One of the greatest challenges we face in our lifetimes is becoming comfortable in our own skin. A person who is secure with himself is much more likely to achieve success, have meaningful relationships, and be respected by others.
A person who is insecure finds difficulty in many aspects of life. Since most people are insecure, a person who is secure has power and influence over others; even if they are not otherwise powerful.
Coming to terms with who you are is the first step in obtaining happiness in life. The sooner you realize that happiness is something that you decide internally, and not something that you get from people or posessions; the sooner you will be able to create your own destiny.
A Lifelong Process
Everyone has some form of insecurity. It’s almost impossible to be 100% free of doubt. There have only been a handful of people throughout history who have obtained this level of confidence, and most of them have gone on to be great spiritual leaders. Now, we look up to them as role-models.
Confidence is usually a gradual process. It often comes with age and wisdom (although some people never find it). Those who work on themselves and gain confidence early on will have a much easier time navigating the challenges of life.
Insecurity is Destructive
Even though none of us are perfect; it’s easy to spot those of us who are overly insecure. Extreme insecurity is usually marked by an obsession with gaining the approval of other people. This level of self-doubt is extremely destructive to a person’s life and is often the root of almost all their problems.
More specifically, secure people find validation from within; while insecure people attempt to find validation from sources outside themselves. This external search for security manifests itself in two major ways:
1. A person becomes overly selfish. While both sexes engage in this sort of insecurity, men are slightly more likely to choose this route. A selfish person attempts to find security by surrounding himself with possessions, accolades, and attention.
2. A person becomes overly accomodating. Once again, this form of insecurity is common in both sexes, but women are slightly more likely to choose it as their primary mode of compensation. An overly accommodating person attempts to gain the approval of other people by bending over backwards for them.
A Matter of Energy
I read one of the most eloquent explanations of why people behave the way they do in a book called The Celestine Prophesy by James Redfield. It’s a fictional adventure that tries to explain a few things about reality. The basic gist of the book is that we are all connected by an energy.
I read The Celestine Prophesy over ten years ago, and back then most people saw it as a little hokey. Today, the idea that energy connects us all is becoming mainstream, especially with the advancement of quantum physics and the cultural phenomenon The Secret.
Here’s the basic idea:
People need emotional energy like they need air. Scientists have found that infants respond dramatically to human touch, and will almost “starve” without it. Quality relationships have been found to be a better indicator of good health than smoking status, weight, or genetics. Even though we can’t quantify it, this emotional energy is a very real and important part of our lives.
As children, we get our emotional energy from our parents; just like we get food, water, and shelter. Just as food provides nourishment for our bodies, emotional energy nourishes our souls; giving us confidence and security.
A person has made a successful transition to adulthood when she has learned to provide food, water, and shelter for herself. By the same token, she hasn’t fully matured until she has also learned to provide emotional energy for herself.
Many people never learn to produce their own emotional energy and continue to seek it from other people, even into adulthood. When they are around others, they draw energy from those around them to fill their void. This burden of energy fatigues the people around them and causes conflict.
Conversely, a person who has learned to create their own energy is free to give the excess to other people.
Signs of Insecurity
Here are some common signs that indicate insecurity:
Insecure people tend to be very sensitive to critique and respond with defensiveness. They aren’t comfortable enough with themselves to accept that they might be flawed.
A secure person can handle criticism. They’re open to hearing about ways they might improve. If they disagree with the criticism, they don’t try to argue because they’re happy with who they are.
They’re comfortable enough to be themselves, even if other people don’t like it. They realize that they can’t please everyone.
Can’t Enjoy Silence
Some insecure people just can’t deal with silence. They fill every void with meaningless chatter, almost to avoid having to reflect on themselves. The unfortunate consequence is the annoyance of everyone around them, who secretly look for an escape.
A secure person can tolerate, and often enjoys silence. If they are with someone else, they have the ability to let someone else talk without having to interject their own perspective.
Another coping mechanism for insecurity is constant joking. While a sense of humor is almost necessary for emotional health, the excessive joker doesn’t seem to know the limits of appropriateness. (Think Michael Scott on “The Office.”)
