3 Toxic Thinking Habits That Feed Your Insecurity

What makes you feel insecure (besides trying on swimwear under fluorescent lighting?) Surprise! The culprit is your very own mind. This week, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen reveals three toxic thinking habits that keep you feeling insecure, plus offers three ways to feel more confident.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
5-minute read
Episode #153

There’s that old saying—the mind makes a wonderful servant but a terrible master. If you’re feeling insecure—about yourself, your relationship, or your life—these three thinking habits may be mastering your mind.

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Psychologists call these toxic habits cognitive distortions, which is just a technical way of saying “lies we tell ourselves.” But they’re tricky, because on the surface, they seem accurate, and more importantly, they feel accurate. And that’s the problem—cognitive distortions keep us feeling stupid, boring, inadequate, or otherwise insecure.

Now, it’s really important to note that we all make these thinking mistakes from time to time. It’s part of being human. But when we truly start to believe them, or we over-rely on them, that’s when we feel as insecure as a wifi network without a password.

Toxic Thinking Habit #1: Emotional reasoning

This toxic thinking habit mistakes feelings for reality. If you feel guilty, it must be your fault. If you feel hopeless, there must be no way out. If you feel anxious, something bad is about to happen.

But emotional reasoning makes us feel the most insecure when it extends to our relationships: “Because I feel jealous, it proves you’re cheating on me” or “Because I feel anxious, it must mean we’re about to break up.” Then those thoughts spiral and turn into a fight your partner never saw coming. Needless to say, emotional reasoning is particularly frustrating for partners because it’s impossible to argue with a gut feeling, even an inaccurate one.

Toxic Thinking Habit #2: Mind reading

This toxic habit is exactly what it sounds like: assuming you know what other people are thinking. Your insecurity puts imaginary judgmental thoughts in other people’s heads, which you then believe wholeheartedly, which in turn makes you feel more insecure. It’s a vicious circle of epic proportions.

Mind reading makes you think others are either judging or rejecting you. “He didn’t text me back so he must hate me.” “My boss wants to see me so she must be mad.” “Everyone will see I’m sweating and think I’m a freak.”

On the flip side, you might mind-read and assume others are superior to you: “She looks like she has it all together; she must be so confident.” “He got another promotion; he must know exactly what he’s doing with his life.” “He’s so hot he must make a dragon wanna retire.” Okay, not that one, unless you’re mind-reading Bruno Mars. Regardless, no matter how you slice it, mind reading makes you come up short.

Toxic Thinking Habit #3: Personalization

This is also exactly what it sounds like: the thinking error of personalization makes everything about you. Your spouse is grumpy, so you assume it’s something you did. Your boyfriend looked at another girl, so you must not be enough for him. Your friend is grumpy, so you must not be entertaining her adequately. Regardless, whatever dark alley personalization leads you down, it ends at the dead end of self-blame.

How to Stop

How to stop the madness? Half the battle is catching yourself. Try to notice those moments when your mood takes a nosedive or your insecurity flares. Got one? When you do, ask yourself what was going through your head. What did you say to yourself? Then, take the thought you caught and try these three things:


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.