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Insecurity is something that plagues most of us from time to time. Some of us struggle with feeling deeply insecure on a daily basis. There are many factors leading us to feel insecure, ranging from the way our parents raised us to social anxiety and perfectionist tendencies. Past traumas, as well as recent experiences of failure and rejection, can contribute to a negative inner dialogue that reinforces feelings of self-doubt.
Those who struggle with insecurity have likely battled these feelings for a lifetime. Discovering the source of these thought patterns and becoming disentangled from them is a complicated and oftentimes painful process.
Overcoming insecurity isn’t simple; doing so will take time, and may require professional therapy. With some introspection, however, you can begin working through your feelings of insecurity on your own. Reflect on the following thoughts, ideas, and strategies to help you get started.
Why Am I Insecure?
For many of us, insecurity stems from our negative internal dialogue. This “critical inner voice” is formed based on early life experiences. As children, we witnessed and unconsciously absorbed the experiences and attitudes of those around us. The negative and hurtful experiences of our childhood are often adopted and integrated into our own thought patterns, leading to the critical and destructive inner voice that plagues us throughout our adult lives. As children, we should ideally be seen for who we are. When treated with acceptance and compassion, and praised for our efforts rather than our results, we feel good about ourselves. When we feel safe and seen, we can feel secure in our identities. Too much praise or criticism during childhood, however, can lead to a distorted sense of self, leading to feelings of insecurity later on.
In adulthood, insecurity can also be triggered by situational stressors. Recent experiences of failure or rejection, for instance, can take a toll on our confidence. Negative interpersonal experiences can lead us to develop social anxiety, a form of insecurity that affects our ability to comfortably interact with others. High standards that we set for ourselves can also lead to feelings of perfectionism. By setting unattainable goals for ourselves, we are sure to fall short, resulting in feelings of disappointment and shame. As we continue to land in situations that trigger feelings of insecurity, our negative self-talk increases, further perpetuating this cycle. With time, constant feelings of insecurity can ultimately lead to poor mental health and unhappiness.
Negative Self-Talk: Common Thoughts
To combat insecurity, you will first need to identify the thoughts that arise when you’re feeling insecure. Consider some of the following examples of common insecure thoughts. Do you think any of these thoughts, or do you have negative thoughts about any of the following subjects?
General Insecure Thoughts:
- I’m stupid.
- I’m unattractive.
- I’m fat.
- I’m a failure. I do everything wrong. I’ll never accomplish anything.
- I’m a loser. I’m strange and unlike other people.
- Nobody likes me. Nobody wants to be my friend.
- I’ll never be able to quit this bad habit.
- I should just give up. Why do I even try?
Insecurity in the Workplace:
- I’m clueless. I have no idea what I’m doing.- I can’t do this without help. They expect too much of me.
- My work isn’t good enough.
- I’ll never be a success.
- I’ll never get this done.
- I’m so lazy.
- I shouldn’t even bother. I should just give up.
- I need to do better or else I’ll be fired.
- I’m such a loser. Why don’t I have a better job?
- My credentials aren’t good enough. I’ll never be hired or promoted.
Insecurity in Relationships:
- Nobody will ever love me. I’m unlovable.
- Everyone leaves eventually. I shouldn’t get so attached.
- They don’t really care about me. Once they see the “real me,” they’ll find someone else.
- They’re too good for me.
- Maybe if I was better, smarter, or more attractive they’d love me.
- I’d be better off on my own. That way I can’t hurt or disappoint anyone.
- I can’t let my vulnerabilities show. If I’m not in control, I’ll only be hurt.
- If they get upset, it’s my fault. I’m always to blame.
Do these thoughts sound familiar to you? If so, you’ve likely got an insecurity problem!
Overcoming insecurity may require a variety of approaches. Ultimately, it is about identifying thoughts of insecurity and actively correcting these negative thought patterns.
If your sense of insecurity is linked to a recent failure or rejection, you may simply need to take some time to recover and re-evaluate the situation before proceeding. Losing a job or being dumped by a partner, for instance, can significantly affect your self-esteem, particularly if your identity was deeply tied to your profession or your relationship. Give yourself time to heal and then reach out to others. Engage with life and spend time with your closest friends and family members. Get feedback from these people; those who care about you will likely tell you the truth, and will help you see yourself for who you really are. Perhaps approach your next goal with a different tactic or perspective. Most importantly, be persistent and don’t give up. By letting failures discourage us from trying, our self-esteem only deteriorates further. By trying until we succeed, we can ultimately boost our self-confidence. Instead of letting your past experiences shape you, strive to learn from your past and try again.
