The New Grief

How families find renewal through loss.

Is It Love, Or Is It Insecurity?

How to identify an insecure man, and what to do about it.

No one would say that they set out to get into a relationship with an insecure man. However, that's exactly what many women do. In fact, an insecure man can be especially tempting to you, particularly if your last relationship was with a narcissistic man who was all about himself and not so interested in you, or a predatory man who was happy to let you support him. Viewed through the eyes of a woman who has been burned in a one of these relationships, an insecure man may seem sensitive and interested in you. In one way that it true: he is interested in the love you have to offer. But beware—the insecure man can also be a bottomless pit that might just drain you of every drop of love you possess.

Why Insecurity Can Be Appealing

When she first met Adam, Grace thought that he was just shy and quiet. She had no idea that what she was seeing was severe insecurity. Adam was one type of insecure man—the underachiever. Though he had graduated from college and was employed as an engineer, Adam had never advanced very far. At work he always got evaluations that boiled down to "satisfactory"—in other words, far short of what was needed to get ahead. 

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Grace decided to commit to this relationship, after dating Adam for six months, in large part because he pursued her, and also because he came across as wanting the relationship very much. And unlike her previous two boyfriends, Adam at least had a steady job and was faithful to her. So when the lease on the condo that she was renting was up, Grace put her furniture in storage and moved in with Adam.

Six months later, things were far from rosy. It started with Adam finding fault with Grace: from the way she cooked and dressed to the way she spoke and the opinions she expressed. At first, Adam's criticism was fairly mild (though still annoying). As time went on, however, Adam became very sarcastic, saying things like, "Don't you think you've outgrown halter tops?" Then, at times, Adam could get explosively angry, shouting, throwing things, and calling Grace crude, demeaning names. To make matters worse, the more Grace tried to live up to Adam's standards in order to avoid making him angry, the less it seemed to take to get him to the point where he would explode.

Grace had unwittingly let herself become hopelessly entangled in Adam's insecurity and the distorted perceptions it created. It wasn't as if she'd set out to bring out the worst in this insecure man. On the contrary, her sole motivation had been to try to keep the peace. But as with jealousy, once insecurity rears its head, the worst thing a person can do is to feed it. That's what Grace had unintentionally done.

The Insecure Man

Here are some of the key signs of insecurity. All of them were evident in Adam's personality. Grace saw them but initially she chose to minimize how important they were, and what they could mean for her relationship with Adam. 

Needing Constant Reassurance and Approval: Grace quickly saw that Adam was someone who was easily deflated. He was quick to make self-deprecating remarks like, "That was pretty stupid," or even, "What a loser!" Grace started responding to such comments by pointing out to Adam that he had a college degree and a good job, or just saying that it wasn't true.

Smothering: Once Grace got hooked into a relationship with Adam, he quickly became more or less glued to her at the hip. He wanted them to be together all the time. He didn't even like it when she was in a different room in the apartment they shared, and would come and sit beside her.

Jealous and Possessive: Grace was hardly a social butterfly; however, she did have friends and was close with her family. It wasn't long before Adam began—in little ways at first—to question Grace when she wanted to spend time with friends or family. In time, this became a major sore point between them, to the degree that, when Grace was out with a friend or paying a visit to her sister, Adam would call her on her cell phone three or four times. And if friends or family would call when Grace was not at home, Adam would often "forget" to give her the message.

Distrustful: As an insecure man, Adam was not only jealous of Grace's other relationships but also distrustful of others in general. He was forever suspicious of others' motives, believing that people wanted to take advantage of him. As a result, he was very critical of others, quick to find fault and point out their flaws. Grace found this especially annoying when Adam criticized her family or friends or questioned their motives, when she knew very well that these people loved and cared about her.

Living with an Insecure Man

You might ask, "Why would anyone want to do that?!" Well, one reason is that insecurity is not an all-or-none thing. Some men, like Adam, are so severely insecure that it might be impossible to have a viable relationship with them. On the other hand, many men are somewhat insecure, but not as insecure as Adam. In that case, the thing to avoid doing is making that insecurity worse. Here are a couple of tips for doing that:

Don't accept responsibility for his insecurity. Grace did what many women in her situation do: she tried to quell Adam's insecurity by continually reassuring him, and also by changing her lifestyle to accommodate his insecurity. In doing so she was unconsciously taking responsibility for Adam's insecurity. If a man you are dating fits the above description to any significant degree, the place to begin is to recognize that it is his insecurity. It was there before you met him, and only he can heal it.

Don't alter your lifestyle or the way you dress. The insecure man tends to be smothering, critical, and jealous. He may try to shrink your lifestyle and even pressure you to change the way you dress. The more you alter your lifestyle in response to his insecurity, the worse (not better) his insecurity is likely to become. So, do not change the way you dress. Do not give up friends, family or activities such as yoga or exercise.

The good news is that insecurity can be overcome. However, it can only be overcome when a person recognizes that they are insecure and takes responsibility for doing something about it. 

To learn more see Stop Dating Jerks: The Smart Woman's Guide to Breaking the Pattern and Finding the Love of Your Life

Copyright 2011 by Dr. Joe Nowinski

Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D., is the supervising psychologist at the University of Connecticut Health Center.

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