Like a pebble in the shoe, it wears on you every single day.
Every passing of the mirror reminds you of the imperfections of your body, and how your nose doesn’t look like it’s supposed to, or how your stomach is becoming too big. And every conversation with a co-worker is a reminder that you are not as confident or as charming as you wish you could be.
Every time you see a mother pushing her stroller you get reminded of your inability to conceive children, and every time you see gleeful teenagers you get reminded of how you are not as young as you used to be.
The truth is, we can feel insecure about almost anything. But no matter what the object of our insecurity is, the underlying message is always the same:
On some level we are not good enough.
Our insecurity is a constant reminder that we are lacking in a fundamental way; that somehow we are inferior, and therefore unworthy or undeserving of love and connection.
It’s no longer about the extra weight we’ve gained, or about the job we’ve lost. Instead, it’s about the implication that this one flaw makes us fundamentally unlovable.
Such is the same with all types of insecurities:
You’re not earning as much you should be?
You’re not as smart/thin/tall/athletic as you could be?
You don’t have the degree, marriage, or children that you should definitely have by now?
And you didn’t have a protected, happy childhood like everyone else?
All of these challenges can be taken as indicators that we are separate from others, inferior, and therefore “not good enough” for love and companionship.
And even though the object of our insecurity might look insignificant (or even invisible) to the clueless outsider, it feels as if the world is shining a spotlight on our flaws and shortcomings.
Naturally, we try to hide from our insecurity. Nobody likes getting reminded that they are “unfit for love”, and so we start avoiding anything that makes us feel insecure.
We wear hats to hide our baldness, or put on extra amounts of makeup. We avoid talking to people that are more attractive, confident, or successful than we are. In fact, we might even avoid any social contact at all.
We procrastinate on our work, because it might show us that we are not “cut out for it”. Or we might even buy into our insecurities, and attempt to drown our feeling of sorrow and hopelessness with alcohol and medication.
There are many ways to deal with insecurity, yet most ways are more destructive than helpful. Most strategies lead us deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of our insecurity, making us more miserable and hopeless in the process.
If we wish to overcome our insecurity to the point where it no longer affects us, we need to change our approach. And it all starts by expanding our understanding of why we feel insecure in the first place.
Reason #1 Focus On The Negative
The first reason of why we often feel insecure, can be found in our evolutionary past.
The environment of our ancestors was inherently dangerous, with flora and fauna presenting as dangerous obstacles in the quest to survive. Naturally, the ability to predict and prepare for danger was useful, which is why individuals who were constantly on the look-out for things going wrong, were more likely to survive.
As a result, they bore more children than their careless peers, making them our ancestors.
Nowadays, our environments have changed and we have to face different challenges. However, we inherited the same mind that tends to focus on the negative, the dangers, the ways in which we might screw up.
A mind that focuses on failures and shortcomings is the first reason why we often feel insecure.
Reason #2 Focus on Social Comparison
The second reason of for our insecurities is also to be found in our evolutionary history.
Our ancestors lived in small tribes, where the support of the group was critical to the individual’s survival. Without a group, death was almost imminent.
As a result, our ancestors became sensitive to following social rules, meaning those who couldn’t follow the rules quickly got themselves excluded(and thus didn’t became our ancestors). For prehistoric tribesmen it was critical to constantly measure their own performance to those of others, and be wary if they wouldn’t measure up (lets they get excluded from the tribe).
Nowadays, social rejection is no longer a fatal threat, yet we’re still equipped with the same old mind. We still constantly compare ourselves to others, aiming to measure up (and be very concerned if we didn’t).
This is even more dramatic in today’s times, where we can easily compare ourselves to billions of people with a few clicks on the computer.
A mind that is prone for social comparison is the second reason why we struggle with insecurity.
Reason #3 Contemporary Culture
And lastly, the third reason why large portions of the public struggle with insecurity is found in today’s culture.
There’s not much that people are not willing to do in order to achieve a higher social rank. And marketing experts are very much aware of this:
You have to have the right type of perfume to smell desirable for a potential partner.
You have to have the most expensive watch/car/suit/shoe/… in order to show how important you are.
You need to have your social media profile filled with pictures from the dream beach in Hawaii, so that everyone knows how exciting your life is.
By linking their product to a universal human need (such as the desire to be liked and loved), companies are able to cash in. In other words, the stronger your insecurities (and the more you think a product can solve this insecurity), the more a company can profit.