Sometimes, insecurity is triggered by the fact that we spend too much time focusing on ourselves and our perceived flaws. If your insecurity is caused by too much self-examination, try shifting your focus onto something outside of yourself. Focus on others in a positive way, for instance. Don’t waste your time comparing yourself to others. Instead, simply spend your time listening to those you care about. Perhaps you can help them in some way, or maybe you can learn something from them. If you’re struggling with negative thoughts about yourself, consider taking action to help you counteract your thoughts. If you’ve been feeling badly about your body, consider making it a goal to simply take a walk each day, or exercise for 15 minutes. You might still have feelings of insecurity about your figure, but you can counteract these thoughts by reminding yourself that you’ve done something good for your health, and that your body is a work in progress. By taking action and turning your focus outwards, you can minimize the effects of negative self-talk.
Take some time to re-evaluate the ways in which you speak to yourself. Are you guilty of using all-or-nothing thinking with yourself? Do you feel that you can “never” get anything right, or that you’re “always” unlucky in love? Work on changing the language you use with yourself. Perhaps there are some things you struggle with, but there are certainly other areas of your life in which you often succeed. Maybe you’ve had a few failed romances, but perhaps it wasn’t your fault at all. Maybe your next relationship will be the one that lasts.
Consider whether or not your self-esteem is conditional. Do you like yourself when you do well, and hate yourself when you fail? Focus on identifying internal traits that you like about yourself. Are you a kind, thoughtful, and loving person? Your character won’t change, regardless of your relationship status or salary. By focusing on your true character, you can remind yourself that you are valuable, regardless of what happens in the world around you.
Combatting a Cruel Inner Voice
Working to overcome your own critical inner voice is perhaps the most challenging and important step in combating deep-rooted insecurity. When you catch yourself speaking negatively about yourself, try first rephrasing these thoughts so that they are in the second person. Instead of saying “I’ll never be successful,” think “You’ll never be successful.” In doing so, you can separate yourself from these attacks, seeing them as an enemy, rather than as your own personal truth.
Once you’ve worked to rephrase your thoughts, take some time to reflect on the ways in which you speak to yourself. Having put your thoughts into second-person language may help you see connections between your inner critic and the ways in which you were treated in the past. Do the words of your inner critic remind you of the language of your parents or other authority figures from your youth? Do you hear the echoes of a critical ex in your inner dialogue? Are you particularly critical of your achievements or your appearance? What experiences in the past might have led you to become hypercritical of yourself in these areas? By discovering that these thoughts aren’t accurate reflections of your true self, but rather the words of others, you can work towards developing an attitude of self-compassion.
Perhaps the hardest part of taming the inner critic is learning to talk back to it. When spiraling into self-criticism, take a step back and write down the thoughts you’re having. Next, write down rational responses to these thoughts. Respond to these thoughts as though you’d just heard a friend speaking unkindly about themselves. What would you say to your friend? You’d respond with a truthful correction, reminding them of their self-worth with warmth and compassion. Once you’ve practiced counteracting these thoughts on paper, you can strive to mentally contradict your inner voice whenever it becomes critical of you. By doing so repeatedly, you will eventually quiet its roar.
Once you’ve worked on the internal modification of your inner dialogue, it’s time to concentrate on the ways in which your inner voice affects your day-to-day behavior. Do you voice your self-hatred in front of your family, friends, or partner? Do you self-sabotage in certain ways as a result of your low self-esteem? Are there certain people and events that cause you to feel particularly insecure? Perhaps an insecure attachment style causes you to become clingy and self-doubting in relationships, or maybe a coworker behaves in a way that makes you question your professional skills. Is your insecurity affecting one particular part of your life, or is it crippling you in a number of ways?
By identifying the ways in which your insecurity is affecting your behavior, you can begin working to counteract its effects. You can see that your low self-esteem has prevented you from asking someone out on a date or seeking out a job that pays better. Now, it is your responsibility to act against your inner critic. Stop sabotaging yourself, and stop engaging in self-destructive behaviors. Fight back against your inner critic, and act in ways that reinforce a healthy sense of self-esteem. You know that you’re smart, loveable, and motivated. Strive to achieve your goals, and be compassionate towards yourself regardless of the outcome. By being kind towards yourself, and accepting yourself as you really are, you can ultimately tame your insecurities, allowing you to become the person you were always meant to be.
Completely overcoming insecurity is perhaps an unattainable goal. All of us will likely continue encountering people and situations that make us question our self-worth on occasion. We can, however, learn to identify times when we are feeling insecure, and work to improve the ways in which we talk to ourselves and respond to others, ultimately reducing the impact that insecurity has on our lives.
If you’ve realized that insecurity is greatly affecting your life and your relationships, consider seeking out therapy to address the issue. By discussing your feelings of insecurity with a trained professional, you can more easily work through issues such as past traumas and maladaptive coping mechanisms. In doing so, you can become a happier and healthier person, both for yourself and for future partners.
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