Even the most confident people in the world deal (or at least have dealt) with insecurity. It’s a uniquely human emotion – related to, but different than, fear or anxiety, insecurity is about SELF doubt. It’s hard to imagine an animal doubting itself – the animal simply perceives safety or danger in the external world and reacts accordingly.
People, on the other hand, will sometimes avoid other people or situations based primarily on their evaluation of themselves rather than on their evaluation of the challenges they are facing in their environment. Some examples that I imagine almost everyone has encountered: fearing to volunteer to answer a question in class, to approach a stranger at a bar to strike up a conversation, or to practice your high school French on a waiter in a Parisian restaurant. There is no danger in any of these situations, other than the danger to self-esteem.
Here are some thoughts on ways to begin to get a handle on insecurity:
1. “What’s the worst that could happen?” – That’s a good question to ask yourself, because 90+% of the time the worst that could happen is a great deal less troubling or dangerous than your imagination projects. If you answer a question incorrectly, are rebuffed by a stranger, or ask if the milk you want to buy at the épicerie contains any preservatifs (probably not, since that word in French translates to condoms in English), the worst that will happen to you is some very momentary embarrassment. You WILL survive that!
2. Stay present – Insecurity is all about the future: what might happen if you venture beyond your comfort zone. To the degree you can center yourself by, for instance, breathing slowly and deeply, or by repeating a soothing mantra to yourself (for example “I can handle this situation” or “there’s no real danger here”), you will find it easier to feel safer and more secure. You may also find it helpful to focus your vision on something for fifteen or twenty seconds, studying the details of whatever object you’ve chosen.
3. Shift your focus off of yourself– Imagine that it’s not you who are feeling the insecurity, but a good friend of yours. What kind of advice would you give that friend? Mentally separating yourself from your insecurity by imagining it in another is an effective means of reducing its negative impact.
4. Set a reasonable intention – In certain situations (let’s say a networking event, for example) it can be very helpful to set an intention – a goal – for what you would like to achieve that feels reachable rather than menacing. You might tell yourself that your goal is to be as natural as possible, to enjoy yourself, to meet someone who is interesting, or to learn something new.
5. Visualization – If you are a somewhat visually oriented person you may find it helpful to imagine a bubble coming down (kind of like Glinda did in The Wizard of Oz) and encapsulating your insecurity, keeping it from seeping into your psyche and bringing you down.
6. Give yourself a break! – Very often it is some form of perfectionism that fuels insecurity; you imagine that you are supposed to perform at a level that is unrealistic. Remember that insecurity is universal, that we all survive it, and go forth and prosper! (that’s a quote from the author of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, rather than from Mr. Spock, who said live long and prosper, in any case, you get the idea).