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Signs of Insecurity

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 17, 2020

Everyone feels a little unsure at times. As humans, we constantly think, and some of our thoughts can be filled with doubt. This can lead to thoughts of insecurity. Too much insecurity can lead to other problems — in relationships and in your everyday life. However, there are ways you can work through your insecure thoughts and live life more confidently.

What Is Insecurity?

Insecurity is a feeling of inadequacy (not being good enough) and uncertainty. It produces anxiety about your goals, relationships, and ability to handle certain situations. 

Everybody deals with insecurity from time to time. It can appear in all areas of life and come from a variety of causes. It might stem from a traumatic event, patterns of previous experience, social conditioning (learning rules by observing others), or local environments such as school, work, or home. 

It can also stem from general instability. People who experience unpredictable upsets in daily life are more likely to feel insecure about ordinary resources and routines.

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On the other hand, insecurity can have no definite, external cause. Instead, it can appear as a quirk of personality or brain chemistry.

Understanding the nature of insecurities can help you manage your own and offer others the support they need.  

Types of Insecurity

There are almost limitless areas of potential insecurity. Moreover, insecurity often bleeds over from one area of life into another. However, there are some types of insecurity that appear frequently.

Relationship Insecurity

One of the most common kinds of insecurity concerns relationships or “attachments.” 

Attachment theory originated out of a desire to connect the attachment patterns of early childhood to later relationship patterns and expectations. When a child’s “attachment figures,” often parents or guardians, aren’t reliably available and supportive, the child often feels insecure, forms a negative self-image and relationship models, and experiences greater emotional distress and maladjustment later in life.

Relationship or attachment insecurities don’t need to begin in early childhood. They can arise wherever previous experience or personal insecurity undermines someone’s security in their closest relationships.

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Job Insecurity

Job insecurity occurs when you are anxious about your continued employment or about the continuation of certain benefits attached to your employment. It can be triggered by anxiety over your own job performance or anxiety over factors beyond your control, such as the economy, industry trends, workplace conflict, or the danger of company restructuring or failure.

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High rates of unemployment and temporary work increase job insecurity on a national scale and contribute to widespread mental health problems.

Body Image Insecurity

A common source of insecurity is body image. Many people feel insecure about the way they look and question whether they measure up to an imposed ideal. There is no necessary connection between actual body health or appearance and body insecurity. People of all body types can experience this type of insecurity.

Social Insecurity/Anxiety

Another common type of insecurity surrounds the way we are perceived by our peers and the ease with which we interact with them. This insecurity can be a recurring, low-level problem or can blossom into full-blown social anxiety disorder or social phobia.

Signs of Insecurity

Signs of insecurity are as variable as the condition itself, but there are some common tendencies you can look out for.

Low or Superficial Self-Esteem

One sign of insecurity is low self-esteem or negative self-image, particularly when that image seems to be inconsistent with external observation. Low self-esteem means you think badly about yourself or your abilities. It can lead to other problems, especially concerning mental health. Talk to a doctor if your self-esteem is very low.

Because the measurement of self-esteem generally relies on self-report, insecurity can lead to superficial self-esteem. People with insecurity often want to appear secure, and their explicit comments may be at odds with their automatic responses to certain stimuli.

Deliberate self-misrepresentation or false behavior/information on social media can also be a sign of social anxiety. The act of faking then reinforces the social insecurity.

Perfectionism 

The inability to be satisfied with progress and need to control and refine projects until they’re perfect can be a sign of insecurity. It stems from the sensation that you or your performance is never enough. 

It can appear as a manifestation of insecurity in any area of life but is frequently found in cases of job insecurity and body insecurity. Eating disorders, for example, often appear along with both harmful perfectionism and attachment insecurities.

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Self-Isolation

Social insecurity can lead people to avoid social interactions, isolating themselves. Sometimes these people prefer to interact virtually in internet situations they feel they can control.

Anxious or Avoidant Attachment Styles

Attachment insecurities often result in problematic attachment styles, or dysfunctional approaches to relationships. The two most common are anxious or avoidant attachments.

Anxious attachment styles are characterized by emotional dependence (relying on someone else for your emotional well-being), a fear of being alone, and fantasies of perfect relationships that can never be fulfilled. 

Avoidant attachment styles also stem from insecurity but go in the other direction. People with this style tend to keep relationships superficial and disengage from more intimate connections.

Poor Job Performance

Job insecurity (not having a stable job) can work to motivate some people, but it more often results in poorer performances. It can lead to absenteeism (avoiding work), turnover intention (wanting to change jobs soon after starting), disengagement from colleagues and in group projects, and poor work attitudes.

Depression or Anxiety

All types of insecurity can lead to decreased mental wellness. Depressive or anxious behavior or thinking is often an effect of insecurity, particularly when that insecurity produces (or is accompanied by) erroneous beliefs and patterns of thought.

Dealing with Insecurity

Occasional insecurity is a natural part of life. For deeper and more longer-lasting feelings of insecurity, however, professional therapists can help you sort through your emotions and develop strategies for everyday life.

In dealing with insecurity, there are a couple of helpful tips to keep in mind.

Social Networks Matter

Broad and meaningful social networks — friendships, relationships with coworkers, and more — help to lessen both insecurity and its negative effects. 

There’s an inverse correlation between healthy social networks and insecure attachment styles. Having a wide circle of friends and many close connections allows you to develop the tools and confidence to engage in deeper adult relationships.

Developing good friendships both in and out of the workplace also has a proven record of success as a coping strategy that helps prevent job insecurity, depression, and general anxiety. People who disengage from colleagues in response to job insecurity more frequently suffer in their mental health and job performance.

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Trust Takes Practice

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While having an overly trusting behavior creates its own problems, ask yourself if you have any reason to distrust expressions of affection or liking from others. People with insecurities sometimes express doubt and perceive rejection in everything from partner relationships to new acquaintances. These expressions can be self-fulfilling.

Practice taking displays of interest at face value, something that can be easier in more casual relationships. You can build up the confidence to accept deeper affection and intimacy.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

CyberPsychology & Behavior: “Liar, Liar: Internet Faking but Not Frequency of Use Affects Social Skills, Self-Esteem, Social Anxiety, and Aggression.”

Frontiers in Psychology: “Job Insecurity and Mental Health: The Moderating Role of Coping Strategies From a Gender Perspective.”

Harvard Health Publishing Harvard Medical School: “The use and misuse of self-esteem.”

Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: “Adult Romantic Attachment and Cognitive Vulnerabilities to Anxiety and Depression: Examining the Interpersonal Basis of Vulnerability Models.”

Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology: “A model for the effects of job insecurity on performance, turnover intention, and absenteeism.”

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: “‘Walking on Eggshells’: How Expressing Relationship Insecurities Perpetuates Them.”

Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “insecurity.”

Personal Relationships: “Adult attachment style, interpersonal communication competence, and social support.”

Psychiatry Research: “Attachment insecurities, maladaptive perfectionism, and eating disorder symptoms: A latent mediated and moderated structural equation modeling analysis across diagnostic groups.”

Psychology Today: “The 3 Most Common Causes of Insecurity and How to Beat Them.”

World Psychiatry: “An attachment theory perspective on psychopathology.”

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