By Leo Babauta
Everyone feels insecurity. It’s a part of our lives, which are filled with uncertainty, no matter how much we want to get rid of that uncertainty.
We often use the term “insecure” to negatively label a person who doubts themselves, but in truth, no one is free from feeling insecure. We feel self-doubt, we feel anger that stems from a feeling of insecurity, we feel fear and groundlessness and frustration. All of this comes from the insecurity of the uncertainty of life.
And none of it is a problem.
It’s not a problem that we feel insecure sometimes. It’s not a problem to feel fear or self-doubt or anger or frustration. These are just feelings, and they come up in response to the uncertainty of the world.
The problem comes from how we deal with the feeling of insecurity. We might curl up and hide, lash out at someone in a hurtful way, harden our rigid views of the world so that everyone else is wrong and we’re continually angry. We might procrastinate and run to distraction, use social media to avoid feeling insecurity, try to control others or the world around us to end the feeling of insecurity.
And so in this guide, I’m going to share a method for dealing with feelings of insecurity that are more helpful. But first, let’s dive a little more into where the feelings of insecurity come up, and how we usually deal with it.
Cause & Effect of Insecurities
Let’s look at some common examples of feeling insecure, where the feelings come from, and how people often react:
- Jealousy in a relationship. You get jealous of someone who seems to flirt with your partner (justified or not, it doesn’t matter). The cause: You feel uncertainty about whether your partner loves you, is attracted to you (or the other person), will leave you, will hurt you. This uncertainty is certainly understandable, relationships of all kinds are filled with uncertainty. Common reaction: Lashing out at your partner (or trying to control them), making them feel less trusted, possibly hurt, possibly defensive or closed off, damaging your relationship.
- Jealous of someone on Instagram. This applies to all social media — you see someone on there that has qualities or a lifestyle that you want (they’re beautiful, fit, living glamorously, etc.), and you feel jealous. The cause: Insecurities about yourself, whether you’re good enough in the ways this person is showing up. Also understandable, as we all have uncertainty about ourselves. Common reaction: You feel bad about yourself and/or irritated with the other person, and these can lead to a number of actions, like stalking the person with jealousy, criticizing yourself more, or comforting yourself with food, distractions, shopping, etc.
- Irritated with the way someone acts. You see someone acting a certain way (maybe they’re being annoyingly brashly confident) … and it irritates you. The cause: Often it’s not really a problem with the other person, but more of an insecurity about yourself — you’d like to be more confident (for example) and so when the other person seems confident, it touches a wound of uncertainty about yourself. Common reaction: You get irritated with the person, shut yourself down to them, judge them, putting up a wall between yourself and others.
- Feeling self-doubt. We all feel self-doubt about ourselves, and it can come up in many ways. The cause: This self-doubt stems from not knowing if we’re good enough to deal with the uncertainty of the world around us. We don’t know if we’re strong enough, smart enough, good-looking enough, likable enough, interesting enough to be liked, admired, loved, successful in this world. Common reaction: There are a lot of common reactions to self-doubt — hiding from doing hard things, criticizing yourself frequently, projecting your doubts on others, and more.
- Procrastination on a difficult task. We all procrastinate, not because we’re lazy and weak, but because a task is uncertain, uncomfortable, overwhelming. The cause: The insecurity of the task comes from not knowing how to do it, fearing failure, feeling like it’s too difficult for you. Common reaction: Put off doing the uncertain task, going to a distraction or easy task that feels more secure.
- Worried about an upcoming trip or event. You have a trip or upcoming event that feels uncertain, so you’re worrying about it a lot, maybe even thinking about not going. The cause: Just the uncertainty of the upcoming situation causes insecurity — it’s not your usual situation that you’re comfortable and familiar with. Common reaction: Lots of worrying, trying to control the situation by overplanning, lots of research, considering avoiding the event/trip.
- Feeling overwhelmed or behind on everything. Many of us feel this almost every day at some level, but even higher when we are forced to take a break (when traveling or when we get sick, for example) and feel like we’re really behind. The cause: The uncertainty of whether we’ll be able to handle the huge workload we have, or a huge and complicated task. Common reaction: When we get this feeling, we commonly get some anxiety, and either want to shut down and run to distractions, or we lash out at others or ourselves because we don’t like the feeling, instead of just doing the work. These reactions often make the problem worse.
