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Handling Insecurity

Chapter 6: Handling Insecurity

Tools for Personal Growth

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.


What is insecurity?

Insecurity is the:

  • Feeling of not being “good enough” to meet the challenge of a situation you face in life.
  • Sense of helplessness in the face of problems, conflict, or concerns.
  • Belief that one is inadequate or incompetent to handle life's challenges.
  • Fear of being discovered as inadequate, ill fitted, or unsuited to meet responsibilities at home, school, or on the job.
  • Sense of not fitting in, being “out of synch” with those in your peer group.
  • Perception that life is unpredictable with most of the expectations you have to meet not clearly understood.
  • Sense of always climbing up a mountain, never being able to reach the top.
  • Sense of lacking support or reinforcement where you live, work, or play.
  • Results from a sense of being unaccepted, disapproved, or rejected.
  • Inner turmoil coming from a lack of direction or bewilderment as to where you are going, what your goals are, and what responses are appropriate for events in life.

Why are people insecure?

Insecure people may have:

  • Been raised in a chaotic, unpredictable, or volatile environment in which they were kept off balance, on guard, or on edge.
  • Experienced a major tragedy or loss in their lives and are having a difficult time in accepting this loss and adjusting to the “change.”
  • Experienced a major failure in life (e.g., divorce, losing a job, bankruptcy, failure in school, losing a friend, lack of acceptance into social or civic groups, etc.) that led them to question their personal competency.
  • A poorly developed self-concept with low self-esteem, lacking belief in their personal goodness, skills, or abilities.
  • Never felt accepted by the others in their life, so much so that they became chronically shy, retiring, and withdrawn in their interactions.
  • Had an unrealistic list of rules and expectations prescribed by significant others in their life, rules they are striving to meet even in their current life.
  • A poor body image, making them believe that others see them in a negative light. This makes them self-conscious, tense, and anxious in dealing with others.
  • Never received enough positive reinforcement or feedback from others about their talents and abilities, leaving them unclear as to their skills.
  • Been given very little direction, guidance, or discipline in their earlier lives leaving them unable to cope with the current pressures of life.
  • Always felt overshadowed or overlooked due to the people in their lives who seemed to be more successful, smarter, prettier, more handsome, more athletic, higher achievers, getting much attention. This can foster doubt in an insecure person's ability to gain recognition for their successes, and can make them doubt their ability to achieve success.

What do chronically insecure people believe?

  • I can never accomplish the task facing me!
  • Everybody is looking at me, just waiting for me to make a fool of myself!
  • I am a failure!
  • I am ugly and awful to look at!
  • I can never win. I am a loser.
  • What is the sense of trying, I'll never get it right!
  • No matter how hard I work to achieve, I never get any recognition!
  • I am incompetent in everything.
  • How could anybody ever say anything good about me?
  • I failed them in the past; therefore, I am a failure today!
  • Once a failure, always a failure!
  • There is only one direction for me to go in this organization and that is down and out!
  • No one could ever like, respect, or accept me!
  • I don't deserve to be treated nicely!
  • I don't fit in here or anywhere else for that matter!
  • Everyone else looks so good, so together; I feel so out of it compared to them!
  • I am an incomplete person and will always be that way!
  • I am so afraid that no one will like me!
  • Why would anyone care to hear what I say, how I feel, or what I think?
  • People are just nice to you in order to use you and get something they want from you!

What are some negative effects of insecurity?

