By Jeremy Godwin.
Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health, the weekly podcast about improving your mental health and wellbeing by Jeremy Godwin. Each episode focuses on one specific topic and is full of practical advice for improving and maintaining your mental health and wellbeing.
This is Episode 35 and this week I’m talking about insecurity – I’ll be discussing the common causes of insecurity and ways you can beat it in order to build greater confidence. Listen to the podcast episode now in the Spotify player below or continue reading for the article/transcript version. Let’s talk!
Everyone has something they’re insecure about — everyone. I’ll guarantee that even those super-confident people who might be bordering on narcissism are never 100% secure about every aspect of themselves. In healthy doses, insecurity can serve as a note of caution before we jump head-first into things, but when our insecurities begin to take over our lives and prevent us from moving forward and growing, that’s when they can begin to do damage. In the words of Norman Vincent Peale;
“Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.”Norman Vincent Peale
What is insecurity?
Insecurity is defined as “Uncertainty or anxiety about oneself, lack of confidence” (source: Apple Dictionary). Interestingly, the word has two definitions in English; the other is “the state of being open to danger or threat; lack of protection” which we hear being used in a lot of conversations at the moment about a range of topics from job insecurity (especially with much of the world being plunged into recession recently) through to the physical and psychological impacts of threats from warfare and disease.
Insecurity is similar to nervousness, worry, vulnerability, peril, danger; so, if taken to extremes, ‘insecurity’ can represent a really serious threat to your mental health and wellbeing.
Insecurity and self-doubt can do a lot of damage if we let it control us or hold us back, and so that’s why today I’m going to be talking about how we can tackle insecurity.
What causes insecurity?
There are many different causes, and some of the common ones are:
- Traumatic events
- Crisis (e.g. Relationship breakdown, financial difficulties)
- Social anxiety
- Past criticisms (especially from loved ones)
- Negative self-image
- Negative self-talk (which I talked about in Episode 9), especially where that inner voice becomes overly critical
- Needing external approval, which is where social media can become dangerous (but more on that later)
- Another example is impostor syndrome, when you doubt your accomplishments and have a persistent fear of being exposed for being a fraud – that’s another example of insecurity in action
If you’ve ever done any kind of study in or reading about psychology then you’ll possibly be aware of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a theory put forward by Abraham Maslow back in 1943 which looks at how our needs shape our behaviours, starting at our most basic and fundamental needs (food, warmth, safety and security, etc) through to our higher-level needs of belonging and accomplishment, through to our highest needs of fulfilling our potential; the theory suggests that if our more fundamental needs are threatened, then we can experience symptoms like anxiety (find out more on Wikipedia). Like any theory, it’s not necessarily perfect, but it does go some way towards explaining how feelings of insecurity can be triggered when our security or sense of belonging is threatened.
For some of us, insecurity can be rooted in past traumas or difficult childhoods or being bullied; for others, specific situations or events can trigger feelings of insecurity — and for most who deal with insecurity, it may come and go or it may be a more permanent companion.
A quick note here about jealousy: I’m not specifically speaking about jealousy, because it is more of a symptom of feeling insecure. The things I talk about today will definitely be applicable to dealing with jealousy, however I’ll also be talking about relationships in Episode 38 (due for release in early August) and the topic of jealousy will be covered as part of a broader conversation about the good, the bad and the ugly of personal relationships… so, if it’s something you are dealing with then you’ll find this episode and that future one to be helpful.
At its core, insecurity is a protection mechanism that is deeply rooted in fear, and for most people it’s potentially something that developed a long time ago. Even though it might feel like it’s holding us back from being the best version of ourselves we can be, what it’s actually trying to do is protect you from those things that you’re afraid of (whether consciously or unconsciously).
For example: I had a good friend who I was really close with for a long time but we’ve been growing apart for a few years, ever since my partner and I moved to the country, and now she doesn’t even respond to my messages. The other week it was my birthday and I know she knows when it is, because one of her nephews who she’s close to has the same birthday, and when I didn’t receive a message from her I kept on checking social media for days to see if anything had come through (which of course just made things worse). Finally, after three days, I snapped out of it and was able to take a step back so I could analyse what I was doing more objectively; in this case, I already know that friendship ran its course several years ago and yet I have still found myself clinging on to some faint hope things will change. Why? Because it triggers my insecurities around rejection — I was rejected by my father as a child when he left my mother & I and married into a new family, and I always found it tough to make more than a few friends as a kid as I was blessed with crippling social anxiety as well as being seen as different and weird because I’m creative… so, just like with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, when our need for social belonging is threatened we can become defensive and have real difficulties in coping. Being rejected sucks, and it’s probably worthy of its own episode at some point in the future because it’s a big topic and I don’t want to get too sidetracked today!
