Overcoming Insecurity: Calming the Naysayer

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An insecure sense of self can manifest itself in lifelong negative behaviors. What can you do about them?

How do you define who you are? Is it based on what you do, your roles or relationships (mother, husband, doctor, peacekeeper)? Or do you identify yourself more through personality traits or accomplishments (kind, funny, giving, smart)?

In the field of psychology, this is called a sense of self, and it’s defined as the way a person thinks about and views his or her traits, beliefs, and purpose within the world. It’s a complex and fluid concept because it covers both the inner and outer self—and it constantly changes throughout one’s lifetime.

Children as young as three or four years old begin developing a sense of self separate from their parents. This is largely based on external feedback they receive from the adults around them, and sometimes other children. The sense of self grows and develops throughout adolescence a crucial period for a healthy, positive sense of self to emerge. When impacted negatively (through bullying, abuse, parental put-downs, etc.) a low self-esteem, damaged identity and sense of worth emerges.

Fallout from Insecurity and a Negative Sense of Self

It seems a given that a positive sense of self is highly important, but just how detrimental is the lack of it? In fact, there are many areas it can affect and derail, later in life. A warped and negative sense of self can emerge in the workplace and personal relationships, usually eroding them and undermining success.

“Having a negative or damaged sense of self impacts our lives because it’s as if the glasses (our perspective of life) are skewed,” says Lynn Kindler, a personal coach in Austin, Texas. “Every person or event that we come in contact with is seen through these damaged lenses. We tend to believe what we are ‘seeing’ (or not seeing), and base our decisions and judgments on that.”

For example, if someone was raised by an abusive parent who tried to control every aspect of their life through hyper-strict rules, physical and/or emotional abuse, that person could develop a belief that anyone in authority—a teacher, workplace boss, even TSA personnel—is their enemy and to be feared.

“This person can often end up in situations where they are in trouble with the law, or disciplined and even fired from their employer because of their ‘bad attitude’,” Kindler says. “People with a damaged self-esteem tend to have trust issues and believe the world is out to get them.”

But there is good news: they can learn to “climb out” of such negative thoughts. The first step is becoming aware of the issue and developing different self-talk and behaviors. Kindler says that we all have a couple of constant voices inside us: one is the ego, and the other is our higher self. These voices are always talking to us and influencing our thoughts and actions.

Once we become aware of these voices, we can gradually learn to let them flow out of our minds without giving them much weight, and ultimately learn how to replace these voices with positive self- talk. Kindler should know, she herself grew up with extremely negative self- talk, which resulted in severe anxiety and panic disorder, but eventually learned to overcome it.

“We have to be vigilant and willing to recognize it and choose to find the positive,” she says. “Sometimes that process can be as simple as allowing ourselves to notice our thoughts and then acknowledge, ‘Hmm, I’m having that negative thought again. Interesting.’”

There are several techniques that have proven helpful in overcoming insecurity and changing our sense of self into a positive one:

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)

This field studies outstanding people who are wildly successful, and emulates their ways of thinking and speaking, which others can use to achieve similar outcomes.

Coaching and Therapy

Personal coaching and counseling can be tremendously effective at helping people recognize and deal with negative self-talk and past self-esteem issues. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is especially useful in developing self-compassion and learning new behaviors that result from our thinking.

Meditation

Simply defined as quiet time to calm the mind, this helps “train” our brain to let go of thoughts. As Kindler says, our minds are like puppies, scattering here and there, easily distracted—and need to be refocused and trained.

Kindler says, “I believe often the loudest voice in the whirling mind is our self at the age when we received a crucial blow to our ego. That voice is demanding attention. It’s not a monster, it just needs love and to be heard. Eventually, in time and with attention, that voice will lessen and even melt away.”

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Shelley Seale

Shelley Seale is a freelance journalist and author in Austin who has written for National Geographic, USA Today, The Guardian and Texas Monthly, among others. She loves yoga, indie movies, wine, and books, though not necessarily in that order.

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