Young People Ask . . .
Why Do I Feel So Insecure?
“When I’m around people, I’m always worried about the way I look, what I say, the way I act, and what the other person is thinking about me. I’m insecure all the time.”—Seventeen-year-old Angelica.
DOES fear of failing keep you from doing things that you would really like to do? Are you jealous of the successes of others? Do you worry a lot about what others think of you? Are you uneasy about meeting new people? Do you fall apart when you are criticized? Then perhaps you too are suffering the pangs of insecurity. Just where do those feelings come from? How can you overcome them?
Young and Vulnerable
First, realize that feelings of insecurity are universal. All of us are born imperfect and thus are prone to feel inadequate or even worthless from time to time. (James 3:2; compare Romans 7:21-24.) On top of that, you are young and inexperienced. It’s only natural for you to feel uneasy in unfamiliar circumstances or when you are asked to do something entirely new for you.
For example, the Bible tells us about the young man Jeremiah when he was appointed to be God’s prophet. Though likely well into his 20’s, Jeremiah felt insecure about his ability to carry out this assignment, excusing himself by saying, “I am but a boy.” (Jeremiah 1:6) Apparently, the young man Timothy also felt inadequate. The apostle Paul had to give him straightforward counsel to help him overcome his insecurities.—1 Timothy 4:11-16; 2 Timothy 1:6, 7.
The book Talking With Your Teenager says that youths “are, almost by definition, in an extremely vulnerable state. . . . They have anxieties about how they look, what they’ve said, whether they’re popular, or lovable. . . . They are self-conscious and easily embarrassed or humiliated.” They often have “a very shaky sense of who they are.” Why is this?
One reason is that youths are in the midst of a period of rapid physical growth and change. Dr. Betty B. Youngs observes that “these changes, which are out of [a youth’s] control, are intense, demanding, and frightening . . . [A] teenager can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and has no idea what’s coming at him next. Naturally, this lack of control causes insecurity and stress.”
The Influence of Friends and Family
Another factor is your home environment. Ideally, the family serves as a source of spiritual guidance and emotional support. (Ephesians 6:1-4) The Bible even commands parents: “You fathers, do not be exasperating your children, so that they do not become downhearted.”—Colossians 3:21.
Unfortunately, some parents do exasperate their children by subjecting them to a never-ending barrage of criticism, withholding needed commendation and affection. Explains psychologist Eleanor S. Field: “Parental criticism can often lead to deep-seated insecurity. . . . And if you’re still receiving [negative] messages as a teenager, this will only reinforce your feelings of insecurity.”
Your associates can also undermine your self-confidence by constantly teasing you or criticizing the way you look or act. You are particularly open to such criticism if you obey Jesus’ command to be “no part of the world.” (John 17:16) “It’s frustrating!” explained 15-year-old Andrew. “You’re trying to fit in, but you’re trying not to fit in. You don’t want to be an outcast, but you’re trying to stay by Bible principles.” A 15-year-old girl added: “It’s hard because you don’t want other kids saying you’re an oddball. Everybody wants people to like them.” Maintaining a proper balance can be a real struggle. It may leave you feeling insecure.
Sometimes, though, feelings of insecurity are self-inflicted. “When I’m around other people,” confessed one 17-year-old, “I feel like nothing because I don’t know how to do anything well. So I just get very insecure.” Such feelings may be the result of making unfair comparisons of oneself with others.
Fighting Insecure Feelings
Whatever their cause, feelings of insecurity are simply a part of growing up and may never disappear completely.* Undue concern with appearance, reputation, or abilities can continue to shake one’s confidence even when one is a poised adult.
Many youths try to camouflage their lack of self-confidence by displays of false bravado, by outrageous attire, or by rebellion. But there are much better ways of coping with those times when you feel insecure.
Acknowledge Your Positive Qualities: You may not have the perfect figure or physique, but you may have developed the Christian qualities of “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22, 23) These qualities are infinitely more valuable than any physical attributes and can even help you gain God’s approval.
Avoid Unfair Comparisons: As Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the 32nd president of the United States, once said: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Galatians 6:4 thus gives good advice, saying: “Let each one prove what his own work is, and then he will have cause for exultation in regard to himself alone, and not in comparison with the other person.”
Does the fact that someone else looks better, has better clothes, or is smarter than you make him or her a better person than you? The truth is, outward appearances count little with God. The Bible says: “For not the way man sees is the way God sees, because mere man sees what appears to the eyes; but as for Jehovah, he sees what the heart is.”—1 Samuel 16:7.
Avoid the Snare of Jealousy: “Jealousy is rottenness to the bones,” and it breeds insecurity. (Proverbs 14:30) Learn, instead, to “rejoice with people who rejoice” and be genuinely happy over their accomplishments. (Romans 12:15) If you do, others will be far less prone to make negative remarks about your successes.
Get Involved With Other People: Dr. Allan Fromme observed that “people who have a good image of themselves enjoy a kind of peace, because they are focused in on others . . . People with a poor conception of themselves are prisoners of the self. They are locked in their continuous self-awareness.” Escape that prison by “keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.” (Philippians 2:4) The more involved you are with others, the less you will worry about your own feelings of insecurity.
Take Criticism in Stride: “Do not give your heart to all the words that people may speak,” especially when they are simply putting you down. (Ecclesiastes 7:21) On the other hand, if criticism is legitimate, find ways to apply it. “A wise person will listen and take in more instruction . . . Wisdom and discipline are what mere fools have despised.” (Proverbs 1:5, 7) You may fall short in one area, but that hardly makes you a failure as a person.
What, though, if the criticism is coming from your parents? It’s the parents’ job to discipline their children. (Ephesians 6:4) If you feel it is excessive, unfair, or humiliating, perhaps you can pick a calm moment to discuss matters with your parents and let them know how their words are affecting you.
Set Realistic Goals: You do not need to be the class valedictorian to be a fine student or an Olympic athlete to enjoy sports. “Wisdom is with the modest ones,” and modesty entails knowing one’s limitations. (Proverbs 11:2) Yet, don’t set your goals excessively low because of fear of failure. Failure can serve as a means of learning. After all, you learn to walk by overcoming the tendency to fall down!
Don’t Be Afraid to Be Different: Youths who allow peers to control their speech, dress, and grooming are little more than slaves. (Romans 6:16) May you, instead, “slave for Jehovah.” (Romans 12:11) If teased for doing what is right, find comfort in knowing that your courageous acts bring joy to God’s heart.—Proverbs 27:11.
These suggestions will no doubt help. But don’t expect a sense of security to develop overnight. Be patient. Expect setbacks, and try not to indulge in self-pity. In due time you will find yourself feeling more secure than ever.
We are not discussing the feelings of insecurity that arise in the wake of serious verbal or sexual abuse. While some of the principles discussed herein may prove helpful, victims of various forms of abuse may need much patient assistance to heal the emotional scars resulting from such mistreatment.
[Picture on page 26]
Parents can create insecurities by withholding praise and by being overly critical