People who are insecure can:

  • Have difficulties in establishing healthy, long-lasting relationships.
  • Be perceived incorrectly by others as being snobbish or uppity; therefore, they are avoided due to the others' misperceptions.
  • Become victims of fears that impair their freedom of action or choice.
  • Be candidates for paranoid feelings others are out to get them.
  • Scare others away from them by their defensive attitude.
  • Be over-controlled emotionally, having problems letting others in on their emotions. This can lead others to guess what is going on until the passivity of the insecure person leads to an over-reaction by the others, resulting in conflict or rejection.
  • Have problems on the job or in school when they have the knowledge, skills and abilities to do a task efficiently but are told to do it in a different, less effective manner.
  • They get so uptight about the job and are fearful of standing up for what they believe that they get angry, hostile, and resentful until they either quit or succeed in submerging their emotions.
  • Get passed over for promotions, advances, or honors because they are so quiet about what it is they do. This leads the insecure persons to feel more unaccepted, unappreciated, and under-valued.
  • Have problems meeting people and often can become debilitated socially by chronic shyness.
  • Become so inward that they seek to escape into their fantasy life rather than deal with the reality of their lives.

How can insecurity be overcome?

In order to overcome insecurity, people need to:

  • Be willing to be put in vulnerable positions in life where they might get hurt.
  • Take risks to change their current behavior.
  • Trust others enough to expose themselves to them, risking vulnerability and the possibility of being hurt.
  • Have a healthy and humorous belief in themselves in order to overlook their exaggerated need for acceptance and approval.
  • Take a rational approach to each problem they face so that they are no longer inhibited by debilitating fears or beliefs.
  • Practice assertive behavior in their lives, earning respect and the acknowledgment of their rights.
  • Arouse the courage to take small steps in learning to experience success and overcoming their lack of belief in self. Once the success is experienced, they can build on it to gain the courage to act out of a strong conviction in their self-goodness and worth.
  • Break the barrier or outer shell of the self-doubt they have hidden behind and reach out to others. Breaking out of their shells requires letting go of past hurts (real or imagined) and moving on with life.
  • Open themselves to the possibility of success and accomplishment.
  • Visualize or make a prophecy of winning at life so their energies are focused in a growth direction.
  • Reward themselves for who they are and capitalize on their strengths, attributes, skills, and competencies.

What steps can people take to handle insecurity?


Step 1:  Read over the material in this chapter, then answer the following questions in your journal:
  • What behavior traits signal my insecurity?
  • What happened in my past to make me insecure?
  • What are some of my beliefs that account for my insecurity?
  • What are some negative consequences I've experienced due to my insecurity?
  • What behavior traits do I need to develop in order to overcome my insecurity?


Step 2:  After identifying your insecurity, how can you handle it? Answer the following questions in your journal:

  • What substitute behavior traits could I develop that would indicate security in myself?
  • What are some positive consequences of exhibiting such secure behavior traits in my life?
  • What are some rational beliefs I must develop in order to exhibit secure behavior in my life?
  • How will my life change if I exhibit secure behavior?
  • What is my action plan to develop security in my life?
  • What obstacles stand in the way of my executing this action plan?
  • How can I overcome the obstacles to my development of self-confidence and security?


Step 3:  Implement the plan of action in Step 2. Keep a log in your journal as you go through each stage of handling your insecurity.


Step 4:  The following project is designed to help you develop secure behavior by learning about yourself through the eyes of the others in your life. (Make it smaller or larger as you see fit.)


Overcoming Insecurity Collage

Ask at least six close friends and/or relatives to assist you in making a collage. Tell them you have been assigned to make a collage about yourself for school, work, or a club project. All collages must be 2 x 3 feet. The collage must be completed within two weeks of the time you ask your friends and/or relatives to help you. Ask them to send you magazine pictures, sayings, articles, photos, prizes, trinkets, cards, drawings, objects, ribbons, etc., indicative of the various strengths, attributes, talents, skills, knowledge, virtues, competencies, or abilities you possess. Ask them to send a short explanation with each item they send you. Ask each person to send at least ten items.


Once you gather the items, paste them on poster board in collage fashion. On the back of the collage paste the explanations for the items.


Share your collage with your friends, family, and helpers. Explain each item on the collage, and explain that they have helped you overcome some of your personal insecurity by giving accurate and honest feedback on reasons why you should feel secure and good about yourself.


Step 5:  If you are still feeling insecure after completing Steps 1 through 4, review the material, return to Step 1, and begin again.