Insecurity, or a tendency to lack confidence or certainty in oneself, may be experienced by most people regarding some aspect of their lives. For many, feelings of insecurity can be resolved before they have a lasting, harmful impact. When one deals with generalized insecurity for a long period of time, however, the doubt and negative feelings experienced may have a significant effect on life.
Insecurity is linked to mental health conditions such as narcissism, anxiety, paranoia, and addictive or dependent personalities.
What Is Insecurity?
A person with high levels of insecurity may often experience a lack of confidence regarding many aspects of life. It may be difficult for that person to form lasting relationships or attend to daily tasks, due to a self-perception of helplessness or inadequacy.
Insecurity often causes negative thoughts about one’s ability to fit in with peers, reach goals, or find acceptance and support. The condition often accompanies anxiety: Individuals who experience the feelings of fear, worry, and self-doubt that characterize anxiety may easily feel similarly helpless to meet the challenges of daily life. Thus, they may find it easier to resist dealing with stressful situations, feeling inadequately equipped to handle them.
What Causes Insecurity?
There is no one cause of insecurity; many factors can lead to the condition. Insecurity may stem from a traumatic event, crisis such as divorce or bankruptcy, or a loss. It can also result from one’s environment, as unpredictability or upset in daily life can cause anxiety and insecurity about ordinary, routine events. People who have recurring insecurities may also have low self-esteem, experience body image issues, lack direction in life, or feel overlooked by others.
Insecurity also tends to surface in adults whose parents pushed them excessively in childhood, often due to their parents’ desire for success rather than their own, and in adults whose significant others drive them to excel, often to an unrealistic level, regardless of the individual’s own desires or goals.
The attachment bond, or a child’s first love relationship, formed with the primary caregiver, also plays a large role in the development of insecurities. An insecure attachment may result when the caregiver does not respond to the infant’s needs adequately. An infant may develop an insecure attachment from abuse, but also from simple isolation or loneliness.
Children with a parent who is inconsistent or self-absorbed may grow up unable to form lasting emotional connections and be anxious and fearful, not knowing what to expect from life just as they did not know what to expect from the parent. Studies have also found people who commit violence against their partners are more likely to have experienced an insecure attachment as a child.
Intimate relationships can be another source of insecurity for many individuals. People who experience insecurity in their relationships may also be affected by attachment insecurity. Individuals in relationships with insecure attachment have been found to be more likely to interpret their partner’s behavior as hostile or negative. This tendency can lead people to react defensively to their partners, which can escalate relationship conflict or even create conflict from a neutral interaction.
Effects of Insecurity
Insecure individuals, in addition to struggling with the formation of healthy relationships, also may find it difficult to share emotions or be forthright about important aspects of daily life, such as those pertaining to work or school.
An individual who is too anxious or insecure to speak up about their abilities and accomplishments may never receive a promotion, which in turn may facilitate further insecurity due to a perceived lack of ability. Insecurity about the economy or the stability of one’s job can also take a toll on mental health and is connected to negative mood, hypertension, and other somatic symptoms.
Those who have difficulty forming relationships or meeting others because of chronic insecurity may become too shy or anxious to face anyone at all, which can lead to a distancing from people in general. This distance can lead to isolation, which is associated with mental health issues such as depression, social anxiety, and dementia, as well as lower self-esteem.
One type of insecurity, known as social insecurity, can also cause people to feel insecure in their relationships with others. Social insecurity can be self-perpetuating, as individuals with this type of insecurity may act on their feelings of rejection, causing others to reject them in turn.
Insecurity and Mental Health
Insecurity can be seen with a wide variety of mental health conditions and personality disorders, including:
- Borderline personality
- Paranoid personality
- Dependent personality
- Eating disorders and body image issues
Deep-seated feelings of anxiety and insecurity characterize many of these conditions, although the individuals who have these conditions may not appear to be insecure. People with a narcissistic personality, for example, may boast about accomplishments and abilities, exhibit extreme arrogance, and clearly appear to believe in their own superiority. However, these traits often conceal deeply hidden feelings of insecurity and self-doubt.
People with borderline personality often experience insecurities, as well, especially insecurities pertaining to their own sense of identity. Individuals with this personality type may fear abandonment and doubt their own ability to form lasting relationships with other people and come to depend excessively on others as a result.
Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, as well as body image issues, are closely linked to insecurity. In the case of eating disorders, insecurity about one’s appearance or life circumstances may play a key role in the development of the condition.
Depression is often associated with feelings of low self-worth. Individuals with low self-worth are likely to more easily focus on and magnify their own flaws and shortcomings, behaviors that feed insecurity.
