Stop running away from it — stare it straight in the face, and use it.
June 19, 2022
Facing feelings of insecurity is like asking someone to stab themself in the eye with a pencil.
Who wants to see characteristics that can come from insecurity, much less confront them? Negative self-image. Perfectionism. Jealousy. Isolation. Emotional dependence. Bullying. Egoism. Passivity.
Well, I decided I wanted to see it. I’ve spent much of my adult life exploring my insecurities and working with clients to normalize and better manage their own.
Insecurity Isn’t Necessarily a Disorder.
I’m not going to go into the pathology of insecurity here. My goal is to normalize it a bit. We’re all insecure at times. Not everything needs to be pathologized or labeled as a disorder. I came to this conclusion over the last few weeks as I recognized that I felt insecure in a variety of situations. I’m not wild about admitting that.
Since Covid and Zoom became the norm, I recently noticed I wasn’t doing feedback sessions as I had in the past. Every few months, I was in the habit of ensuring me and my clients were on track and progressing toward their goals.
So I’m re-instituting regular feedback sessions because I, like everybody, can go off-track without knowing it’s happening. It’s a simple antidote to regularly ask my clients if we are on the same page and if our work together is making a positive difference in their lives.
Once I implemented that and felt washed with relief, I looked back over my life. And I woke up to the reality that insecurity has been what has kept me growing in pretty much every area.
Three Types of Insecurity
Shonna Waters, Ph.D., says, “there are three types of insecurities: personal, professional, and relationship.
Personal insecurity is when we lack confidence in ourselves — how we look, behave, or come across compared to others. It can result in isolation, perfectionism, bullying, jealousy, and passivity, to name just a few less than optimal ways of handling feelings of inadequacy.
But insecurity can also alert us to where we need to grow — what we need to shore up.
As a parent, I was beyond insecure. I compared myself to all the moms who seemed to know what they were doing instinctively. I, however, was raising my son through bibliotherapy. A new phase, buy a book. New behavior, buy a book. He looked at me funny, buy a book. I had no idea what I was doing, so I just kept learning. And the learning was fueled by insecurity.
In the case of parenting, insecurity is probably the primary beneficial characteristic in me being a half-decent role model. I was able to see what I didn’t know.
Professional insecurity is a lack of confidence in our ability to do the job. It’s often called imposter syndrome. We feel overwhelmed by the job’s requirements and wait on pins and needles for someone to catch on to the fact that we don’t know what we’re doing.
As much as Elon Musk is not my favorite role model, he exhibits a characteristic counter to insecurity. When he doesn’t know what he’s doing, he keeps going to figure it out. When he fails — and this guy fails often and big — he gets up and starts over. And then does it again. Michael Jordan is more my cup of tea. They told him he’d never make it professionally, but he proved them wrong. He overcame insecurity and built confidence through practice, spending hours eating, sleeping, and drinking shooting hoops, getting better and better at his chosen sport.
As a worker, insecurity allowed me to recognize when I was in a job that just didn’t fit. As Director of Human Resources for a large sales promotion agency, I didn’t just have imposter syndrome. I was an imposter! I didn’t have the training (or the interest) to do the job I needed to do. They promoted me for my interpersonal skills, not my ability to create an entire human resources infrastructure compliant with government and industry regulations.
Professionally, insecurity got me back to school to get the education I needed to switch careers and do the work that made me want to get up every morning and eagerly start over.
As a child, I wanted nothing more than a BFF, but we moved a lot, making it challenging to figure out how long-lasting friendships worked. I didn’t have a clue.
It was insecurity that fueled my attempts to navigate the waters of relationships. I wanted friendships forged and strengthened through having each other’s backs through the crap times and cheering each other on as we grew into our best selves. As an adult, I wanted friends who would stick around even when I made it hard because of my human limitations. And I wanted to be there for others in the same way.
Over the years, I have gained and lost friendships. I’ve learned that they’re not all meant to last forever. So when a friendship is lost, although I might feel insecure for a while, worrying that I did something wrong, I remind myself that everything is susceptible to change. And when I’m open to that, holding on less tightly to relationships, they seem to work better than when I feel compelled to keep them the same.
How to Let Insecurity Serve You
Remember, everybody feels a little insecure at times. None of us is great at everything, so there’s no escaping that feeling of ‘what’s wrong with me that I can’t do (get/be/feel) this?
Here are some ideas on managing insecurity to work for you rather than against you.
Build your community.
I repeat–we are all, at times, insecure. We are herd animals. We’re hardwired to seek support and reassurance and tender loving care from a community or tribe of people who have, without a contract, agreed to share life with us.
To be part of a community, if you weren’t born with a ready-made, giant Italian family like my partner, you might have to find your tribe as I have. I started out with a small group of great siblings and one son and family. Over the years I’ve found kindred spirits, but it has taken putting myself out there and being vulnerable.
You can start with just a toe in the water. You don’t need to immediately and impulsively throw yourself at everyone you meet or toss yourself off the highest diving board headfirst. A toe is sufficient to test the waters with someone new.
If you’re starting with a smaller friend network than you want, use the information download approach. There are websites and meet-up groups for anything you have ever wanted to explore. Identify your interests. Find others who love to garden and start a community garden project. Or join a biking or running group. You can’t help but get to know people pretty quickly when you’re exerting yourself with them for hours. If playing cards is your thing, or games, start a game night at your neighborhood coffee shop to get out of the house.
This is where the toe in the water works great. Take it easy. Use discernment. You’re just exploring, not making a lifetime commitment.
You will learn to trust yourself rather than believing you have to trust Everybody else. That’s too tall an order and is pretty unrealistic. Things get much easier once you trust yourself to use discernment in picking the folks you want in your community.
I’ve picked a few internet mentors I may never meet. Folks that know stuff I don’t know who keep me from reinventing wheels in every area of my life. They feel like they’re part of my tribe. One of them is Darius Foroux. He has a newsletter and writes on Medium and I love pretty much everything he writes.
Use bibliotherapy and the internet to learn almost anything.
I talked about using bibliotherapy to raise my son. Books are my personal go-to. But people, if you don’t love to read, listen to audiobooks, take online trainings, or watch u-tube videos and Ted Talks on anything you want to strengthen or minimize.
If you’re unsure how to be a friend that will make people want to be a part of your tribe or bring you into theirs, google how to be a friend and swim in the sea of information at your fingertips.
Corny as it sounds, I still love Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Mark Manson has a wealth of information on relationships and how to connect in The Subtle Art School.
I’m also a fan of Eric Barker’s book, Plays Well With Others. Despite the research-heavy content that will make you think OMG, snooze-time, it’s a hugely entertaining debunking of what you think you know about relationships.
Learn to trust yourself, not them.
The only way to grow trust is to give things a try — people, jobs, adventures, hobbies, games — a sense of security involves learning that we can survive looking silly and failing, and we can even live through being rejected. I know that one seems impossible. But believe me, it can be character-building.
Learning that I didn’t desperately need someone was freeing. I want people in my life who add to and elevate me. Needing someone makes that impossible because it becomes all about me manipulating them to love me back, and then when they don’t, I work harder and get angry when that doesn’t work, and…see what I mean?
I can’t count how many clients trying to navigate dating have said they have difficulty trusting because, “Robyn, it’s a nightmare out there. All they want is sex.” Or “Robyn, all they want is my money.”
My response is to encourage them to turn the tables. Instead of figuring out who you can trust, learn to trust yourself to know what you want and then keep looking until you find it. No settling.
So, again and again, it comes back to learning to trust yourself. The only way to do that is to take one small step, put one toe in the water, or say no the first time someone shows you they won’t have your back.