5 Habits of Highly Insecure People

Most people think of emotional insecurity as a personality trait—something you’re born with that dooms you to a life of chronic anxiety and low self-esteem.

And while it can certainly feel that way to people who have been insecure most of their lives, the real reason we feel chronically insecure is often more subtle:

Whatever caused your insecurity initially, it’s your habits that keep you feeling insecure.

In my work as a psychologist, I’ve found that the best way to finally escape the cycle of insecurity is to identify the habits that are maintaining your insecurity now.

We all have complicated lives and histories, but if you want to feel less insecure and more confident, working on even one or two of these habits will make a big difference.


1. Criticizing Others

The capacity to be critical is not always a bad thing.

After all, to navigate life successfully we have to be able to discriminate and analyze the people, problems, and situations in our lives so that we can make good decisions. For example: A good way to end up in an unhappy marriage is to not think critically about the person you’re about to marry.

But here’s the thing: while the ability to be critical is an important skill, like anything it can be taken too far…

Insecure people often use criticism of others as a way to feel better about themselves.

See, people who are insecure consistently feel bad about themselves. And often, they don’t know how to feel better in a healthy or productive way. So they often resort to criticizing others.

But how does criticizing other people help us feel better about ourselves?

Well, that’s the thing: in the long-run, it doesn’t. Being overly critical of other people will end up making you feel guilty and worse about yourself in the long run, only adding to your insecurity.

But in the very short-term, being critical of others makes us feel better by comparison.

For example:

  • When you think to yourself how dumb someone’s comment during a meeting was, what you’re implying is that you are smart. And that feels good.
  • When you criticize your spouse for always forgetting to take out the trash, what you are implying is that you are conscientious. And that feels good.
  • When you laugh in your head at how bad your friend’s outfit looks, what you’re really telling yourself is how stylish and sophisticated you are. And that feels good.

Helpful criticism is about making the world a better place. Unhelpful criticism is about making yourself feel better.

If you want to be less insecure, stop using criticism to artificially inflate your sense of self. Because it will only backfire in the end.

2. Never Saying No

One of the biggest reasons insecure people stay that way is because they are afraid to say no to people.

For example:

  • Your mother-in-law asks you if she can drop by and hang out with the kids. You’re having a rough day and really don’t need the added stress of hosting her. But because you’re afraid she’ll think badly of you, you say yes anyway.
  • You’ve been burnt-out and stressed at work because of too many projects. Your manager stops by your office and asks if you can take on a new account. Because you’re afraid to lose your status as “The guy who gets stuff done,” you say yes and your stress only gets worse.

The problem with never saying no is that you end up living other people’s lives instead of your own.

And if you go for months, years, or decades, not living your own life, how could you hope to feel confident and secure in yourself?

Each time you say yes to someone else at the expense of yourself, you’re telling your mind that what you want isn’t that important. If this becomes a habit, it shouldn’t be surprising when your mind doesn’t value itself!

If you want to feel more secure, you must learn to stand up for yourself and your own wants and needs.

Always remember that your wants and needs are just as valid as anyone else’s.

3. Asking for Reassurance

Reassurance-seeking is one of the worst offenders when it comes to habits that make us feel insecure.

When you habitually ask for reassurance, you’re really telling yourself you can’t handle things on your own. Tell yourself that often enough, and you’re going to feel like you can’t handle anything.

Obviously, getting reassurance feels good in the moment:

  • When you feel anxious and indecisive, outsourcing your decision to someone else relieves you of the anxiety.
  • When you feel afraid of being judged for choosing one thing over another, asking for reassurance relieves your fear of being judged.
  • When you’re worried about how you look, asking someone else makes you feel a little less anxious and a little more confident.

The real problem with chronic reassurance-seeking is what it does to your confidence in the long-term:

If you’re always using other people to feel better, you’re never learning how to help yourself feel better.

And if you believe, deep down, that you’re not capable of helping yourself deal with emotional pain and difficulty, you’re going to feel very insecure.

If you want to feel more secure and self-confident, train yourself to tolerate short-term anxiety.

4. Passive-aggressive communication

Passive-aggressive communication is when you want something but are too afraid of conflict to ask for it directly. So you try to make people give it to you through subtle manipulation tactics instead.

This is the worst form of communication because it combines passivity and the fear of asking for what you want with aggression and the attempt to control other people.

Passive-aggressive people disguise their aggression so they don’t have to take responsibility for it.

For example, routinely showing up late to things is often a form of passive-aggressiveness because you’re trying to get what you want (more time for yourself) without taking responsibility for it and avoiding criticism (“the traffic was awful!”).

But like so many of the habits in this article, being passive-aggressive only “works” in the short-term. Sure you may end up getting what you want from people now, but eventually, people get tired of it and stop playing your game altogether:

  • You never get the bonus at work you’re expecting.
  • You stop getting invited to events and social gatherings.
  • Your relationships never seem to last or stick.

Passive-aggressive people usually end up lonely and resentful.

And while they may blame other people, deep down, they’re really resentful of themselves for not having the courage to be honest and direct with people.

Combine loneliness and self-resentment and insecurity is sure to follow.

The good news is, you can learn to be less passive-aggressive by practicing assertive communication. It’s a highly trainable skill, especially if you start small and work your way up slowly.

5. Excessive positivity

This probably sounds like a strange one, but being excessively positive will quickly lead to a lot of emotional insecurity.

And the reason is straightforward:

Excessive positivity is just denial in fancy clothes.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with striving to be cheerful and optimistic. In fact, I think both of those are pretty healthy things.

But excessive positivity is different: It means using positivity as a way to distract yourself from something that is truly bad, negative, or painful.

