Insecure? It Has Its Benefits

A desire to better oneself or personal relations can stem from insecurity.

Posted May 27, 2013

Photo credit Alexi Berry

Insecurity is a form of anxiety. When one is insecure about oneself, it is due to a preoccupation with not measuring up to one’s perception of others, or other uneasiness that causes self-doubt. When one is insecure in a relationship, it is an anxiety or fear that the partner will find someone better, leave for other reasons, or otherwise hurt the relationship. Although in some relationships insecurity may stem from the partner’s history, it is often related to insecurity about oneself. Regardless of their partner’s history, there are some that feel secure in their relationship.

There is age-old advice that if someone cheated on his partner with you, you would be amiss to trust him to be faithful to you. Yet many people do enter relationships with someone they had an affair with. Many fully trust their partner, despite the relationship’s inauspicious beginnings. The opposite of insecure could be used to describe these individuals: confident. But is confidence always more appropriate than insecurity?

Let me provide an example: A couple enters therapy at the wife’s behest to determine if the relationship can be saved. She is threatening to leave the relationship, as she feels he will not change and provide her what she needs. She is feeling insecure. She doesn’t feel he is thoughtful of her, doesn’t prioritize her, and feels he is more attentive to other women (waitresses at restaurants, coworkers, etc). This insecurity is both because of his behavior (though he adamantly denies any infidelity) and also because of personal insecurities. He, on the other hand, seems nonplussed by the difficulties, and ambivalent as to whether she leaves or not. He believes this is just how he is (as I wrote in “That’s Just How I Am” this can be detrimental to relations). He states that he doesn’t believe she will leave. It could easily be said he is confident and secure in the relationship. Yet I don’t imagine anyone would want to be on the other side of this encounter with a partner. Though many find confidence attractive and insecurity unattractive, a little honest concern and anxiety about the relationship ending would go a long way toward reparation in this scenario. 

Insecurity doesn’t feel good. When it stems from poor self-worth or an anxious temperament it would be beneficial for the distressed individual to work on becoming more self-confident and less anxious. Too often insecurity becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; the partner is pushed away. In these cases it is of the utmost importance that the root of the insecurity is explored and dealt with. Still, it would be helpful to have at least an iota of insecurity.

As I wrote in “Seinfeld, Upper Hand, And Relationship Attachment Style”, security may be evident in one relationship, yet the individual might be insecure in another. This is due to one partner being more attached to the relationship, or more “in love” than his partner is. As Buddha purported, “He who loves 50 people has 50 woes; he who loves no one has no woes.” This quote refers to attachment, the nemesis of overcoming suffering. Simply, when attached peace is problematic.

The quote doesn’t indicate you shouldn’t love. Buddhists are advocates of compassion and loving-kindness. It simply promotes love without attachment. This is a lofty ideal. As I wrote in “Love’s Tug Of War”, love is a balance between this ideal love (agape) and our need to function in reality and be protected from pain. In a romantic relationship people will feel some level of attachment. Often the individual who is more attached, who feels he has more to lose, will be less secure. This is a natural attempt to control and somehow avoid pain (even though it is often unavoidable). Although this insecurity may be uncomfortable, it is a result of attempting to avoid a bigger pain.

Insecurity serves a purpose. At times the purpose may be dysfunctional (experiencing discomfort to avoid a pain that, in all likelihood, one will still experience). The attachment to the individual denotes romantic love, which can be at once a beautiful and painful endeavor. Most importantly, a reasonable level of insecurity about oneself or a relationship can lead to reflection and self-improvement. If looked at more objectively, a partner could be flattered that her partner is so attached (rather than feeling choked). Of course, all of this assumes an appropriate level of insecurity, one that doesn’t drown out the positives.

As with most things in life (or at least those I write about), balance is vital. Self-awareness is key. A desire to better oneself and or the relationship can stem from a healthy amount of insecurity. If one is too insecure, there are a plethora of writings to help. One could also move toward a more spiritual love, where fear and attachment wane. Or, one can moderate his insecurity, see it as a part of romantic love, and use it as motivation to improve oneself and the relationship.

Copyright William Berry, 2013