Almost all of us have dealt with insecurity in some way. Yet, more often than not, we consider insecurity undesirable or embarrassing and, at times, even shameful.
I’ve noticed that insecurities don’t make their way out into the therapy room until much later. Insecurity is so disliked, and we often subject ourselves to self-criticism wittingly or unwittingly that it lies deep in the cellar of our mind (the subconscious).
But what if we try to look at insecurity in a different light? Maybe even try to befriend it?
Right now, the way we shun our insecure feelings is a result of limited understanding and rejection. It’s a common source of alienation, withdrawal, and fights.
Let’s understand insecurity first
Many of us have a deep intolerance towards our feelings of insecurity inside ourselves whenever they arise. Generally, we attribute that to the insecurity itself. But if you contemplate and examine more, you can see that our resistant and disapproving reactions to our feelings move us into a negative reaction. We can see that often, we have been triggered into repulsion, rejection, withdrawal, or a fight or flight reaction.
Fight means that instead of feeling and talking about the insecurity, we might frequently defend against that feeling by becoming aggressive towards ourselves. Or, we might even accuse the person who has “made us feel insecure” of insensitivity — potentially even starting a fight to bury the feeling. Sometimes, it may even be expressed indirectly — reduced affection, more arguments, etc.
The person who is feeling insecure feels wronged. Similarly, the recipient of the (unexpected) accusation feels judged, punished, and ignored. This can easily lead to a loss of intimacy and attraction in relationships.
This general feeling of insecurity is different from pathological insecurity or jealousy. That is a psychological disorder where one person is extremely insecure that their partner is being unfaithful — without any rationale. This is often accompanied by socially unacceptable or abnormal behaviour related to these thoughts.
But insecurity in its natural state is a sign that you want to feel more secure because you love and value someone a lot. That’s why, with this feeling of insecurity, there are steps you could take to make it your friend — instead of an enemy.
What happens when we feel insecure?
Think about the last time you felt insecure about something. The first thing that most frequently happens is an uncomfortable feeling about insecurity — we are quick to judge ourselves as being unnecessarily insecure, or we might look to place the blame outwards on the other person. The judgment— inner or outer — is so quick that we often miss it.
Sometimes, unaware of our insecure feelings, insecurity can also be experienced as anxiety, jealousy or feeling alone or depressed. When this happens, we start to lose contact with the original feeling of insecurity. Instead, we end up focusing on something that is a defensive reaction which sets us off on a path of reactive emotions.
There’s another way people defend against feeling their insecurities — by fleeing from them. We create distances wherever possible, withdraw from conversations, or change the subject when it comes up.
It’s beneficial to start separating our original feeling of insecurity from our flash reactions to it — both are not the same, no matter what it may look like to us in our conscious awareness.
Moment of reflection
Let yourself reflect on an experience in your past where you have felt insecure with someone you have cared for. Can you see how easy it is not to take close notice of the insecurity like so many of us do? We often quickly shift from a feeling of insecurity to wanting to leave, becoming judgmental, or starting to give ourselves a hard time for being crazy and insecure.
This is just a glimpse of the common reactions to avoid this very innocent, natural feeling when you are attached to someone you are in love with. Virtually none of us have been taught how to deal with insecurity. Left to our own devices, we don’t know how to be constructive or allow it to be treated as a natural emotion — an emotion that has the potential to create both internal and external intimacy.
Scan your history of intimate relationships (past or present) and ask yourself two critical questions:
- When are the times that you have felt most insecure in relationships?
- What have been your most common reactions to this feeling of insecurity?
Learning how to support ourselves and our love by staying with the original feeling of insecurity is an important and major step. This will only help us develop our capacity to care for the insecurity, ourselves, and our relationship.
Trying to access this wisdom of feeling our insecurities, we might naturally ask the next few questions:
- Now that t I know that my previous fight or flight reactions haven’t served me well, how can I directly face the feeling of insecurity?
