Am I dealing with insecurity and if so, how did it start & what are steps I can take to combat this?

It's my first time talking to a councillor of any kind but lately I've been considering Better Help because I think it would benefit me and my personal growth to get some outside perspective on some of the challenges I face internally. For me it's not anything pressing but more about self improvement and increased self awareness so that I can stop hindering myself from personal growth.

I'm am avid self analyser and have tried my best for a number of years to figure out "what's up with me" to no avail. My friends would say I'm reserved, never share anything about myself or "hard to get to know." At first when people would say this it would come as a shock because these were people who I would have considered quite close to me. I am aware that I am an introvert and have tried to just accept this and work hard to share more and be a more open person because even though I am fine with my own company and my comfort zone is being the shoulder to cry on or great listener, I do wish I could trust others more to do that for me and basically I wish I could be seen and understood just as I am.

I always think about where this guardedness came from because I dont have any glaring traumas or moments in my life that I can pinpoint and say here is where I developed a fear of vulnerability. I know many people who have been through so much worse that don't appear to have this problem which could be down to personality, i don't know.

I often think back to when I was a kid before coming to Autralia (I moved from Kenya when I was 6) and I would have descibed that kid as a firecracker. I absolutely had no self doubt, you couldn't tell me anything and I never felt the cautiousness that I do now. This could be because I was kid or maybe because I was in an environement with others who looked like me etc but I feel like I was a completely different person.

Since coming to Australia I have grown from a very reserved and shy kid to a slightly less reserved adult who is good at maintaining an acceptable social front but is hyper critical and self conscious of my every move in my head to the point where I think people can sometimes pick up on the disingenuousness of my comfortability. I would like to mention however that from a child to now I haven't had this timidness or social anxiety around my family or those closest to me, it may have manifested in other ways however.

Some things about me that I guess are relevant are:
I squirm under prolonged periods of eye-contact
In a work I tend not to share much or engage much unless enaged myself
When I'm in conversation with someone I am hyper aware of the person's body language and facial expression that I stops me from engaging naturally.
I will sometimes get so nervous in conversation that I'm running out of time (attention span) to get my point across that I'll completely blank on words or be unable to finish my sentences making me stutter or trail off etc
Around those who are supposed to know me well I get angry and hyper defensive when I feel like they are criticising me or don't understand where I am coming from in a disagreement or even in just a passing comment. It is the opposite with those who I dont consider close.
I often rehearse what I am going to say prior to saying it
I often spiral into a low emotional state after too many days of prolonged social enagement.
When I walk into a room I rarely ever make eye contact or even recognise people I know until I'm more comfortable
This year a few things happened within my friendship group that put a bit of tension on our relationships, nothing I couldn't see us making it through. I'm not someone who is afraid of confrontation and I am able to communicate precisely when in a confrontational situation however recently my capacity for other people's issues has been running low. I tend to be a person that really wants to be there for people usually to a fault. I had this week in May with my best friend where I apparently misread her attitude towards me when another friend was in town. That week something in me completely made me spiral into a place of mistrust of my best friend (we've been best friends since 5 and 6 years old and we're more like sisters than friends -the one person that I feel like knows me for me). I had it in my head that the whole friendship wasn't genuine on her part and she was just friends with me based on convenience. By the time we talked about it I had made myself believe that I had to protect myself against her becuase I couldnt let her hurt me. We cleared it up and she said she didn't realise she was doing what I thought she was and she absolutely didn't feel that way. I had to accept it and try and move on because I felt crazy like I'd made it all up but I couldn't shake the feeling.

Fast forward about two months and I have completely distanced myself from all my friends. I kept telling myself that I just need to be alone and I wanted to get to a place where I didn't feel like I needed anyone around me. I didn't want to completely abandon my friends and I would still check in from time to time but I just couldn't be around people outside of my family. Even though I feel like I have been operating from a place of fear of some sort, I also feel like I've been the most content and the actually vey happy these past couple of months. I've been focusing a lot on my spiritual growth, career growth and personal growth and I've just been enjoying being with only my family who are my safety net.

It's been tough with COVID in Australia as I have been wanting to move cities and lockdowns are constantly jumping from state to state but I feel like the time alone has given me a bit more perspective.

Basically a couple of days ago I got a text from my best friend saying that she feels like she had done something to offend me and I talked to her and just told her that it's not her, It's me. I told her I don't know what it is but I just need the alone time right now because I'm at a sensitive place. I told her that I would let her know what is up with me when I work it out myself and that I just can't articulate things right now. Shortly after that, might have been that night, I had this melt-down and I realised that I might just be this insecure person -someone that constantly seeks validation externally. I know this may seem obvious but for me it's something that I wouldn't ever associate with myself it was like the furthest thing from my mind. I would honestly look at people like that and feel disgusted to see such a trait in them but I feel like it is because that trait is in me. Maybe I'm not as self assured as I thought I was in certain areas. I've never struggled with standing up for myself and I'v never been uncomfortable in my own skin but I don't think I would be experiencing this disconnect from myself if I felt like I was living authentically. I don't feel confident being me and that has just been hurting me all my life to the point where I can't sustain it anymore. It feels gross to admit that I am an insecure person but I feel like that is the actual problem.

These are my conclusions but I would just like some help placing their origins and making sense of them and then of course finding ways in which I can help myself to grow out of them and become someone who is able to be unapologetically themselves without seeking validation.

