German psychoanalyst Eric Fromm said, “The task we must set for ourselves is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity.”
Everyone I have ever known — I take that back — every likable person I have ever known in this world has admitted to periods of sheer insecurity. They looked at themselves from the perspective of someone else — perhaps a person with no appreciation of their talents, personality traits, abilities—and judged themselves unfairly according to the perverted view.
I am terribly insecure much of the time. I grew up with bad acne, braces, and a twin sister who was in the popular group. The adolescent self-doubt had sticking power. At times I can pull off the image of a self-confident author and writer, but it usually lasts as long as the speaking event or lunch with my editor.
Lately the junior high inferiority complex has made a surprise visit, and I’m more insecure than usual. So here’s one of those lists that people are always writing — suggestions on what to do if you are feeling insecure, too.
1. Consider it beautiful.
Insecurity — vulnerability of spirit — is essentially humility, which is a divine quality. In fact, since pride is considered to be the origin of sin (Saint Augustine), then humility would be the greatest spiritual virtue. With insecurity, we admit that it’s not all about us, and that philosophy in this world of self-centeredness is quite lovely. Says Stephen Fry in “Moab Is My Washpot”:
“It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.”
2. Read your self-esteem file.
A self-esteem file is a warm-fuzzy folder, but I really refuse to call it that because it sounds like I live in the land of the unicorns and fairies with retreats to the land of the rainbows and lollipops. It’s a collection of anything anyone has ever said, written, indicated that can be categorized as positive. Someone says something shallow like, “I like your shoes.” Sure, put it in there, with a note “I have good taste in shoes.” Another person mutters, “Dude, thanks for listening.” That goes in there as well: “I am a good listener.”
I suggest asking two or three of your best friends to list ten of your best qualities and put those in there to jumpstart the project. That’s what I did seven years ago. My therapist asked me to make a list of ten of my best qualities and I couldn’t do it. So she told me to ask my friends. I was embarrassed. Ashamed. Why should I need to do this? But my self-esteem file has saved me from weeks of self-loathing. Now it’s full of nice comments on my blog, emails, feedback from my books. I reach for it every time I feel a moment of insecurity coming over me.
3. Avoid people you feel insecure around.
I know this sounds like common sense, but it does require a bit of homework. Sometimes you have to rearrange your schedule, find a new route to work, take lunch at a different time, or compile a ton of excuses to have on hand. “I’m sorry I can’t go to happy hour with you guys. The truth is that your cliquish group does not make me happy. I have a better chance of getting happy by myself. Oh, and my dog needs to get groomed at 5 p.m. on a Tuesday night.”
You have to protect yourself. That should be your first priority for as long as you are feeling insecure, not convenience. Why torture yourself? If you think the popular group will notice, you’re wrong. Most likely they don’t care about you. But you won’t care that they don’t care if you are proactive about protecting yourself. Then, when you don’t feel as insecure, you can resume your old schedule or go to happy hour if you want and if your dog has been groomed.
4. Surround yourself with supportive people.
There are only a few people in my life who get me. Who really get me. When I’m insecure, I will drive 250 miles to see them, or squeeze a half hour into my hectic evening to talk to them on the phone. They remind me of what is good and unique about myself — maybe unorthodox and not at all appreciated by other folks — elements that contribute to my decent DNA. These people love that I have no filter, that I say whatever I am thinking out loud and therefore insult an average of two people every ten seconds. This character defect, they say, is refreshing!
Those trusted few are the voices of truth and we need as many voices of truth as we can get. “We’re going to have to let truth scream louder to our souls than the lies that have infected us,” writes Beth Moore in “So Long, Insecurity: You’ve Been a Bad Friend To Us.”
5. Know it’s invisible.
You figure everyone can see that you’re insecure. And that actually makes you feel more insecure. But here’s the wonderful truth. No one can see your insecurity. They are too worried about their own insecurity to notice your insecurity. Even when I think the world can see me shake – when I get really nervous or uncertain – few people can. Either that or they are lying to me when I call them on it. Do your friends look insecure when they are in a group of coworkers or with dysfunctional families? Nope? No one can see your insides but you.