There are a few different ways and reasons people develop insecurities, says Stephen Graef, PhD, a psychologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Some are born with an anxious mind, which can facilitate worries and insecurities about things that many other people simply don't stress over. But, for many people, the answer to "why am I so insecure" is written in the pages of their personal history. For instance, you can develop an insecurity as a result of a single seminal instance when someone made you feel lesser than. “Maybe you got yelled at or laughed at at a very impressionable time in your life,” Dr. Graef says. And these events can happen quick and dirty—and often unintentionally. Lets say a family member makes an offhanded (and poorly received) joke about your appearance just once. Well, "just once" can be enough for insecurity roots to plant themselves in your psyche for years to come.
One-time offenses are viable catalysts for insecurities to spawn, but repeat issues are also ripe for this to ensue. Being belittled or made to feel less than confident in certain situations on an ongoing basis can also lead to insecurities, Dr. Graef says. “Over time, the repetition can have lasting effects.”
“How we think others see us adds to our sense of how we see ourselves.” —psychologist Paul Coleman, PsyD
As free-thinking human beings, we may not like to believe it, but things others say to you during your upbringing, when you're the most impressionable, have a way of sticking with you and affecting who you are and what you feel. “What people say can have an impact because, from a developmental point of view, we need validation from others to help us view our own worth and capabilities,” says psychologist Paul Coleman, PsyD. “How we think others see us adds to our sense of how we see ourselves.”
So, whether by nature or nurture, insecurities have a way of finding us—but what can we do to fight back?
It’s not easy to shake an insecurity—but few worthwhile efforts are
One of the most effective steps you can take to control your insecurities is to work to understand their point of origin, says psychiatrist Gail Saltz, MD. After pinpointing that info, reflect on how relevant the insecurity was in your past and is today. For example, if you’ve felt insecure about your second toe being longer than your big toe for years because a jerky kid in middle school once made a rude remark about it, introspect about whether this opinion should have any bearing at all on your life now.
Another way to overcome insecurity is kind of like exposure therapy: By placing yourself in an anxiety-provoking situation tied directly to the insecurity, you give yourself a chance to question and challenge your negative beliefs. “The more you do, the more the insecurity will diminish,” Dr. Saltz says. And while you may worry that people will laugh at you for taking a challenging dance class you worry you’re not talented enough to handle, you’ll see that in reality, no one cares. Eventually, you'll find that your insecure feelings will calm down. “It’s important to be able to recognize when your thoughts are irrational and to replace those with more realistic ones,” Dr. Coleman says.
“It’s important to be able to recognize when your thoughts are irrational and to replace those with more realistic ones." —Dr. Coleman
Another helpful tool? Being able to stay in the moment and realize that at the present time, everything is totally okay. “Learning how to have relaxing breaths and to physically calm down can help us keep our negative thoughts to a lower intensity,” Dr. Coleman says, noting that when negative thoughts aren't so intense, it's easier to completely overpower them using rational thoughts.
Finally, it’s important to remind yourself that you’re ultimately in control of your insecurity and the way you think about it. “Just because you think it doesn't mean it's true, nor does it have to mean that you can't live a fulfilling life doing the things you want to do,” Dr. Graef says. “Feeling insecure, though uncomfortable, doesn't have to be debilitating.”
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