Insecurity is a universal feeling; everyone experiences it on some level at some point. Even the most confident person you know will sometimes feel insecure. The very chaos of life and its uncertainty means that of course everyone sometimes feels fear, frustration and self-doubt. Insecurity can be a normal response to the constantly changing nature of the world we live in. Often though, insecurity can be a very damaging and negative force in our lives, causing us to spiral into self-critical thoughts and destructive behaviours. When insecurity begins to hold us back in life that is when we need to address the unconscious ways we are giving it the power to stick around.
A sense of insecurity can begin early on in life, perhaps you grew up in circumstances that made you feel unsafe emotionally, perhaps you have experienced trauma of some kind, or a string of setbacks, emotional rejections and betrayal in relationships. As you navigate your life, even something as feasibly small as a friendship fall out at college can have lingering effects down the years that you internalise and build upon, causing insecurity to become a frequent emotional state for you.
Our minds are incredible things that adapt to what we put into them, i.e. our thoughts. We have something like 70,000 thoughts a day and almost 90% of them happen to be exactly the same as the day before. We tend to hardwire patterns of repetitive thought, fixing the ways in which we internalise our world over and over again in our brains. In neuroscience this is the principle that our brains hold imprints of every action, thought, behaviour and experience we have had.
If you are someone whose life experience has created feelings of deep insecurity, you are likely to have conditioned yourself towards repeating those feelings and thoughts in similar situations, therefore hard-wiring them into your brain. The good news is you can teach yourself to think in a new way and transform those negative patterns permanently, essentially unlearning a bad habit. A new way of thinking will strengthen and light up different neural pathways in your brain, but for great results you have to stick at it. Repetition is key for success.
Helpful ways to Unlearn Insecurity
Becoming very aware of when you feel insecurity rising in you and why is key. If you teach yourself to drop into the moment, recognising what triggers you, you can learn to sit with the feeling instead of acting upon it. When you do that, you create a sense of curiosity about the emotion and your mind learns to take stock of the moment instead of having an impulsive reaction. When you choose to pause and check in with yourself, you’ll also feel more secure simply because you are practicing a deeper connection to who you really are.
2. Turn the thought around
As you feel insecure, question the thought that brought you there. How is the opposite of that true? For example, if you are feeling like you are not good enough, mentally ask yourself in what ways you are enough? In what ways are you already a secure person? You will find that even if at first it is hard for you to turn around the negative statements, the act of analysing and trying to see beyond your usual thought patterns, will help bring you out of the insecure spiral enough to break some of that old cycle. Just aim to make that critical voice quieter and turn up the volume on your voice of praise.
3. Small steps to change
If you feel insecure in relationships, practice being more independent yourself. Take small steps towards doing things on your own that you enjoy and bring your full attention to them in the moment. This will help you develop a stronger sense of self worth that you can bring to your relationships. If social situations make you feel insecure, practice small changes there too. Like going out of your comfort zone to speak to a new person, or calling somebody up to make a date. Each time you practice doing new things that challenge your familiar insecurities, you disrupt the old, fixed patterns that kept you in a negative insecure place. When you see how capable and confident you really are, you will keep going in a new direction.
4. Try positive self-talk and gratitude
Every morning look at your reflection in the mirror and find 3 positive things about yourself. At the end of each day, journal about all the positive things in your life and write your appreciation of them. When you make gratitude for what you have a regular part of your life, you retrain your mind to look for the positive in all situations, which in turn just brings more wonderful things to appreciate. You will begin to strip away the layers of insecurity you’ve been used to and instead elevate your self-esteem.
5. Change your story
In the midst of a fit of insecurity, ask yourself if the feeling you are having about yourself is based on any real truth. Anxiety and insecurity often come hand in hand with the ability to invent entire stories that back-up your negative feelings. But when you actually stop to consider what the truth is in the moment, you will find no good reason to prolong those feelings. You might have spent a lifetime repeating things to yourself that hold no truth at all, for example “I’m no good at decision making.” Is that actually correct? Or is just something you have repeated so often you live up to it? Remembering that you are responsible for your life and that you are in control of your thoughts and actions can be incredibly empowering and a real catalyst for change.
Create a new story for yourself and visualise what it would be like to be secure, confident and happy in the situations that usually trigger your insecurity. Get detailed about your visualisation; try to really feel what security feels like in your body. Do you walk differently? Do you use different words when you speak? Make visualisation part of your day, either in the morning or at night or just whenever you have some quiet time alone to drift off. What happens with this as you do it over time is that you condition your body to harmonise with these new thoughts and from there, everything starts to shift. You are undoing the habit of a lifetime with your new thoughts, which will in turn lead to new behaviours.
Remember that insecurity is a common feeling that arises in everyone from time to time, so you are not trying to do the impossible and eliminate natural feelings of apprehension or self-doubt about important events in your life. But if you know that you exaggerate these feelings, criticise yourself and have trouble functioning healthily because of them, it’s time to check-in with your mind habits and teach yourself some positive new habits.
Transforming your life is entirely possible once you have the tools to unlearn those old and outdated patterns of thought, and make space for the new, positive and more resonant ways of thinking that match who you truly are inside.