Feelings of insecurity can trigger defence mechanisms, which are internal and external behaviours that can kick in as a means of protecting ourselves from hurt or pain. There’s a fascinating recent article written by a US psychologist, Leon Seltzer, about defence mechanisms and getting them under control (link below) in which he writes;
“Your defense mechanisms can be defined broadly not just psychoanalytically as repression, denial, displacement, projection, and the like, but also as excessive people-pleasing, an over-generalized distrust of others, an almost reflexive avoidance of intimacy, procrastination, passive-aggression, selective inattention or forgetting, or being afflicted with a super-harsh or strident “inner critic.” Such defenses arose in the first place because at any particular moment, whether rationally or not, you experienced an extreme threat.”Leon Seltzer (2020) Source: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/202007/how-talk-and-tame-your-outdated-defenses
I shared that because, whether we like to admit it or not, our deepest fears and insecurities have a habit of niggling away at us and bubbling back up to the surface whenever we feel threatened unless we take the time to confront them, process them and release them — which is a process I call Mental C.P.R., and just like regular CPR it can be a lifesaver when it comes to dealing with insecurity; I’ll come back to that process shortly in the ‘how to’ part of this week’s episode.
It’s worth noting as well that I’ve previously talked about a few topics that can trigger feelings of insecurity in past episodes — Fear (Episode 10); Baggage (Episode 7); Over-thinking (Episode 4); Opinions (Episode 21); and Uncertainty (Episode 25) — so, depending on your individual circumstances you might also find some of those to be helpful to explore specific feelings (link in bio or head to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/episodes for transcripts as well as links to listen to each episode in Spotify).
Insecurity and self-confidence are inextricably linked with one another, in that they either allow us to achieve our potential as human beings or they crush us under the weight of fear. Every human being is worthy of being the best they can be and confidence isn’t about needing people to like you or approve of you; instead, it’s about being okay if they don’t. In the words of Marie Curie;
“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance, and above all, confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.”Marie Curie
And with that quote in mind, let’s jump into the how-to part of this week’s episode.
Ways to beat insecurity and build greater confidence
First let’s talk about where you get your motivation from, because I can sit here and give you a thousand different ways to tackle insecurity but unless we confront this it’s probably going to be a waste of time. What motivates you more: what you think of yourself or what other people think of you? Be honest. For most of us, it’s a combination of both internal and external factors, but the difference between self-confidence and insecurity is whether or not you put more importance on what other people think.
I talked about opinions back in Episode 21 of LTAMH, and in that episode I made the point that opinions are just noise — you will never please everybody all of the time, and if you let the opinions of others control what you do or don’t do then you’ll never try new things and you’ll never grow. In a nutshell you’re more likely to have greater confidence and self-esteem by building your intrinsic motivation — in other words, being motivated by your own internal drive for success or sense of purpose — rather than by what other people think.
Probably the biggest challenge to your self-confidence can be relying on external validation like social media, so I strongly encourage you to consider switching off more often or at least turning off notifications on likes, because those sorts of things can drive us into this constant cycle of trying to please others through what we post rather than focusing on our own internal life satisfaction (and life is too short to give a shit what other people think; as long as you’re not doing any harm to others or yourself, then you do you!).
So then that leads into tackling your insecurities and a word of warning here: overcoming your insecurities can be terrifying — which can heighten the insecurities further! But sometimes you have to go through it to get through it, and if that means that things might get a bit worse before they get better then that’s okay because it’s an investment in your future happiness. So please once you start this work, keep going even when the going gets tough… because it will eventually get much, much better.
There are five main steps involved in tackling insecurity and building greater confidence:
- Daily effort
Those first three steps (CPR) are closely aligned to previous discussions I’ve had about letting go, and that’s something I explored in a fair bit of detail back in Episode 32, so I’m going to do a brief overview here and if you’d like to explore that further then head over to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/episodes and listen to or read that episode.
Let’s start with confront: I’m a very firm believer in the benefit of dealing with things as they are rather than just sticking our head in the sand or pretending that things are fine when they’re clearly not. If you’re bothered by something, that’s a sign from yourself that there’s some work to be done — even if that work just involves acknowledging the existence of the insecure feeling. Trying to hide from your feelings is just resisting the inevitable — and if you’ve ever watched Star Trek then you’ll know that resistance is futile (although I’m not sure that quoting the Borg to inspire and motivate people is what was intended when that line was written, but who cares – I’m running with it!). You can run but you can’t hide, so confront the truth! If you’re prone to negative self-talk, you owe it yourself to confront it and do something about it; to paraphrase the words of Louise Hay, “(if) you have been criticising yourself for years and (that) hasn’t worked, (try) approving of yourself and see what happens.” Let that thought just sink in for a minute. As I mentioned before, negative self-talk is something I covered in Episode 9 so if that’s something you’re prone to then jump over and check that one out.
