Most common causes of insecurities and how to beat them


Revathi Nair

Mental Health Writer

What does insecurity mean?

Insecurity is a feeling of general unease or nervousness that may be triggered by perceiving of oneself to be vulnerable or inferior in some way, or a sense of vulnerability or instability which threatens one's self-image or ego.

From the outside, it may appear that we are a self-confident generation, comfortable in our own skin and ready to make our opinions known. It is easy to come to this conclusion with a glimpse at our social media presence. Despite, how it appears though, very rarely are people completely self-confident. In reality, everyone harbours insecurities.

Since childhood, we have always compared ourselves to others, or been compared to others. From comparing our fancy stationary and what we brought for lunch to comparing grades and lifestyles and achievements, this comparison has become a norm. This becomes a gateway towards developing insecurities for many of us when we realise that we often do not match up to the standards we set for ourselves or what others set for us. Now, with the advent of social media, the standards we are exposed to are higher than ever, and not surprisingly, it has led to growing insecurities amongst many of us.

We have all experienced feelings of insecurity at some point of our lives. Insecurity refers to the lack of confidence that we feel in ourselves. We have all been pestered by our insecurities. We’ve had these thoughts occupy our mind- ”I’m stupid, I’m useless, No one really likes me, I can never do this, My friends don’t want me around, I’m a failure” and on and on. While these thoughts and feelings can be distressing, they are not uncommon.

People can be insecure in different areas of their life. One person may be insecure in

professional life, others in their romantic relationships. Yet another might be insecure about their appearance. These thoughts about our insecurities tend to overwhelm us with feelings of uncertainty- a feeling we may have a hard time getting away from. It’s natural to feel insecure on occasions. But if this feeling of insecurity becomes persistent or more intense, it may have a considerable impact on our lives.

Our insecurities may give rise to feelings of being incompetent or helpless. It may cause difficulties in our relationship, our ability to get along with people, our performance at our workplace, etc. It can lead to feelings of frustration, hopelessness and worry within us.

Being insecure is a part of being human, and often, it also helps in redirecting our goals and decisions. When dealt with appropriately, these insecurities can be a medium to aid us towards self-development.

What aspects of our life does our insecurity affect?

Our insecurities impact nearly all aspects of our life. They determine our behaviour and our reaction to life events. In the face of adversity, insecure people may feel helpless and not do anything. When interpersonal conflict arises, they may respond with intense emotions such as anger or sadness rather than dealing with them rationally. When faced with deadlines, insecure individuals may panic and worry more than working towards finishing their work.

Insecurities can also hold one back in their work life as well as their personal relationships. It may be difficult for insecure individuals to form and sustain healthy relationships with others. They often refrain from expressing their thoughts and emotions. For example, they may hesitate to give their opinions during team meetings, or may have a hard time expressing their affections for another person in their romantic relationships. Therefore, insecurities may inhibit their growth in life.

What are the causes of our insecurities?

There is no singular factor that leads to insecurity in us. Instead, our insecurities arise from several factors, often acting together. A lot of our life experiences make way for the forming of our insecurities. Understanding our insecurities and the causes of our insecurities can help us work towards overcoming them and their negative consequences.

1. Life experiences

Our recent life experiences can impact how we perceive ourselves. The loss of a job may leave us feeling incompetent. The breaking up of a relationship may make us feel as if we are unlovable. As a result, we end up seeing ourselves as failures. This can be a blow to our self-esteem and add to our insecurities.

Other than everyday events, traumatic life events can also add to our feelings of insecurity. These incidents include death of a loved one, financial crisis, breaking up of a marriage, etc. Unpredictable events such as these may lead to anxiety and feelings of uncertainty in regards to where we stand in our own life.

2. Childhood experiences

The experiences from our formative years influence our development and have a hand in shaping our insecurities. Children who grew up feeling like they were excluded from things by friends or family are likely to carry that feeling into adulthood. Children who felt like they weren’t good enough, important enough or where not loved feel the impact of these experiences in their adulthood. It tends to lower their confidence and self-esteem. Our childhood experiences, therefore, have the power to haunt us forever.

3. Relationship with parents

Parents, who tend to be primary caretakers for most of us, have a lasting impact on our lives. Our relationship with them defines our life. Insecurities are especially high amongst those children whose parents were critical and pushed them strongly to be a certain way, to meet their own needs rather than those of the child. These parents set high expectations for them.

When the child failed to meet these expectations, s/he may have met with disapproval from the parents that led to the child feeling like a failure. These feelings of worthlessness and incompetence may persist even in adulthood, affecting their personal and professional lives.

Children who grew up with critical parents grow up being very sensitive to other’s perception of them and wondering if they meet their expectations.

4. Striving towards perfectionism

Sometimes, we set absurdly high standards for ourselves. We may decide that we want to top every exam, or give the best work presentation, or run the fastest in a marathon. It is good to have high standards- it pushes us to work harder to meet our goals.

However, when we try to excel, or be perfect, at everything we do, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Even with hard work and dedication, it isn’t possible to always succeed in our endeavours. These failures in reaching our unrealistic goals then lead us to experience lower self-esteem and make us feel insecure and doubt our worth. Over time, this sense of not being good enough can lead to serious psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue, etc.

