Let them go and your self-confidence will rise
A new client of mine was trying to describe why he came to therapy:
You know, it’s hard to put my finger on what exactly. I’m not super depressed. I don’t have crushing anxiety either. I just feel so insecure all the time. Many people like my client suffer silently with chronic insecurity because they don’t think it’s a serious enough problem to get help for. What’s more, they usually just chalk it up to a personality trait:
I guess that’s just how I’m wired.
Luckily for my client, that’s not how insecurity works. There’s no gene for insecurity or cosmic destiny dooming you to a life of feeling less-than.
Because, as I tell my clients in therapy:
Feeling insecure is about habits not hardwiring.
If you want to feel less insecure all the time, learn to identify these 6 subtle habits that strengthen insecurity, then work hard to undo them.
1. Criticising yourself
From a young age, most of us learn that to properly motivate ourselves to succeed, we need to be tough on ourselves.
And usually, this toughness takes the form of harsh, judgmental, and overly negative self-talk:
Why do you always get so nervous before presentations — just suck it up and be confident!
I don’t want to be a screw-up so I better get my sh!t together and study harder.
I wish I had Tom’s work ethic. That guy’s a machine. Why am I always so lazy?!
In Hollywood movies, the tough-talking drill sergeant quickly “makes a man out of” the timid new recruit by telling them how “soft” and “weak” they are. But in real life, criticising yourself constantly only leads to shame, inadequacy, and even more insecurity.
Criticizing yourself is never a sustainable source of genuine motivation.
Unfortunately, we’re often lazy, especially when it comes to building genuinely helpful sources of motivation. So we rely on our default motivational strategy of self-criticism which keeps us feeling insecure.
If you want to truly work through your feelings of insecurity, take the time to praise yourself. You made a mistake, it's fine, you're a human being. It happens, you are learning. Life is a learning path.
“You’ve been criticising yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” Louise Hay
2. Criticizing others
Being overly-critical of others is a subtle defense mechanism designed to boost your own ego. When you feel chronically insecure, you’re starved for good feelings about yourself and often desperate to find ways to make yourself feel better — even if it’s short-lived.
So, many insecure people get into the unconscious habit of being critical of others as a way to boost their own egos.
When you criticise a coworker’s outfit, you’re implying that you have good fashion sense. And that feels good.
When you criticise your spouse for using bad grammar, it makes you feel smart. And that feels good.
The problem is — in addition to ruining your relationships — being critical of others only makes you feel worse about yourself in the long-run. Deep down, we know that we’re trying to make ourselves feel better at the expense of others and we dislike ourselves for it.
“Often those that criticise others reveal what he himself lacks.”― Shannon L. Alder
3. Asking for advice
It’s easy to rationalise asking for advice as a good idea because often it is.When you’re really stuck, you’ve have tried everything you can think of, and you still don’t know how to move forward with something, sometimes advice can be helpful.
But here’s the problem: asking for advice feels good — sometimes too good. Psychologically speaking, the habit of asking for advice anytime you feel stuck, frustrated, or nervous, can become a crutch. When you go to someone else for advice about how to move forward, it alleviates your own anxieties and insecurities — and that feels really good!
But you can get addicted to this anxiety-relief. Because it feels so good to be immediately relieved of your anxiety, it becomes harder and harder to try and manage your anxiety on your own — to push through problems yourself despite your fears and insecurities.
But here’s the thing:
The only way to build true confidence is to tolerate your fears and anxieties and do things anyway. On the other hand, when you habitually ask for advice before trying anything yourself, you’re basically telling yourself that you’re incompetent. And tell yourself this enough and your mind will start to believe it. This is the habit that maintains insecurity. “I do not believe in taking the right decision, I take a decision and make it right.” ― Muhammad Ali Jinnah
4. Second-guessing yourself
Like asking for advice, the habit of second-guessing yourself feels good in the moment but leads to chronic insecurity over time.
Questioning your own decisions isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, genuine reflection on previous decisions — especially mistakes — can be a powerful source of growth and learning.
As usual, the problem is when this self-questioning becomes habitual — something you just do instinctively anytime you’ve made a decision you’re uncomfortable with. Because it teaches your own mind to think that all your decisions are dubious and probably incorrect.
So why do we do it? Why habitually second-guess ourselves?
Second-guessing yourself distracts you from the uncertainty around your decisions.
See, when you’ve made a decision — especially a big one — it’s normal for the outcome to be uncertain. You won’t know if it was a good decision for a while. This uncertainty leads to some very normal anxiety.
But if you can’t tolerate that anxiety and get on with your life, and need to distract yourself from it by endlessly replaying the decision and what led up to it, you’re slowly chipping away at your self-confidence. And over time, this strengthens your feeling of chronic insecurity.
If you want to feel more secure in yourself and your decisions, stop second-guessing them all the time.
“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Catastrophizing is the mental habit of imagining the worst.
Your boss sends you an email asking you to stop by her office after work, so you immediately imagine that you’ve screwed something up and you’re going to be reprimanded.
Your husband looks irritable after work, so you start imagining all the things you could have done to make him unhappy.
Your kid is sad after losing their championship soccer game, so you start imagining how she’s going to quit soccer forever and never find a passion in life.
Catastrophizing is such a nasty habit because it makes the world look far scarier and bleak than it really is.
When you constantly tell yourself how everything is going to turn out terribly, don’t be surprised if your brain starts telling you everything is terrible.
People often get into the habit of catastrophizing because they don’t want to be surprised when things go badly. So they figure if they imagine the worst, they’ll always be pleasantly surprised. But here’s the problem with that strategy:
If you’re constantly catastrophizing, you won’t have any attention left over for all the things in your life that are going well.
And that’s the real tragedy of this mental habit of catastrophizing: It robs you of all the joy and positivity that’s already in your life.
And when your world seems terrifying and devoid of good things, what could be more natural than to feel insecure about yourself and your place in the world?
To start feeling less insecure, put the brakes on your habit of catastrophizing and imagining the worst.
“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” ― Marcus Aurelius
All You Need to Know Feeling chronically insecure isn’t a genetic curse or personality trait. It’s the result of subtle habits that keep you feeling that way.
Learn to identify these insecurity-feeding habits and work to eliminate them:
Criticizing yourself Criticizing others Asking for advice Second-guessing yourself Catastrophizing
Take great care of yourself and be safe!