Dealing with Insecurity
People who experience significant insecurities in daily life may attempt to overcome them by identifying the causes. For example, a man who dreads going to work because he feels he does not perform his daily tasks adequately may ask himself what led to that belief and attempt to identify ways in which he might become more positive and realistic about his own abilities.
Therapy might also help those individuals who experience significant insecurities. A therapist can help people identify strengths and focus on those rather than on perceived failings. Therapy for insecurity might involve cognitive behavioral techniques, such as talking through one’s insecurities or journaling about them. Addressing insecurities in therapy may help people feel more confident in who they are and the choices they make. Whether you are struggling with feelings of insecurity related to a life circumstance or mental health condition, the right therapist can help you develop skills to deal with insecurity. Start your search for a therapist here.
- Abbate-Daga, G., Gramaglia, C., Federico, A., Marzola, E., & Secondo, F. (2010). Attachment insecurity, personality, and body dissatisfaction in eating disorders. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 198(7), 520-524. doi: 10.1097/NMD.0b013e3181e4c6f7
- Barling, J., & Kelloway, E. K. (1996). Job insecurity and health: The moderating role of workplace control. Stress and Health, 12(4), 253-259. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/(SICI)1099-1700(199610)12:4%3C253::AID-SMI710%3E3.0.CO;2-2
- Buck, N. M., Leenaars, E. P., Emmelkamp P. M., & van Marle, H. J. (2012, April 30). Explaining the relationship between insecure attachment and partner abuse: The role of personality characteristics. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 27(16), 3149-3170. doi: 10.1177/0886260512441258
- Fowler, C. J., Allen, J. G., Oldham, J. M., & Frueh, B. C. (2013). Exposure to interpersonal trauma, attachment insecurity, and depression severity. Journal of Affective Disorders, 149(1-3), 313-318. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165032713001171
- Livesley, W. J., Schroeder, M. L., & Jackson, D. N. (1990). Dependent personality disorder and attachment problems. Journal of Personality Disorders, 4(2), 131-140. Retrieved from https://guilfordjournals.com/doi/abs/10.1521/pedi.19126.96.36.199
- Overall, N. C., Fletcher, G. J. O., Simpson, J. A., & Fillo, J. (2015). Attachment insecurity, biased perceptions of romantic partners’ negative emotions, and hostile relationship behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108(5), 730–749. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1037/a0038987
- Stinson, D. A. (2011, August 15). Psychologists interrupt the miserable cycle of social insecurity. Association for Psychological Science. Retrieved from https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/psychologists-interrupt-the-miserable-cycle-of-social-insecurity.html
- Villarreal, R. (2018, April 16). 5 tips for handling insecurity. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/14655-handling-insecurity
Last Updated: 12-5-2019
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MudassirJuly 30th, 2017 at 6:57 AM
Anna GJanuary 11th, 2018 at 4:27 AM
Hi, I have been taking classes in this field, and I would like to learn more about these subjects. Thank you for your assistance.
LeeDecember 28th, 2018 at 1:15 AM
For years I have struggled with image issues. I’ve been called fat despite working out constantly. I can’t maintain significant relationships with males. I can’t seem to keep anyone that cares. I attempt to use my sexuality as a means of acceptance but they all realize that I’m just easy and use me and move on.
AliciaSeptember 24th, 2019 at 12:14 AM
I know the feeling join the party!
JohnnyNovember 12th, 2019 at 7:18 AM
I just want to say that what I read today was something I needed to read. I believe I’m insecure with my relationships. I am in and out of one now And it’s not too good but it’s not bad I really enjoyed what I read about insecurity and I just want to thank you.
LwaziNovember 30th, 2019 at 12:00 PM
I lost love of my life because of insecinsecurities and it’s painfull need help
Joe mamaDecember 12th, 2019 at 1:03 PM
I have Schizophrenia and it sucks a lot :(
Joe mamaDecember 12th, 2019 at 1:04 PM
I have Schizophrenia and it sucks a lot :(
RiteshMay 13th, 2020 at 1:45 PM
I lost love of my life due to attachment insecurities, negative emotions, lack of trust and being in contant state of confusion and anxiety for a quite long time. I lost my sense of understanding. I felt guilty for my mistakes and yet I repeated the mistakes again and again.
JennHMay 21st, 2020 at 5:55 PM
I personally have witnessed three psychotically insecure people cause all kinds of mayhem and cost the courts time and money with their ridiculous behavior. Why aren’t these individuals referred into behavioral counseling by the courts?
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