5. Uncertainty in relationships

One of the domains of life where we are often insecure is our personal relationships. Insecurity in a relationship can arise when we are unsure if the other person likes us or if they will leave us. As a result of this insecurity, we may become less trusting of them, more suspicious of their actions and motives, and be overly defensive and controlling over them.

Insecure people may be uncertain whether they can trust the people around them and depend on them. Thus, insecurity of one or both persons can lead to the breaking down of a relationship.

6. Uncertainty in the world

Uncertainty in the world around us can also act as cause for insecurity. It could be instability in the economy, politics or social situation, or instability that is closer to home such as in one’s family, work, living situation, etc. The uncertainty can be regarding our work assignments, our travel plans, our daily commute, and so on. These uncertainties can lead to stress, anxiety and negative mood in general.

7. Comparing ourselves to others

We have a tendency to compare ourselves to others. We judge our values against those of others. When this comparison doesn’t seem to favour us, our insecurities are born. The people we compare ourselves to may be living different lives, have different skills and ambitions and goals. When we compare ourselves to them, we may find ourselves falling short. This can lead to insecurities. We often experience this when we compare our lives with those of people only, be it the life style of travel bloggers or the appearances of Instagram models.

How to overcome our insecurities?

The first step in beating your insecurities is to recognise them, and slowly come to terms with them. Once we acknowledge our insecurities and accept them, we can learn to overcome them. While avoiding them may have minor immediate payoffs, dealing with and overcoming these insecurities will benefit us in the long run.

1. Stop making comparisons

We have always compared our lives to those of others. This often becomes the very core of our insecurities. Our life circumstances, our goals and hopes and desires are not the same as those of others, so how can comparing ourselves to others be fruitful?

When we stop judging ourselves with reference to others and start evaluating our worth for what it is, we can be happier and feel more secure in ourselves. Focusing on our strengths over our weaknesses also helps us.

2. Don’t let failure stop you

We need to be persistent in our endeavours. Failure is something that we all experience in life in one way or another. In the end, what matters is what we do with that experience- do we dwell on that failure and give up on our goal, or do we persevere till we achieve the goal? Nothing worth achieving was achieved on the first try. Let's keep trying.

3. Ask for feedback from people you trust

Often we do not realise how skewed our perception of our self, our goals and our behaviour are. It might benefit us to look at things from an outsider’s perspective. Therefore, asking someone we trust, be it our family, our friends, or our co-workers, what their opinion on a certain situation is may prove insightful and allow us to see things from a brand new perspective.

The aim is to get constructive feedback and an objective opinion, so it's best to speak to people who can offer such feedback without becoming judgemental or preachy.

4. Avoid acting on your insecurities

Insecurities can influence our emotions. Often, problems arise when we act on these transitory feelings. We must learn to hold back our reactions driven by these emotions. We must allow ourselves some time. Let the emotion wear off first, and then react rationally to the situation. This keeps us from making hasty decisions, especially ones we may regret later.

5. Reason irrationally against flawed thoughts

Very often, we are too harsh on ourselves. We strive to achieve goals that are unrealistic and on failing, beat ourselves up about it. We must replace this tendency with more rational thinking.

When our inner critic puts us down because of our failures, we must remind ourselves that failure is a normal part of life. We must overcome negative emotions resulting from these irrational expectations rather than dwelling on them.

6. Set more realistic goals

Our striving for perfection is often what leads to our feelings of insecurity. This occurs when we fail to achieve these unrealistic goals and wallow in our failure. One way to overcome our insecurities, therefore, is to set more realistic and achievable goals. These goals are more likely to be fulfilled and therefore, we are less likely to experience failure.

Once we achieve the goal, we can always expand it further or set an even bigger target.

7. Try journaling

Journaling involves noting down all our private thoughts and feelings on paper, making them more tangible and visible. Journaling can make us realise aspects of ourselves that we may have previously been ignoring or been oblivious to.

Looking at our thoughts on paper can help recognise our unrealistic expectations, irrational thinking and repetitive unproductive behaviour patterns. With the help of the journal, we can work towards resolving these problems and overcoming our insecurities.

8. Seek therapy

If we find our insecurities to be too powerful to overcome on our own, let's not be afraid to seek out therapy. Therapy can help deal with our insecurities. With the help of a capable therapist, we can learn to identify our strengths and focus on them rather than just focusing on our failures. Therapy can also help improve our self-esteem.

Times are changing. Once upon a time, we would seek the approval and opinions of our family and friends, but now with social media, that circle has widened. We now compare ourselves to, and seek validation from, not only those close to us but also people we barely know. We must therefore learn to change with times and learn to better deal with our insecurities in order to cope better in life.

View more content by Revathi Nair

Discussion Board

What insecurities have you experienced in your life? Have you managed to overcome them?

This is truly a fantastic article, really loved it! Yes I have experienced many insecurities related to looks, money, career, friends etc. in life. 😇
Maheen Mirza