We all feel insecure from time to time—whether we openly admit it or not. It's one of the most human feelings, and there's really no shame in it. What matters more is how you deal with your insecurities. Depending on how you respond to them, insecurities often deteriorate one's self-esteem, so it's important to learn how to deal with them properly—and ideally, eventually, overcome them.
What is insecurity?
According to sex and relationship therapist Emily Jamea, Ph.D., LPC, LMFT, insecurity can be described as a feeling of doubt that your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, or other aspects of yourself are not valid or worthwhile. This self-doubt is often triggered by our experiences or interpersonal situations.
"A common misconception is that insecure people are shy and withdrawn. While this may be true for some people, others may appear outwardly confident. Sometimes it is not until you get to know someone on a deeper level that their self-doubt and insecurity become apparent," Jamea says.
Another common misconception is that being insecure is a character trait, when really it's a feeling or state of being, according to licensed clinical psychologist Avigail Lev, Psy.D.
"If our mind confuses insecurity for a character trait, then every time the feeling of insecurity gets triggered for us, we will assume that something is wrong with us," she explains. "If we view insecurity as a feeling state that gets triggered for everyone, then we have more compassion with it and kindness toward it, which allows for more acceptance of it."
Where feelings of insecurity come from.
There are many reasons why someone might feel insecure. Even people who are ordinarily confident may develop feelings of insecurity because someone made them doubt themselves.
Jamea says this is common in cases of getting made fun of or being bullied—whether as a child or adult—or because of rejection, like after a breakup or not being included in an activity with friends.
People may also experience insecurity because they feel they do not live up to societal norms. "It's common for women to feel insecure about their bodies and for men to feel insecure about their earnings," she says, for example.
Additionally, some people may be insecure because of the family system they grew up in. Jamea says children who were criticized for expressing themselves or simply not given the space to express themselves often evolve into adults who are insecure.
Insecurity in yourself:
As mentioned, a lot of our insecurities stem from the messages we receive from society, family, friends, and peers about who and what we should be. These standards are often unrealistic and include everything from how bodies should look to what we should achieve personally and professionally by a certain age, and more.
We then compare ourselves to these standards and if we feel we fall short, insecurities develop, according to psychotherapist Shannon Garcia, LCSW.
"Your ability to manage these insecure thoughts as they arise will determine how deep-rooted insecurities become," she adds. "Your history, support network, past trauma, current stress levels, and more affect your ability to respond to negative self-talk and negative messages from others. The good news is, you can retrain your brain to overcome current insecurities and protect from future ones."
Insecurity in relationships:
Our insecurities within our relationships almost always bloom from insecurity within ourselves. The way we show up in relationships comes from the way we view relationships, which comes from our past experiences and starts the moment we are born.
According to Garcia, how your primary caregiver (usually parents) responded to your needs as a child develops your attachment style. These attachment styles are a major factor in how a person reacts in relationships.
"If you consistently struggle with insecurity in relationships, you may have anxious attachment style. Anxious attachment develops when caregivers respond sporadically to a child's needs. Sometimes needs are met, and sometimes they are not," she explains.
According to Jamea, folks with an anxious attachment style may experience feelings of doubt that their partner truly cares about them, that they might leave, or that they must love their partners more than they love them. People with this attachment style often get wildly anxious and triggered during conflict and may appear desperate to win back their partner's love.
Common signs of insecurity to look out for:
"Someone bragging about themselves, their accomplishments, and their life constantly is often a sign of a person feeling insecure and having a need to convince themselves that they are worth it," explains licensed mental health counselor Rachna Buxani-Mirpuri, LMHC.
Buxani-Mirpuri also notes, "People who are insecure can be very controlling. It makes an insecure person very anxious if they are not able to control their environment and everyone who is a part of it. Thus, an insecure person can be very controlling toward their romantic partners."
Sometimes, insecurity can manifest through an incessant desire to please others. "People-pleasing tendencies tend to reflect insecurity and the resulting internal craving for acceptance," says clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D.
Another sign of insecurity is constant jealousy. Manly says, although jealousy is a natural feeling, those who are constantly jealous of others are often extremely insecure.
Seeking excessive reassurance can look like asking the same questions repeatedly and at times compulsively.
According to Garcia, common reassurance-seeking questions in relationships include "Are you mad at me?" and "Do you love me?" If one is feeling insecure about their body image, it may be repeatedly asking "Do I look OK?"
If your loved ones get frustrated by your frequent questions, it may be because you are subconsciously seeking reassurance.
According to Garcia, perfectionism is the false belief of needing to be perfect to be accepted by others or even to be accepted by yourself, and it's rooted in insecurity. You feel you must be perfect at home, at work, and/or in your relationships. You set unattainable standards for yourself and exhaust yourself attempting to reach these.