The next step is process: in other words, process what you’re feeling and understand why your insecurities have been triggered. Now, that could be something you do on your own or it could be done by working with a counsellor or psychologist, or it could be a combination of both. I’ve mentioned many (many!) times before why it’s so important to get help when you need it (especially for serious trauma) as well as why you also need to do the work, because someone external can help you to process things objectively and rationally however they can’t get into your head and make all the dots connect for you.
I’d suggest you check out Episode 7: Baggage for a more in-depth guide to the process of processing, but in short the key message in this stage is that you need to get underneath what you’re feeling and (more importantly) why you’re feeling it. Don’t just deal with the symptoms — dig deep and get into the gooey centre of what’s going on underneath the surface. Your feelings are like an iceberg — what you see about the water is usually only about 10% of the mass of an iceberg; roughly 90% of it exists under the surface… just like your feelings. What the world sees of you is just the small bit above the surface, your behaviours, but they are driven by what’s going on underneath the surface: your thoughts and feelings, which are just below the surface, and much more deeply your needs and whether or not they are being met. If you remember back to what I was saying earlier about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, if any of your needs (especially the more fundamental ones) are being threatened, then that could be triggering feelings of insecurity. Work through the feelings to understand why they’re happening, which will then allow you to address the root cause.
Once you’ve processed your feelings and you’re clear on the root cause, release. In order to overcome the insecure feelings, you need to let go of them. Letting go can be tough — as I said back in Episode 32, Letting Go:
“Letting go is more about you than anyone else – it’s a choice that you make to take back your power by understanding the impact of whatever has happened, accepting it, learning from it and making changes where you need to, and then letting it go so that whatever it was no longer holds any power over you.”Jeremy Godwin (Let’s Talk About Mental Health, Episode 32)
You owe it to yourself to release the past — it is done and it cannot be changed, and if you let it control you here and now then all it will do is take away from your happiness today. Let it go. If this is something you find challenging, check out Episode 32 for a more in-depth discussion of letting go. Also, a lot of this stuff about processing and releasing things sits really closely under the topic of ‘acceptance’ which is actually the subject of next week’s episode, so look out for that one.
Once you’ve worked through releasing, it’s time for step four: substitute. This is about choosing to be aware of when insecurity is niggling at you and instead of giving in to it, replacing it with acceptance and positive thoughts. In this context, ‘acceptance’ means accepting that the thought is happening and just observing it mindfully instead of giving in to it or trying to fight it; what this does is that over time it trains you to start detaching yourself from the emotions attached to the feeling so you can then approach it more rationally and objectively, and part of that also involves replacing those negative thoughts with more positive ones. For example: If your insecurity kicks in around something you feel negatively about, stop yourself and notice that the thought is happening, then remind yourself of your positives instead. Check out Episode 9: Self-Talk for a more in-depth guide on tackling negative self-talk.
The fifth and final step is daily effort. I say ‘final’ but I think it’s probably pretty clear that there’s never really a ‘final’ step with this type of work; when it comes to improving your mental health and wellbeing, it takes work every single day. There is no magical cure and you very well might be working on this stuff for the rest of your life, which is totally okay. Accepting ourselves takes time and patience, and yes there might be setbacks along the way but that doesn’t matter — what matters is that you keep on letting go and moving forward. There are lots of things you can do every day to defeat your insecurities and build your self-confidence, such as gratitude practice, mindfulness, meditation and daily affirmations (like “I release my past insecurities, doubts and fears and instead I focus on feeling confident and secure; I am unique, I am strong, and I am worthy” or whatever works best for you). Part of that might also involve getting regular support, for example by going to see a counsellor or therapist every week or every second week to work through things in more detail and explore different coping mechanisms that work for you. The most important thing is to keep moving forward every single day — it doesn’t matter how small the steps are.
Summary and Close-Out
When it comes to insecurity, what it all boils down to is this: your fears and doubts might be trying to protect you, but if you let them control you then they are doing much more harm than good. I believe with all my heart that the majority of us are good people at our core, and if you do no harm to others or yourself and choose to put kindness out into the world and give more than you take, then those other things you might feel insecure about just aren’t important, so let them go. Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy, so instead of fighting our insecurities we can choose instead to look them straight in the eye – and by doing so, you strip them of their power. And when you do that, nothing can ever stop you.
That’s nearly it for this week. Each week I like to share a quote about this week’s topic and encourage you to take a few moments to reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and it is:
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”Ralph Waldo Emerson
Next week, I’ll be talking about acceptance. I’ll be discussing the role of acceptance in good mental health as well as how to get better at accepting yourself for who you are. I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Monday morning in Australia & New Zealand, Sunday evening in the UK & Ireland, and Sunday afternoon in the US & Canada.
You can find past episodes and additional content at the website which is letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au. You can also find Let’s Talk About Mental Health on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest as @ltamentalhealth.
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Thank you very much for joining me today – look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time.
Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Because the more we talk about it, the easier it gets.
Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2020 Jeremy Godwin.