It feels good when everyone laughs at your joke, and an insecure person craves this sort of attention. The unfortunate consequence is an uncomfortable environment and an insensitivity to others.
Jokes are almost always more funny when they are well-timed and delivered by a person of confidence. Security gives you the ability to be sensitive of others; knowing what they would consider funny and what they would consider offensive.
Insecure people tend to talk about themselves constantly, as if they feel like they have to prove themselves. Self-promotion is paramount to over-compensation for doubt.
A confident person doesn’t need to promote himself. His qualities are displayed naturally by the way he lives his life. Besides, he doesn’t need validation from anyone anyway.
Insecure people feel threatened by others, and one way to cope with this is to try and squash them. The most threatening person of all to an insecure person is a secure person, because they can sense their power.
Insecure people in positions of power tend to compensate for their lack of confidence by taking out their frustrations on their subordinates. They might issue unfair punishments or orders as a way to prove their authority.
I once had a boss who took joy in screaming at his employees, even for minor offenses. Once, I overheard him speaking to another manager about picking someone to fire for the fun of it. This kind of excessive authoritativeness is an obvious over-compensation for insecurity.
Competitiveness is part of a healthy emotional makeup, but over-competitiveness is a sign of a problem. Someone who can’t take losing by making a big emotional display lacks confidence.
A person who is secure with himself wins or loses with grace. Grace has a lot to do with respecting your opponent, and you can only do that if you are first comfortable with yourself.
A very dangerous coping mechanism for insecurity is buying things you can’t afford just to show off. We can all think of people with huge TV’s, fast cars, and every toy known to man; even though they don’t make much money. People like this tend to run up their credit cards and get themselves into big trouble.
A secure person doesn’t need to show off. He doesn’t care what other people think about his possessions.
Insecurity in Relationships
Insecurity tends to be amplified in relationships. In this situation, there is a constant struggle for control and energy.
Interestingly enough, people tend to be attracted to other people at the same level of security. Insecure people tend to find other insecure people to date, and secure people tend to date other secure people.
A healthy relationship is made up of two secure people who create their own emotional energy and give to their partner. An unhealthy relationship is made up of two insecure people who take emotional energy from their partner.
Here are some characteristics of insecure men in relationships:
An insecure man is constantly worried about his girlfriend leaving him, and is extremely jealous. This manifests itself in constant questioning, mistrust, and altercations with other men.
A man who is secure with himself and his relationship is able to trust his partner. He can do so because he doesn’t depend on her for his well-being. He knows that he will be okay no matter what happens. If she betrays his trust, he is fully capable of either forgiving her, or leaving her to start over.
Abuse is where insecurity in a relationship becomes extremely destructive. Men become abusive out of the need to control their partner. Instead of loving them for who they are, they try to force them into someone else.
A man who is secure with himself is never abusive.
Here are a few signs of insecurity for women in relationships:
Stays in Abusive Relationships
Remember how insecure people tend to be attracted to each other? Unfortunately, this means that abusive men end up with women who take the abuse.
Have you ever known a woman who has had a string of abusive boyfriends? She ends up falling for one after the other. She has so little confidence that she is convinced that it’s her fault.
A secure woman isn’t afraid of leaving an abusive man. She knows that she doesn’t deserve that kind of treatment. She creates her own emotional energy and therefore she will be fine on her own.
Sexuality is a very powerful force, as evidenced by the amount of sexual images in our media. Men especially are strongly influenced by attractive women. Some women learn that they can get a lot of attention from men by flaunting their sexuality.
An insecure woman who is seeking constant validation from others relies on her sexuality as a crutch. It becomes her main source of emotional energy and begins to define her.
A secure woman doesn’t need constant validation. She is confident enough to define herself in many dimensions; not just one.
Work on Yourself
A common thread in much of the success literature that I have read is the necessity of becoming independent before entering into relationships. If I had to recommend one book to help someone become more secure with themselves, I would recommend The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.
He talks about achieving private victory before you achieving public victory. He talks about the process of going from dependence to independence to interdependence.
Insecurity can be highly destructive, especially if you don’t understand it. Many insecure people find scapegoats for their problems, never realizing that they are causing the problems themselves.
The beginning of security is learning to laugh at yourself, realizing that no one is perfect.