What to Do (and Not Do) When You Feel Insecure

Whatever you call it—self-doubt, insecurity, inadequacy—it's a universal phenomenon. We can all relate to feeling as insecure as a newly-launched cryptocurrency. Luckily, there is lots we can do. 

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
Episode #192
woman feeling insecure

#3: Do affirm your values.

Remind yourself of who you are and what is important to you. For example, “My family and the support they give me is something I know is real.” “My faith is the foundation of my life.” Or, “A sense of humor is what grounds me and connects me to other people.”

Importantly, affirming your values is really different than self-promotion. Rather than creating a powerful or important persona, affirming your values is about taking a step back and reminding yourself of who you are and what’s important to you.

To be clear, we’re not talking about performance, we’re talking about values. An example of performance is “I’m a good student,” whereas an example of affirming your values is “I strive for continual and lifelong learning.”

In short, affirming your values affirms your whole self, not just one domain of your life. And that places challenges into a bigger context, which makes them seem smaller by comparison.

#4: Do remember yourself at your best.

Another “do” is to bring to mind a memory of your best self. Think of a time you stood by a friend when no one else did. Remember when you did a good deed with no expectation of reward. Think of when you told the truth even when it was tempting to lie. When you already feel insecure, you tend to see the world as if it’s working against you. Little threats and dangers pop out from behind every corner. But remembering yourself at your best makes you see the world more accurately.

Instead of focusing on living up to a perceived standard, focus on creating your own standard.

To illustrate, a creative study in the journal Emotion found that study participants who brought to mind a time they failed or betrayed someone close to them estimated that a live (but securely caged) tarantula in the room was closer than it actually was. On the other hand, those who remembered a time they helped someone close to them estimated the distance of the tarantula more accurately. What’s more, the greater self-worth the participants experienced, the farther away the tarantula appeared. Remembering themselves at their best didn’t make the creepy threat disappear, but they were able to literally put it in its place.

#5: Do focus on being uniquely you.

I know that sounds hopelessly cliche, but hear me out. Too often, when we’re feeling insecure, we try to copy someone else. We emulate a hero or model our performance on someone we think has it all together.

But by definition, when we imitate, we’re a mere copy of the original. So instead of focusing on living up to a perceived standard, focus on creating your own standard. For example, say you’re feeling insecure when hanging out with your friends. You might be tempted to model your behavior after the friend who seems the most confident or put-together. But rather than simply trying to follow their trail, focus on blazing your own. It doesn’t have to be a big spectacle—it can be very subtle. Simply stay attuned to what you’re curious about. What do you find compelling? What do you have to say? Stay true to you and you’ll feel more secure than a supervillian’s secret lair.

To sum it all up, even Fort Knox has cracks in the foundation. Insecurity is inevitable. No place—and no one—is completely secure, from a supermax prison to Cheyenne Mountain to that guy in your office with perfect teeth and CEO hair. But you can minimize it by anchoring yourself in your deepest values, your moments of integrity, and your unique self. Your insecurities will seem as far away as that tarantula.

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About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
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