For example:

Your best friend calls you up to chat and asks how things are going. Even though you just had a horrible fight with your partner and are feeling awful and worried about the relationship, you summon as much cheerfulness as you can and say, “Yeah, things are good!” And go on to talk about something happy in your life.

The problem here is that there really is a problem in your life—and by insisting on being positive all the time, you’re procrastinating on dealing with it. In this case, avoiding some genuine social support and compassion because you’re too embarrassed.

Of course, just because you’re feeling bad and there’s a problem, doesn’t mean you must talk about it. But it’s very easy to get into the habit of always avoiding negative things and insisting on putting up a facade of positivity all the time.

In addition to distracting you from dealing with the very real problems in your life—including not being good at managing your own painful emotions—there’s another major downside:

Excessive positivity is just a mask. And it’s awfully hard to trust and be intimate with people who wear masks all the time.

When you’re constantly playing roles and wearing masks, eventually the important people in your life will catch on to this disingenuousness and realize you’re not a relationship they want to invest much in anymore.

So, if you want to feel less insecure, experiment in small ways with being willing to express some negativity sometimes. You might just find that you feel better for it in the end.


All You Need to Know

Insecurity isn’t a life sentence. And no matter what caused your insecurity in the first place, it’s often the case that subtle habits are maintaining it now.

If you can work to identify and eliminate these habits, confidence and self-worth will follow:

Criticizing others

Never saying no

Asking for reassurance

Passive-aggressive communication

Excessive positivity

33 Comments

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How is thinking something negative about what someone says or wears but not saying it to them or others “you trying to make yourself feel better?”

Being someone that had insecure issues in the past, I would look at another female, whether it be at a doctor’s or wherever, and look at their outfits to see if mine looked better. If mine did, I felt then was Day was much better for me because I had chosen the right clothes and was confident and secure then.

We can’t help thinking those thoughts from time to time. But if we find we have a pattern of thinking critically about others, that could signal a problem.

This is straight-up bullshit. Insecure people are only insecure because either they take psych pills, are poor, or they are being bullied or suppressed. A good Christian never says no to God and always asks for reassurance, because our ways are stupid.

That’s a very unfair thing to say, and your response could be indirectly why people could feel insecure around YOU in the first place. It’s a great big world out there, which means not everyone is going to share your perspective. At the end of the day, you can’t expect everyone to have Christian values like you do, and your only duty at that moment is to express good character based on those Christian values and not be dismissive of other if THEY don’t.

Congratulations. You managed to miss the point, blame the author, AND find an example that is WAY out of the context of the article in order to justify your mistaken thinking. “Good Job” (Obiwan in the arena, being sarcastic)

There are natural emotions and feelings of everyone. Insecurity is a sign of a good Christian, it’s called a conscience. If you’re always confident about everything you do, you’re an asshole.

And everyone knows where to draw the line and what is out of line. Everyone has the ability to say no. And everyone is a critic. So don’t tell someone who is fragile to just toughen up. Because no one in this world is completely secure from everything. Giving over yourself to someone is genuinely how love bonds are made, so there is nothing wrong with anything you think you’re trying to correct.

I think you are being defensive Robert.
As somebody who has been very insecure, still struggle with some of these things. This was a helpful article.
You are mistaking guilt, having good decision processes not everyone has.
It’s through our experiences and lessons we learn throughout our life that help these processes. There is nothing wrong taking advice from somebody. Especially when it’s someone who has seen a lot of insecurities and helped other get over them. I wanted to criticize you in a negative fashion originally. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I realize it will not make for a valid discussion. It wouldn’t help the process that this article is advising.

Wow I have been every last bit of these five insecurities. To my self and to my coworkers ,family ,and friends. I do value self discipline . I have overcome a lot of anxiety and depression in my life. My number go to relief for my anxiety and depression is swimming ,singing ,and working up a good sweat ! Everything gets redundant so lately I’ve been doing breathing exercises ! I have learned to be more honest with my emotions and not burden others . It takes some good tactics and I just learned some new ones thanks to this article .

I can totally connect with that. I worked on myself really hard. I can say ” no ” now more often and I stopped asking for others assurance. Thank you for the post.

Congratulations. You managed to miss the point, blame the author, AND find an example that is WAY out of the context of the article in order to justify your mistaken thinking. “Good Job” (Obiwan in the arena, being sarcastic)

I think we have assumed that narcissists must have an opposite. They don’t. The opposite of narcissism is normal. The fundamental basis of abnormal psychology is COMPENSATION. Insecure people over compensate and become narcissists…the over positivity you mentioned. Gaeity or over positivity masks hatred and anger. Highly secure people are modest and humble. The person you describe is non existent. Family interaction, friends and school will socialize much of human behaviour unless a person is antisocial and living in a sick household. Narcissists cannot learn from others. They want total control and adoration. Those who don’t interact with others often become predators….supreme narcissists.

All good points , every individual has an opinion , and not everything works for all.you have to want to work on yourself first be gentle, loving and kind

Ok from a Christian perspective I can only agree that criticism, internally voiced or related to the target or to others is almost always a sign of insecurity.

I can Also agree with never saying no and with excessive positivity. Those are almost obvious signs of willfully ignored weakness- no deep thinking needed to interpret that.

From a Christian perspective the believer is supposed to be quite secure in their identity in Christ. Not gonna unpack that too much except the behaviors that would attend such a mindset.

Thinking that others are more valuable than yourself, and asking for advice and reassurance are both useful and positive behaviors. It’s a cold world, but it also works out for the good.

Also, be careful you don’t get personality traits from the big five, that don’t really change, mixed up with a phycological state of insecurity or security. I might not know anything about phycological states but I do know they are not traits.

Hey look, I criticized your article:)
I hope it was helpful!
-Isaac

P.s.
Also, there are a lot of Christians commenting on this article. Figuring out why could be useful for you and your practice.
Not that I know

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