- How can I help myself find a way to deal with it both inside and outside to create the most intimacy?
- Which thoughts and ways of communicating would be helpful to potentially increase closeness?
A real-life example of befriending your insecurity
Working through our insecurities can create enormous changes in our capacity to use it as an ally for intimacy rather than a handicap.
Jane, my client, was a recent newlywed, married to Charles. She had an alcoholic father and a mother with very low self-esteem. Jane herself had limited self-confidence but was attractive, successful and overall quite balanced given her background.
The precipitating incident that caused her to examine her insecurity happened at a party. Jane saw Charles engaging in spirited conversation with an attractive lady. When she went over to join them, he introduced Jane as his wife — in a natural and uneventful manner (at least on the outside).
However, on the inside, Jane was really upset because she thought he was flirting with this other woman. As I asked her for the details of what she noticed besides what she had told me, Jane said that that was really all she noticed. She wasn’t too thrilled with my question as she sensed that just enjoying conversation with another attractive woman didn’t necessarily mean he was flirting.
I asked if there was any follow up to what occurred, and she told me that she just withdrew inside and that there was no further mention of it. We were talking about something that had just happened, and she said that she hadn’t been able to feel as close, trusting or as intimate with him since.
I asked her what she was aware of as the primary triggering feeling, and she said that she was jealous. I asked what she was jealous of, and she said it was the laughter and the fact that she was pretty. She said it sheepishly as she realized that her husband had given her immediate attention. Jane wasn’t able to say anything more to give her reason to be jealous.
I asked her if there were any other feelings, and she said in a more vulnerable way, “I also felt insecure that he might be attracted to her.” I let her know that I thought it was a great realization to see that she felt insecure. As I’m sharing with you now, I told Jane that insecure feelings are natural at this level. However, they take on a different meaning when they convert into jealously, especially when it turns negative. I went on to let her know that innocent feelings of insecurity were a part of love for most people and that it was a sign that she really loved Charles.
From what she told me, I knew that she had a lot of trust in him and that he had no other significant tendencies to flirt or be disloyal. We spoke about how common it is for most people to have these feelings and not know how to deal with them. I asked her what she thought about saying to Charles in her own words, sincerely and directly,
“There was something I was a little embarrassed to say to you last weekend — when I came over to you, you introduced me to the woman you had been laughing with at the party. I actually felt insecure and uncomfortable. As I thought about it, I realized that you didn’t do anything to make me feel that way and that it was because I love you and felt threatened.”
At first, Jane wasn’t sure whether she’d be too ashamed of admitting it to him, but to her credit, she realized that she had been withdrawn. So Jane told me she thought he’d probably react quite well to it and that it might help her not feel as withdrawn.
This was an unusual example of what usually takes a while to work through happening in just two sessions. She came to our next session after talking about it twice and was beaming and proud.
“I told him my version of what we talked about and he put his arms around me and thanked me for telling him.”
He felt her lack of blame and connected the insecurity with her love for him. This was almost like an act of magic. The trust and the love conveyed, rather than blame or withdrawal, allowed Charles to take the spirit that was being conveyed in the right way. She was fortunate to be with a man that was also mature enough not to be distorting what she was saying as blame and took it in the right way.
This is what can happen if you recognize your feelings of insecurity
Hopefully, this gave you a glimpse of what it’s like to feel your insecurity without blame or shame distorting its real nature. We may not be all as quick as Jane to understand and put our wisdom to work. It may take weeks, months, or years but it takes courage to trust and be sincere about these kinds of feelings.
When we accept, trust, and love ourselves and our insecurities, we are able to expand our love. There is an understanding that there’s no deception or ill intent; it’s a natural feeling that we just haven’t been brought up to understand.
This will be a significant but fruitful pivot for many individuals and couples who will deepen their love, increase intimacy, and understand each other better as they embrace this way of revealing love if it can be shared openly, sincerely and with basic trust.