It's why your ex dumped you. It's why you're still single. It's why you're not fabulously wealthy and beautiful and famous, right? You're just insecure. Oprah and Tyra and Dr. Phil say it, so it must be true.
Let's all nod our bobble heads in time now, singles. Repeat after me: "Hi, my name is Scapegoat Single, and I'm INSECURE."
Well, if you're going to be labeled, you might as well embrace it. Let's look up the definition of "insecure," shall we?
insecure (adj.)--lack of confidence or assurance; self-doubt; a feeling of apprehensiveness and uncertainty: lack of assurance or stability; the state of being subject to danger or injury.
Notice this definition doesn't include words like "dependent," "clingy," "whiny," or "controlling." Those words often go hand in hand with the label of insecurity, but as you can see, they're unrelated. Instead, this definition of insecurity suggests a state that one arrives at when the environment is unstable or confusing, leading one to distrust his or her own judgment. Yet every time this word bubbles to the surface of a tumultuous relational brew, it's flung at the guilty party like a character flaw, an ugly wart or mole growing out of a morass of self-hatred.
If you've ever been accused of insecurity, you know that it hurts. And it probably had the miraculous effect of making you...more insecure! But if you've been beating yourself up with a copy of Learning to Love Yourself, STOP. Let me submit to you the possibility that you do love yourself but someone else didn't. Let me go a step further and suggest that someone even recognized this was true and tried to deflect your concern by accusing you of the "I" word.
Now I won't deny that what I'll call "pathological insecurity" exists. The pathologically insecure are those who call their significant others on the hour every hour to make sure they're not shagging random strangers. They're the size 0's who ask you if they look fat and the sulkers who disparage your big bonus because they didn't get one this year. No matter how successful they are, no matter how loved and admired, no matter how honored and decorated, they still look in the mirror and tremble at what they see.
But let's get real. Most people are insecure because they're not size 0 and their honey really did shag a random stranger at that party last year. But you'd better not voice your worries in a culture where self-esteem is more honorable than honor, or you'll have to wear that Scarlet I--Insecure!
As much as we might like to believe that babies are born with pre-made packets of self-esteem that we just need to activate in the microwave, it isn't true. Self-worth is accumulated as we progressively conquer challenges and prove our standing in society. It is, by its very nature, environmentally dependent. The same is true of security. People learn to feel secure by testing the world around them and finding out if it will--no pun intended--support their weight. It doesn't develop in a vacuum; we can't simply conjure it up. It's directly related to how the world responds to us and how we process that response.
Yet as adults, we've become so willing to assume responsibility as reactors while letting the actors off the hook. Does your boyfriend flirt with other women? That's not his problem--you must be insecure. Does your girlfriend constantly disparage your choice of friends and entertainment? Yep, that's because of your insecurity too. Are you concerned that you're not qualified for your job interview? If you just believed in yourself, you'd know that couldn't possibly be true! Did your latest performance get bad reviews? Don't get down on yourself! Sing with me now: "That's insecurity!"
If you've been called insecure in the past, remember that the definition of "insecurity" is "uncertainty" and "lack of assurance." Before accepting the label, ask yourself whether you had something to be uncertain about. Maybe you realistically assessed that your significant other didn't consider you quite so significant anymore and wanted some assurance of his or her feelings. Maybe you weren't confident of your ability to land that job because you had little experience in the industry. Maybe you wondered if people liked you at that dinner because a) you sometimes put your foot in your mouth and b) you're not cocky enough to presume they did.
If you're the accuser, not the accused, be honest with yourself before you toss around that heated word and burn someone badly. Are you using the "I" word to distract someone from a legitimate question you don't want to answer? If someone is asking for encouragement or reassurance, is it possible that you can't give it but don't want to admit it? Or, worse still, you're withholding it because you like to keep them off balance?
While no one wants every conversation to consist of attempts to bolster someone else's self-esteem, let me suggest that we all make an effort to be a little kinder and more complimentary toward each other. If someone wants to know if you really care about him or find her beautiful or think he can tear up a guitar or cook a mean omelet, and you do, it shouldn't be a hardship to tell them again. You should, in fact, delight in telling them because you love them and want them to know it. If you think it's a burden to offer reassurance or praise, then maybe you don't love the person who's asking for it as much as you say you do, or maybe your love is tarnished by a deficit in you, one that can't give praise or secretly exults in someone else's anxiety or pain.
On that note, I'll leave you with one final thought:
Logically, the opposite of "insecure" would be "confident," "self-assured," "certain," and "safe." If you've ever known someone who was confident, self-assured, and certain in all their actions, then I'm sorry that you had the misfortune to be acquainted with them. At the end of the day, there's much to be said for humility and the "insecurity" to know that you're not infallible.
Have you ever been accused of being insecure or accused someone else of insecurity? Do you think insecurity was really the problem, or was it something else? What do you think about the concept of insecurity and how it's used today?
Fun Link of the Day
Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles
Sunday, February 17, 2008