How to overcome insecurity:
Stop trying to be "better than" or "the best."
Recognize that you are good enough, and no number of accomplishments, monetary or otherwise, will ever be enough for you to feel internally secure.
Instead of always looking to what's next or how where you are now isn't far enough, learn to appreciate where you are and what is in the here and now. Mindfulness practices can be very helpful in this regard, says clinical psychologist Noël Hunter, Psy.D., which leads us to our next point.
Practice meditation and other self-nurturing behaviors.
"These practices have been around for thousands of years for a reason—human suffering around insecurity and anxiety has been a central struggle for as long as humans have existed. These practices have stuck around because they work," Hunter says.
In addition to mindfulness and meditation, Hunter also suggests learning to attune to your internal state and let go of tension, as well as generally acting in a loving and gentle way toward yourself, which can make a tremendous difference in how you eventually feel about yourself.
Negative self-talk is the most common symptom of insecurity, says Jamea. One way to counteract that is through the use of writing, she suggests. "Writing down your automatic negative thought, then actively restructuring it into a positive thought, can go a long way in overcoming insecurity."
She offers an additional tip for this exercise: "If you're struggling to flip the thought, ask yourself what you'd say to a friend who had that negative thought. Once you write down the alternative or balanced thought, reassess your feelings and notice if your worry and anxiety has lessened."
Lev suggests practicing self-compassion techniques daily. For example, she says, this might look like putting your hand on your heart, identifying and validating feelings and needs, and saying lovingkindness phrases to yourself. For example, "It makes sense that I feel insecure. It makes sense that I feel anxious. It makes sense that I need security. May I feel secure, may I accept myself as I am. Everyone feels insecure. I'm doing my best."
Let go of what others think about you.
"Insecure people worry excessively about what others think of them," says Jamea. "Letting go of this concern can do wonders to help you overcome feelings of insecurity. Participating in a 'letting go' ritual is an effective strategy. Write down what you think others think of you on strips of paper. Then systematically let go of it by throwing it into a fire or letting it go with a balloon."
If you find that certain actions or people trigger insecurity, take a step back. Instead of subjecting yourself to situations or people that worsen your insecurity, Manly recommends making a pact with yourself that you'll mindfully do more of what does feel good. So, if social media or a certain person make you feel worse about yourself, do yourself a huge favor and let go, she says.
Practice emotion exposure.
According to Lev, emotion exposure is a technique in cognitive behavioral therapy that involves letting go of thoughts, embracing emotions, and labeling sensations in the body. It's a mindfulness practice that is meant to help people cultivate acceptance of difficult thoughts and feelings.
"When you practice emotion exposure, you notice where in your body the feeling of insecurity feels most intense, you label and track the level of intensity from 0 to 100%, you physicalize the sensations, and practice distancing and defusing from thoughts," she explains.
"Physicalizing sensations involves staying present and tracking sensations in your body by asking yourself what color, shape, texture, temperature, and movement each sensation has in your body and staying open, present, and curious about the physiological experience of the emotion. You continue nonjudgmentally labeling all the different sensations in your body, where they are, physicalizing them, and coming back to tracking the intensity from 0 to 100%."
She adds that the exercise may not feel good in the moment, but in the long run, it helps you make more space for those difficult feelings and have more self-compassion around them.
If you're dealing with insecurities, you might be asking yourself how much is too much? But according to Lev, there's no such thing as too much of a feeling of insecurity.
"Feelings are not problematic. Feelings give us information about what matters and what's important to us. Behaviors can be problematic. If we engage in maladaptive coping mechanisms such as withdrawing, accusing, procrastinating, defending, clinging, and/or attacking when we're feeling insecure, then it becomes a problem," she says.
The feeling itself is not a problem. We have the same choice to move toward our values whether we feel secure or insecure. We can feel insecure at times and still move toward being honest, authentic, curious, empathic, assertive, and kind.
Cultivating self-compassion is the ultimate key to overcoming your insecurities. It's important to offer yourself grace throughout your journey of healing and growing. Approach your feelings and triggers with curiosity. That way, you can understand them and ultimately use that knowledge to improve your self-confidence and free yourself from your insecurities. Or at the very least, better manage the way you process those feelings.
Stephanie Barnes is a freelance writer from Kingston, Jamaica. She studied Information Technology from the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean and spent several years as a front-end/iOS engineer. Her work has been featured at The Huffington Post, Healthline, The Lily, HelloGiggles, Business Insider, and more. She's passionate about all things mental health, technology, and binge-worthy television.