The third reason why we often feel insecure, is that big companies encourage our insecurities.
Maybe by now you get a clearer picture why so many people struggle with their sense of self-worth. And just being aware of the underlying mechanics that facilitate your insecurity, already helps to alleviate it.
However, if we wish to dig deeper and really end the war with ourselves, we need to change our perspective. We need to change the relationship with our insecurity, to the point where we can end the struggle.
And it all starts with one simple realization.
Realization #1 You Are Not Alone
You already know that other people have insecurities, and you certainly don’t need me to tell you that. In everyday life, however, we often tend to forget this little fact.
Everyone feels insecure at times – some are just better at hiding it. Just like we don’t want other people to see when we’re feeling insecure, so do other people not want us to see when they feel insecure. Insecurity is by nature a lonely experience, and a single-person’s activity.
Social media enhances this bias. People almost exclusively post pictures of the “good times”, and never when they feel stuck and miserable, making us believe that they are ALWAYS happy.
Don’t buy into – we all feel miserable and insecure at times; such is life.
Realization #2 Your Mind Is NOT Your Enemy
Your mind might bombard you with negative thoughts, and pull you into self-defeating behaviors. Nonetheless, your mind is NOT your enemy.
The habits of your mind are ultimately artifacts of our evolutionary past, where these exact habits helped our ancestors to stay safe and alive.
Nowadays, these habits are no longer as useful, yet our mind can’t help but performing them anyway.
So whenever you get caught in a struggle with yourself, remember that your mind is actually on your site, and it’s trying to help you – no matter how unhelpful it really is.
(By the way: That’s why it’s helpful to greet every difficult thought with a simple “thank you mind”).
Realization #3 Resistance is Futile – Acceptance Is Key
Lastly, the more we resist our insecurity, the more we feed into it.
Whenever we avoid any area where we feel insecure, we legitimize (and strengthen) our insecurity because if we cannot be with it, there is something wrong with it, and by extension there is something wrong with me. Voila! We just confirmed the substance of the insecurity by the very steps we took to try to diminish the insecurity.
And meanwhile we also miss out on the beauty and richness of life. We stop doing what truly matters to us, all in an attempt to keep our insecurities at bay.
Likewise, when we don’t open up to others about our insecurity, we strengthen the feeling of shame around it. We isolate ourselves, as if we are truly alone with the content of our insecurity. We are different, inferior, and no one else can know or we will be cast out. Voila! We just confirmed the substance of the insecurity again!
By acting as if it is insecurity that separates us from others we mentally disconnect ourselves from the group, in effect making our worst fears come true.
In truth, it’s not the insecurity that separates us, it’s our reaction to our insecurity.
Once we open up to people we feel close to about what makes us feel insecure, the role of our shame and insecurity is diminished. Shame can’t survive when it’s out in the open.
And if we dare to move into areas where insecurities show up, we might surprise ourselves. We might realize that our insecurities mostly have the power over us that we give them, by our avoidance, resistance, and concealment.
Meeting your insecurity with an attitude of acceptance and compassion is key if we wish to transform our relationship with insecurity.
We can feel insecure about almost anything – from our body, our personality, to the size of our bank-account – the list is seemingly endless. But while the object of our insecurity can vary, the underlying message is always one of “not being good enough”.
As a result, we tend to avoid any area of life, where this insecurity might show up, making us miss out on the richness and beauty of life.
If we wish to overcome our insecurity, it help to understand the origin of our insecurity. Our evolutionary past has equipped us to to focus on the negative and to compare ourselves to others (and be wary if we didn’t measure up). Meanwhile our contemporary consumerist culture thrives on our insecurities, amplifying even small insecurities to help sell goods and services.
Overcoming the struggle with ourselves will take time and patience. It’s important to remember that we are not alone in this struggle, no matter how little we see others struggling. And even more so: Our mind, that often bombards us with difficult thoughts, is merely doing its best to keep us alive and safe.
When we resist our insecurities, and try to outrun them and conceal them from others, we strengthen them. We legitimize the effect they have on us, and bow to their will. However, if we allow ourselves to feel our insecurity without buying into it, and allow ourselves to talk more open and more freely about whatever makes us feel insecure, we can overcome the grip of insecurity.
After all, a pebble in the shoe is carried much easier in the open palm of your hand.