3 Unexpected Sources of Insecurity

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes feel insecure for apparently no reason. Out of nowhere, this intense emotion strikes me and forces me to act like someone I don’t want to be. Sweating, a racing heart, and a shaky voice ensue.

Sometimes the source of our insecurity can be hard to find. In half the instances, what we believe to be the problem is merely a symptom, and in the other half, we have no clue about the cause at all. In this article, I want to shed light on three sources of insecurity that one might not think of at first. Who knows, maybe you’re about to make a discovery?

1. A Judgemental Social Circle

A: ”Look at the fat guy over there. If he was on the beach some Greenpeace activists would surely drag him back into the water.” B: “Yeah, they’d free his Willy. Haha.”

If you heard this statement from your friends, how would you feel if you were overweight yourself? Pretty shitty, I imagine.

When your friends constantly judge others – even when it’s not as obvious as in the example – you will (subconsciously) believe that you are being judged for your own shortcomings as well. And what we interpret as a shortcoming can get fucked up:

  • A hairy back
  • Getting rejected by a cute girl
  • Being overweight
  • Getting good/bad grades
  • Earning not enough money
  • Having a pimple on your forehead
  • Driving the wrong car

As we all know, pretty much anything can become the target of male jokes.

You can imagine what being exposed to all of this judgment does to you: It forces you to play it safe and to avoid making mistakes. As a result, many guys develop an intense fear of failure and showing weakness.

To make matters worse, these men often deal with judgment by building a “wall” around themselves. They become arrogant, judgmental, closed off individuals themselves. Or, in some instances, they build a wall of muscle. More often than you’d think, the mean-looking bodybuilder you see on the outside is only a kid who didn’t want to get judged for being small or weak, anymore.

2. Being Your Parents’ Poster Child

Many parents see their children as the last chance to make a dent in the world. Our little darlings are drilled to become athletes and doctors and lawyers. But not because they want to. It’s because the parents want to tell their neighbors with a pride swollen chest, “Our oldest just finished medical school at the top of his class.”

These parents don’t want the best for their child. They want external validation. After all, they believe the performance of their kid reflects back on them. If the child does well, that means the parents must have done a good job raising him or her and the genetic pool must not have been too shabby, either.

Kids are smart but impressionable. They quickly associate love and appraisal with performance. Like Pavlov’s dogs, the children are being conditioned to behave as the parents wish – only that the reward is not a delicious treat, but a, “Good job, son!” Unfortunately, all too often, the parents try to impose their will on the child even after it has become an adult.

They assert control through threats (“You won’t get any more financial support from us!”), love deprivation (“You must not show up at our house ever again!”), or guilt (“Do you even know how much you make your father suffer?”).

The consequences for the child are always ugly:

  • Basing important life decisions on the parents’ approval. This could be, for example, the career you choose or the partner you marry.
  • Never being able to build solid confidence in your own abilities. Instead of feeling independent and amassing more and more self-efficacy through making your own decisions, you get more and more insecure because the story your parents’ behavior tells to your brain is, “You aren’t able to accomplish anything on your own.”
  • Developing mental health issues such as depression, panic attacks, or a diminished self-esteem.
  • Complete disruption of the relationship with the parents.

3. Lack of Decision-Making Skills

Have you ever seen someone on the street that you kind of knew but couldn’t decide if you should greet them or not? You probably had an inner monolog that went something like this, “Does she remember me? I don’t know. She should, but people always forget my name. I know her name so maybe I should just assume she knows mine as well. …”

It’s a whole back and forth that ends in both of you feeling awkward and pretending not to see each other.

What leads to insecurity in that situation leads to insecurity in many situations: not being able to make a firm decision.

If you had a rule that said, “Whenever I know someone’s name I will always greet them as if I had known them for years,” then you’d never end up in an awkward situation – no matter how the other person reacts. The same would also be true if you decided on the opposite – not to greet anyone on the street except your close friends and family.

A firm decision always leads to confident behavior, but an inability to decide always leads to insecurity.

The underlying problem of our indecisiveness is the belief that there are a right and a wrong choice. If you knew from the beginning that both options are exactly 50/50 everything would be easy-peasy. But we ask ourselves whether the other person will think of us as socially awkward or unfriendly if we don’t say, “Hi!” Or it could be that we greet them but they have no clue who we are. “So embarrassing!”

All of this pondering over irrelevant choices creates an incredibly complicated situation in our heads. It overwhelms the brain. The result is nervousness, sweating, stuttering, and awkwardness. Like a deer in the headlights, we stand there, paralyzed by our own thinking.

Where to go from here

In all of the above examples, we can find a common theme: It’s always about pleasing an external party, never yourself.

  • Avoiding judgment and ridicule from your friends is more important than talking to a woman you find attractive.
  • Becoming a doctor to please your parents is more important than traveling the world and discovering your passions.
  • Making the right decision is more important than making A decision in order to avoid embarrassing yourself in front of others.

So what can you do about all of this?

You can sit down on a yoga pillow (or on something else) and start thinking about the priorities in your life. You have heard this a thousand times already: What are you willing to give up?

If you are stuck in a situation that’s making you miserable, then maybe it’s time to hit the eject button. This could mean living in a new city or even country. It could mean finding a new social circle. Or it could mean telling your family that you appreciate all they have done and continue to do for you, but you have to make your own decisions now.

Sometimes in life, we find ourselves in such unhealthy circumstances that the only way out is to distance yourself from the sources of your misery. I realize that this is everything but easy, especially when family, friends, or job are involved. But it’s possible.

You are an independent human being who can decide to live pretty much anywhere and do pretty much anything. We often think that we can’t quit our job, or we can’t leave our country. But the truth is that when we say we can’t what we really mean is, “We don’t want to!”

It’s clear that you could leave your country if you wanted to (a friend of mine hitchhiked from Austria to India with almost zero Euros to his name. He got by with small jobs on the road.) but the consequences are too painful.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not at all recommending that you start a fight with your parents or break up with your friends. All I’m saying is this: Assume responsibility for how well you do in life and make the decisions that make you happy, not others!