Insecurity comes in several guises, from a lack of self-confidence to feelings of inadequacy and even helplessness. The origins of insecurity are wide and varied, usually developed early in life, possibly ingrained during childhood. Furthermore, insecurity is often directly related to self-esteem. Psychologist, Claire Newton, explains further: "Self-esteem, by definition, is the degree to which we value ourselves. Some people have low self-esteem about everything, but it is possible for one individual to have varying degrees of self-esteem. For example, they may know that they are intelligent and be proud of that quality, but also think that they are ugly and be ashamed of that." What's particularly important to understand about self-esteem is that it may be based upon a person's perception, rather than truth or fact. This means it may develop in the least obvious of places. Claire uses the example of a father quite innocently telling his child who is struggling with high jump that he/she needs to lift their gangly legs! The child, understanding the term 'gangly' as negative or unattractive, immediately assumes that he/she has ugly legs. And so, from this, the child develops an issue with their legs and endures a sense of low self-esteem. Unfortunately, this may become self-perpetuating; weaving it's way into other aspects of the child's life, right into adulthood. Other causes of insecurity, that develop from fear or angst, may arise from unexpected life events that cause severe trauma and stress, or from being let down by people you trust, or from growing up in damaged, broken homes with unreliable parents or role models.
Clearly, unremitting insecurity has the potential for far-reaching consequences because our beliefs and feelings ultimately dictate our behaviour. In any given situation, if we are insecure, we incline ourselves to a less favourable outlook, whereas a 'secure' person will naturally adopt a more confident, positive attitude. "A sense of insecurity can become an immobilising force that limits one's growth and new experiences. It may encourage overcompensation by presenting in the world as arrogant, aloof, aggressive, or showing up as being shy, paranoid, defensive and socially withdrawn. A sense of perpetual insecurity affects every area of a person's life – personal relationships, mental states, friendships, work, your relationship with money, your relationship with your body and your relationship with your higher self." Explains Joanna Kleovoulou, Clinical Psychologist and Director of Bella Vida Centre in Bedfordview, Johannesburg.
Fortunately, insecurity can be overcome. "The first step in overcoming any form of insecurity is by recognizing that you are experiencing this sense of discomfort and then finding a trustworthy person you can share this with. If the insecurity has detrimental effects on your life, seeking professional help, like a trained psychologist, will give you the perspective and skills to move through it." Says Joanna. Trained therapists help address underlying faulty belief systems that may determine your response and outlook to the world.
Joanna shares five ways to overcome insecurity:
- Make time to listen to your body's sensations and at what moments you find yourself reacting or defending your positions when relating to another.
- Check with a trustworthy person whether your behaviour or response at a given moment has been respectful and assertive or perceived as aggressive and disrespectful.
- Work through past 'unprocessed' pain that may be replaying itself in the now.
- Find time to nurture your body through exercise, massage or touch. Whatever releases endorphins and releases stress will help you feel more internally secure.
- Share relationships with significant others that show understanding and empathy while being firm in the encouragement to find more productive ways to relate to the world.
Battling body blues
Few people are truly happy with their bodies and there is little doubt the media feeds this wave of insecurity. While women are far more critical of themselves than men, insecurity in the male of our species is on the rise. The constant bombardment of picture perfect men, women and children, all bearing faultless hair, faces and bodies has aided and abetted this trend. The truth is, these images are not only unattainable for most of the population, but 'photo shopped' to perfection, making them unreal too. Some studies suggest the current 'media ideal' for women is achievable by less than 5% of the population! The result? A population striving for unrealistic standards and setting themselves up for certain failure!
Body image insecurity affects people in different ways. "The most obvious is people wearing only a limited range of clothing – clothes that cover up their flaws," says Claire. "Some people decline social invitations where they may be expected to remove some clothing. For example, they refuse to go on a beach outing or to a braai around the pool when swimming may be expected." Poor body image may affect sexual relationships when one partner refuses to allow the other to see them naked. In extreme cases a person may even 'hide' away from the rest of the world by rarely leaving the house.
So how can we ditch this business of poor body image? First of all, stop comparing yourself to models in magazines. Secondly, Claire suggests questioning the validity of your beliefs. Ask yourself if your body is really as bad as you think it is? Chances are it isn't! Accept compliments other people give you and believe in their sincerity.
Other tips Claire suggests include:
- Focus on the parts of your body you do like. "Enhance these features so they draw the focus of attention. An image consultant can help you with this. When you begin getting compliments you will start feeling good about yourself".
- Don't draw attention to your 'negative' features. "Some clothing shows the bulge around your tummy more than others. If you dislike your tummy area, then don't wear that clothing, no matter how fashionable it is!"
- Take steps to improve your body through exercise and toning programmes. "Don't keep complaining about your body without doing something about enhancing the features you can enhance".
Bouts of insecurity affect everyone. It is perhaps fitting, then, that a feeling that causes so much despair may also provide the resolve to stick it out and do your best. So, the challenge we set for ourselves is to move beyond the image of perfection, rising above it's crippling manifestations to finally embrace what we do have, while striving to be the best that we can be.
Sources: Joanna Kleovoulou - www.bellavidacentre.co.za; Claire Newton - www.clairenewton.co.za