The 3 Most Common Causes of Insecurity and How to Beat Them
15 tools to help you bounce back when you're feeling down about yourself.
Posted Dec 06, 2015
Do you find yourself feeling filled with self-doubt and short on confidence? Despite your accomplishments, do you feel like a fraud destined to be exposed? Do you feel that you don’t deserve lasting love and that partners will inevitably leave you? Do you stay at home, afraid to venture out and meet new people because you don’t feel you have enough to offer? Do you feel overweight, boring, stupid, guilty, or ugly?
Most of us feel insecure sometimes, but some of us feel insecure most of the time. The kind of childhood you had, past traumas, recent experiences of failure or rejection, loneliness, social anxiety, negative beliefs about yourself, perfectionism, or having a critical parent or partner can all contribute to insecurity. Following are the 3 most common forms—and how to begin to cope with them.
Type 1: Insecurity Based on Recent Failure or Rejection
Recent events in our lives can greatly affect both our mood and the way we feel about ourselves. Research on happiness suggests that up to 40% of our “happiness quotient” is based on recent life events. The biggest negative contributor to happiness is the ending of a relationship, followed by the death of a spouse, job loss, and negative health events. Since unhappiness also influences your self-esteem, failure and rejection can deliver a double whammy to your confidence. In his book Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure and Other Everyday Hurts, Psychology Today blogger Guy Winch states that rejection inevitably leads us to see both ourselves and other people more negatively, at least for a time. And those of us who have lower self-esteem to begin with are more reactive to failure. It’s as if an experience like losing your job grabs old negative beliefs about your self-worth and activates them. It may help to understand that failure is a nearly ubiquitous experience: Before becoming president, Abraham Lincoln lost his job, was defeated for nomination to Congress, and failed at least twice in Senate bids. Persevering despite setbacks can lead to eventual successes—which raise your self-esteem.
Below are some tools you can use to overcome failure- or rejection-based insecurity:
- Give yourself time to heal and adapt to the new normal.
- Get out and engage with life, following your interests and curiosity.
- Reach out to friends and family for distraction and comfort.
- Get feedback from people you trust.
- Persevere and keep moving towards your goals.
- Be willing to try a different strategy if necessary.
Type 2: Lack of Confidence Because of Social Anxiety
Many of us experience a lack of confidence in social situations like parties, family gatherings, interviews, and dates. The fear of being evaluated by others—and found to be lacking—can lead you to feel anxious and self-conscious. As a result, you may avoid social situations, experience anxiety when you anticipate social events, or feel self-conscious and uncomfortable during them. Past experience can feed your sense of not belonging, not feeling important or interesting, or just not being good enough. Many of my clients describe how being bullied or excluded from a group of friends in middle school or high school continues to negatively affect their confidence as adults. If you grew up with critical parents, or parents who pressured you to be popular and successful, you may also be over-sensitized to how others perceive you. This type of insecurity is generally based on distorted beliefs about your self-worth—and about the extent to which other people are evaluating you. Most of the time, people are more focused on how they are coming across than on judging others. Those who do judge and exclude are often covering up insecurities of their own and so their opinions may be less than accurate; they may value superficial attributes instead of character and integrity.
Below are some tools to combat insecurity in social situations:
- Talk back to your inner critic. Remind yourself of all the reasons that you can be interesting and fun or would be a good friend or partner.
- Prepare in advance. Think of some things you can talk about—current events, movies you’ve seen, hobbies, your job, or your family.
- Avoiding social situation just makes things worse. So go to a party or on a date even if you're nervous. Your anxiety should decrease once you get engaged with others—if not the first or second time, then once you get used to showing up.
- Set yourself a limited, realistic goal like talking to two new people or finding out more about one person’s work and hobbies.
- Deliberately focus on others to combat intense self-focus. Put on your observer hat and notice what other people seem to be feeling and doing. Do you notice any similarities or skills you can learn from them?
Type 3: Insecurity Driven by Perfectionism
Some of us have very high standards for everything we do. You may want the highest grades, the best job, the perfect figure, the most beautifully decorated apartment or house, neat and polite kids, or the ideal partner. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always turn out exactly the way we want, even if we work extra hard. There is a piece of the outcome that is at least to some degree out of our control. Bosses may be critical, jobs may be scarce, partners may resist commitment, or you may have genes that make it difficult to be skinny. If you are constantly disappointed and blaming yourself for being anything less than perfect, you will start to feel insecure and unworthy. While trying your best and working hard can give you an advantage, other aspects of perfectionism that are unhealthy. Beating up on yourself and constantly worrying about not being good enough can lead to depression and anxiety, eating disorders, or chronic fatigue.
Below are some ways to combat perfectionism:
- Try to evaluate yourself based on how much effort you put in, which is controllable, rather than on the outcome, which is dependent on external factors.
- Think about how much difference it would actually make if your work were 10 percent better. Would the time and energy spent in checking and re-checking or answering every email really be worth it?
- Perfectionism is often based on all- or nothing thinking, so try to find the grey areas. Is there a more compassionate or understanding way to view a situation? Are you taking your circumstances into account when you evaluate yourself? Is there something you learned or achieved even if the end result wasn’t perfect?
- Perfectionists often have conditional self-esteem: They like themselves when they are on top and dislike themselves when things don't go their way. Can you learn to like yourself even when you are not doing well? Focus on inner qualities like your character, sincerity, or good values, rather than just on what grades you get, how much you get paid, or how many people like you.
- Winch, Guy Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts (Plume, 2014)
- Greenberg M. (2015) Six Mental Health Habits That Will Wear You Down
Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D. is a practicing psychologist in Mill Valley, California, and and former Professor of Psychology at the California School of Professional Psychology. She is an expert on positive psychology, mindfulness, managing stress, and improving relationships . She provides workshops, speaking engagements and psychotherapy for individuals and couples. She regularly appears on radio shows, and as an expert in national media. She also does long-distance coaching via the internet. She is the author of The Stress-Proof Brain (New Harbinger, 2017).
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Copyright: Melanie Greenberg, PhD 2015. All rights reserved.