Milo
Asked by Milo
Answered
11/29/2021
Dear Milo,
 
Thank you for your message and sharing with me how you've been interacting with yourself, especially on how you've been handling unpleasant feelings and emotions. As you said this has also affected your life significantly. Perhaps by addressing how to handle unpleasant emotions in a healthier manner, we can dive into addressing the issues in your life as well?
 
Often the experience we've had about anxiety (or any strong emotion such as stress / depression) was so terrible (even physically) that our body sort of become traumatized to it. We naturally become nervous about these unpleasant feelings because we don't like these sensations and experiences. As a result we would do everything we can to avoid / fight these anxious feelings, often using numbing techniques such as using substances or distracting ourselves. Yet only to find that the anxiety gets stronger over time because we have never been able to make peace with it.
 
Therefore rather than trying to "change" / "fight" / "get rid of" these unpleasant sensations, perhaps the best thing that we can do is to make room for these feelings and even sensations, while staying on track to do what brings us meaning and fulfillment. Floating without judging / blaming ourselves through the anxiety experience, while focusing on making room for anxiety can be helpful.
 
Here is a short video put up by the author of the book "The Happiness Trap" which does a good job explaining this concept:
 
Please take some time to watch this and share your thoughts later :) I also highly recommend picking that book as well to supplement this therapy process.
 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCp1l16GCXI 
 
We as human beings do not like sufferings, therefore often times we would be doing our best to fight it. However just like the analogy of swimming vs floating that we have talked about before, the more we fight it, the faster we sink. While if we can learn to float with these waves, we will realize that we won't sink.
 
Radical acceptance / Expansion is about accepting of life on life's terms and not resisting what you cannot or choose not to change. Radical Acceptance is about saying yes to life and all that life brings (including all sorts of emotions such as joy, sadness, peace and pain), just as it is without forcing our ways into our lives.
 
Why do we want to accept life as it is? Because with anything that we do in life that brings us meaning and fulfillment, it always accompany a wide range of emotions, we can't possibly just choose the ones that we like and fight / avoid those that we don't like. Learning to experience all emotions as they are, is a sign that we are living our lives to the fullest.
 
To do so we must learn to accept (and make room for) any unpleasant sensations, feelings or thoughts that we experience.
 
We don't want to fight it because the more we fight, the stronger they will come back.
 
We don't want to avoid it either because the more we avoid, the more we'll be afraid of it.
 
So the key here is to make room for these sensations, feelings and thoughts, while continue to do what brings us meaning and fulfillment in life. 
 
Learning to "co-exist" with these feelings will naturally reduce the intensity of them.
 
Floating, is a form of learning to accept these feelings and make room for it.
 
Let me give you some practical guidelines on what I mean by accepting these feelings and make room for it.
 
You can look up "expansion technique" under Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for more information as well.
 
How to accept our emotions (and make room for them):
 
1. OBSERVE. Bring awareness to the feelings in your body.
 
2. BREATHE. Take a few deep breaths. Breathe into and around them.
 
3. EXPAND. Make room for these feelings. Create some space for them.
 
4. ALLOW. Allow them to be there. Make peace with them
 
Some people find it helpful to silently say to themselves, 'I don't like this feeling, but I
have room for it,' or 'It's unpleasant, but I can accept it.'
 
• When you're feeling an unpleasant emotion, the first step is to take a few slow, deep
breaths, and quickly scan your body from head to toe.
 
• You will probably notice several uncomfortable sensations. Look for the strongest
sensation - the one that bothers you the most. For example, it may be a lump in your
throat, or a knot in your stomach, or an ache in your chest.
 
• Focus your attention on that sensation. Observe it curiously, as if you are a friendly
scientist, discovering some interesting new phenomenon.
 
• Observe the sensation carefully. Notice where it starts and where it ends. Learn as much
about it as you can. If you had to draw a line around the sensation, what would the outline
look like? Is it on the surface of the body, or inside you, or both? How far inside you
does it go? Where is the sensation most intense? Where is it weakest? How is it different
in the center than around the edges? Is there any pulsation, or vibration within it? Is it
light or heavy? Moving or still? What is its temperature?
 
• Take a few more deep breaths, and let go of the struggle with that sensation. Breathe
into it. Imagine your breath flowing in and around it.
 
• Make room for it. Loosen up around it. Allow it to be there. You don't have to like it or
want it. Simply let it be.
 
• The idea is to observe the sensation - not to think about it. So when your mind starts
commenting on what's happening, just say 'Thanks, mind!' and come back to observing.
 
• You may find this difficult. You may feel a strong urge to fight with it or push it away.
If so, just acknowledge this urge, without giving in to it. (Acknowledging is rather like
nodding your head in recognition, as if to say 'There you are. I see you.') Once you've
acknowledged that urge, bring your attention back to the sensation itself.
 
• Don't try to get rid of the sensation or alter it. If it changes by itself, that's okay. If it
doesn't change, that's okay too. Changing or getting rid of it is not the goal.
 
• You may need to focus on this sensation for anything from a few seconds to a few
minutes, until you completely give up the struggle with it. Be patient. Take as long as you
need. You're learning a valuable skill.
 
• Once you've done this, scan your body again, and see if there's another strong sensation
that's bothering you. If so, repeat the procedure with that one.
 
• You can do this with as many different sensations as you want to. Keep going until you
have a sense of no longer struggling with your feelings.
 
• As you do this exercise one of two things will happen: either your feelings will change -
or they won't. It doesn't matter either way. This exercise is not about changing your
feelings. It's about accepting them.
 
Looking forward to talking with you more,
Jono
(MSW, LICSW, LMHC)