we all have flaws. Embrace who you are and what you have, and focus less on your perceptions of others. No matter who you are or your situation, there is always some good to be found. We just have to allow ourselves to see it. Simply shifting that perspective can be paramount in easing insecurity.
- Challenge Outdated Beliefs. Insecurities linger long after the original cause, even if they are no longer relevant. Write down your beliefs and insecure thoughts, then take a hard look if they are still applicable or helping you in any way.
- Take Action. Instead of recycling insecure beliefs, take action when possible. By actively working to change the things making you insecure, you may find a new source of self-confidence and control. If you think that physical health is factoring in, try adopting a healthier lifestyle. If you have insecurities about a relationship, work together to improve the relationship. Start with small, manageable steps to increase your chances of sticking with it and continuing to curb and manage your insecurities.
- Accept The Unchangeable. There are some things in our lives that we just can't change. Accept them and move on. When you find yourself focusing on these things, take a few deep breaths and remind yourself to accept what you can't change. For example, you cannot change others. That is up to them, and them alone, just as only you can change yourself. You are responsible for your own actions and no one else’s.
- Get Better At What You Love. Focus on the things that you like about yourself and work to improve them. If your mind is constantly swimming in insecure thoughts, chances are that you are taking your strengths and talents for granted. Write down the positive skills and abilities you have in your life. Make a plan to improve them if possible or desired.
- Do Something That Makes You Happy. Engaging in meaningful activities that you love will help you get out of your own head. Have some fun. Treat yourself. Find ways to give back to others without bragging about it later.
- Get Support. If insecurities are crippling the way you live your life, seek assistance from a professional. Therapy can help you identify negative beliefs, find their causes, and make necessary changes.
Be Able To Define Insecurity In Others:
Some people feel the need to bring others down. Severely insecure people are in constant search of boosting their self-esteem regardless of the effects it has on others. Their inferiority complex and self-doubt leave them striving for a sense of superiority. When you are able to see and define insecurity in these individuals, you are less likely to absorb the effects of their negativity.
James Brookes (2015) conducted a study to help define insecure behaviors and the tendencies these people used to bring down others while feeding their troubled egos. His study found four clues in helping to define narcissistic, insecure behaviors. These are:
- Sharing Their Misery. Do you know a person always overcompensating at the expense of devaluing others’ self-worth? If you don't generally feel insecure around others, but a certain person makes you feel that way, chances are that the insecure person is projecting their issues onto you.
- Boasting About Accomplishments. People constantly bragging about their lifestyle, job status, or amazing family may be doing it more to convince themselves than others, deep down. If others believe that they are doing well, they can create a false sense of security for themselves without actually properly assessing or working through their insecurity issues.
- Dropping The "Humble Brag" Often. Scanning your social media pages is a great way to find many "humble brags." This involves a person complaining about something they are really trying to brag about. For instance, their kids having difficulty deciding which Ivy League school to attend or the amount of time that they have to spend watching their child's championship soccer team.
- Complaining That Things Aren't Good Enough. An insecure person loves to show what high standards they have, thus trying to prove they are better than others. This snobbish behavior attempts to hide their insecurities. For example, they may already have a nice home and a vacation home, but complain that they don’t have a vacation home in another location, as well. In some cases, this may not be a passive-aggressive boast, but could be them feeling as though something in their life is missing, creating a sense of insecurity that they express through this complaint.
How Do You Deal With These People?
The simple answer is trying to phase them out of your life. Of course, this may not be so easy. They may be family members, romantic partners, co-workers, and even supervisors. The next best answer is to define insecure behaviors like the ones mentioned above and realize they may be causing your or their self-doubt. By not giving these people the power to bring you down, you can take the steps in making your own life happier. If a particular person still finds ways to get under your skin, take a deep breath and step back. Try to empathize. Remember Maslow's definition and be aware their inner turmoil may be much worse than anything they can make you feel. Try to open a calm and understanding line of communication with them to address these feelings and behaviors; some people may not even be aware that they have insecurities or that those insecurities are responsible for their thoughts and actions.
Finding Help For Yourself
While it can be hard to remain calm when those around you are insecure, insecurity in yourself can be even worse. If insecurity is having a negative effect on your life and well-being, therapy can help. By working together with a therapist to determine your core beliefs, you could define insecurity and how it is impacting your relationships and happiness.
If a traditional therapy setting is too expensive or not a possibility, online counseling is available. The certified and accredited therapists at BetterHelp provide affordable, convenient therapy services to help you work through the issuesnegatively impacting your life.
Online therapy has been found to be just as effective as in-person therapy at treating a host of conditions, including anxiety, depression, insecurity, self-esteem and many others. Specifically, internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (ICBT) is incredibly useful in uncovering, understanding, and working through issues related to self-image, anxiety, and insecurities. A compilation of data from 373 different studies found ICBT to be more effective long-term in reducing symptoms and continuing reduction even post-treatment, as well as more cost-effective than in-person CBT.
Whether you live rurally, have a very busy schedule, or just don’t like the idea of sitting in an office, online therapy can help you. BetterHelp is available anytime, anywhere, including the comfort of your own home – you’ll just need an internet or data connection to get started. From there, you’ll be matched with a personalized therapist based on the answers you provide to a short questionnaire. Sessions are also fully customizable, able to be conducted via phone call, video chat, live voice recordings sent back and forth, or instant messaging within the BetterHelp app.
If the idea of remote counseling seems a little strange, consider reading through the following counselor reviews from other BetterHelp users who have sought help in managing insecurities and self-esteem.
“Dr. Gordon is amazing. He tells like it is, but he respects your emotions, beliefs, morals, etc. He allows you to talk things out, even allows you to interrupt if necessary and gets to the root of the problem. He gives you advice and 'assignments' to help with your issues and encourages open communication which I really appreciate. I've been working with him for about four months and even though I still have ways to go, he's helped me to identify my insecurities, along with getting a better view of myself and my identity and letting go of my traumatic past.”
“Patrice is amazing! She is so kind and warm. I look forward to our sessions and every time we complete a session with her I feel understood and valued. She is patient, comforting and gives thoughtful advice. She has been a significant and impactful part of my journey towards bettering my mental health, healing and growing my self-esteem. I am so thankful I have been able to work with her!”
You may feel insecure, insecure people around you may be bringing you down, or insecurities in yourself that you don’t even know that you have could be negatively impacting your life and relationships. No matter what your position is, understanding what insecurity is and how to manage it can help you lead a happier and healthier life.
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