- Not wanting to take part in something out of your comfort zone. Let’s say a workshop or other kind of activity that is not familiar, overwhelming, strange to you, not your usual thing, and so you might want to just avoid that kind of uncomfortable thing. The cause: The activity is completely out of your comfort zone, and causes you all kinds of uncertainty about what it will involve, how you’ll do, what you’ll be asked to do, what kind of other people will be there, what they’ll think of you. At the heart is uncertainty about whether you’ll be up to the task and whether you’ll be OK. Common reaction: Avoiding these kinds of uncomfortable activities, which means we never stretch beyond our small zone of comfort into something bigger. We limit ourselves.
As you can see, these situations (and there are many more common situations involving insecurity) all have a couple things in common:
- Cause is uncertainty: Our lives are uncertain. Projects and tasks and events and trips and activities are uncertain. Relationships and how other people act and what they think of us are all filled with uncertainty. Our minds feel this as a kind of insecurity, felt within the body. And then it triggers a thought pattern about ourselves, about the situation, about the other people.
- Common reactions are unhelpful: We avoid, shut down, run away, procrastinate, lash out at others, complain, beat ourselves up, run to distractions, shut our hearts to others, limit ourselves. These are not usually helpful patterns, but they are the ways that we habitually deal with the feeling of insecurity.
We can’t avoid the feeling of insecurity in our vastly uncertain lives. But we can find more helpful ways of dealing with the feeling.
A More Helpful Method
In short, a more helpful way of dealing with this feeling of uncertainty is to just stay in it. Learn to be OK in it. In fact, learn to see the deliciousness in it, so that we no longer have to run to our old patterns.
Here’s how I’d recommend working with the feeling of insecurity:
- Drop in. Notice that you’re feeling a feeling of insecurity in this moment, and drop your attention from your thoughts about the situation to the sensations in your body. Stay here for a moment, turning towards in with curiosity.
- Don’t act on your feeling of insecurity. Whatever you do, don’t take action from this place of insecurity. Not yet. Notice your first urge, what action you want to take … but don’t follow the urge. It might be to judge someone, complain, lash out, run to distractions, procrastinate, comfort yourself, shut your heart down, hide, avoid, quit. Don’t take that action. Just stay in the insecurity for now.
- Relax into it. We often feel tension and anxiety around having a feeling of insecurity. Allow yourself to relax into it, relaxing the muscles in your body that have tensed up because of the feeling of insecurity. Open your mind to this feeling, allowing it to be there, finding more curiosity about it.
- See that you’re OK. Sitting there in the insecurity, not acting, relaxing into it … you can check to see if you’re OK. Can you breathe deep into your belly? If so, you’re OK. You’re not in physical danger. The world isn’t literally falling apart, even if it feels a bit like it. You’re OK. Feel the goodness in your heart, that’s always there. Feel your OK-ness.
- Be centered in the midst of it. The feeling of insecurity hasn’t gone away, but neither have you. You’re sitting or standing in the middle of a sea of insecurity, feeling into it, relaxing into it, centering yourself in stillness. Feel your breath. Be the presence & consciousness in the center of the chaos.
- Find joy, gratitude & deliciousness. In the middle of this feeling of insecurity, see if you can find a little gratitude for being in this space, alive and witnessing the beauty of chaos. See if you can find a little of its nourishing deliciousness, filling yourself up with the life force of insecurity. See if you can find joy, being alive right now, fully feeling your insecurity. It’s not a problem, this feeling, it’s a beautiful experience.
Through this practice, we start to change our relationship to this feeling of insecurity. It’s not a problem, it’s completely OK. We can be friendly with it instead of needing to get away from it or banish it. It’s just a part of our human experience, nothing to panic about.
And from this place of OK-ness, we can start to find the deliciousness in this experience, the joy in it, and witness the awesome beauty of this moment, insecurity and all.
If you’d like to train in this kind of uncertainty, please join my Fearless Training Program. We’re going to relish in this kind of training, together.