Insecure is not a dirty word


When I was growing up, no surprise, I was a sharer. I told my mom (who had no choice but to be my captive audience) almost everything that happened and every time I came home with a new tale of school woes, her response would be generally the same:

They’re probably just insecure.

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Me, 15, an absolute delight

I’m sure she said other things too, but this is what I recall most, and OH it made me mad. It makes me laugh now because of course – she’s right – but at the time I remember rolling my eyes and thinking okay, MOM, everyone is not insecure. That’s ridiculous. I certainly realized that I was, on some level – but everyone else seemed fine. Sure of themselves. Confident. Everyone couldn’t possibly be as insecure as I felt.

Fast forward: I am a grown adult and working as a professional therapist. I’m in a session with a teenager who says that a friend offered a judgment about them, and they are grappling with it. They’re wondering: is this true about me? Is my friend right? In passing, they offer that the friend often compares the two of them – and it’s hard for my client at times when the friend is consistently drawing such comparison. I see something familiar in this comment.

I begin (with, for the record, an appropriate comparison for the situation):

Comparing ourselves to others is a hard part of being a person, and some people struggle with it more than others. I remember speaking with someone once who was so worried about when she would hit puberty. She was worried that it was taking her longer than the other girls, and meanwhile, other girls at school were talking about how they had already gotten their periods, and how she must be a late bloomer. She, of course, desperately wanted for whatever was happening to her to be normal – so the judgment from the other kids stung, and made her feel like maybe she wasn’t. But what we realized together was this: those girls were ALSO desperate to be normal! Calling her a late bloomer was their attempt at normalizing their own earlier development. Often, comparison has very little to do with your friend passing judgment on you, and much more to do with them making sense of their own growth and discovering who they are as a person. This doesn’t excuse people treating you with disrespect or being unkind or insensitive; but it can sometimes help if we understand that their uncertainty is showing, and it doesn’t mean something is wrong with you.

There was a pause. Teenager looked at me. Said: “Wow. You framed that in a way where if I told it to someone, they wouldn’t even be put off in the same way they would be if I’d just said they were insecure.”

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Me, 36, put in my place

Welp. My mother was right. Also how hilarious is it that this kid’s assessment could be read as very complimentary but can also be read as: “wow, you went way out of your way not to use the word insecure even though that was actually exactly what you were saying.”

And so, this: insecure is not a dirty word. I suppose I found a workaround to make sense of it within my own experience and use it in a way that is comfortable for me. But ultimately the sentiment is true, and was when I was 15 as well, had I been able to see it.

We’re all trying to make sense of our own experience. Insecurity plagues even the most secure among us, sometimes. The biggest challenge in handling that, I think, is this: try your very hardest not to project your own uncertainty onto other people. Or, probably more accurately, make sure you learn to differentiate and acknowledge when that uncertainty or, dare I say insecurity – is about you, not them. Tell them that, too. Don’t make them carry your insecurities on top of their own. That burden is enough as it is. I have hope that if we can break the cycle and talk about this stuff more openly, we can do better for ourselves and each other.

The more we are honest with one another, I would argue, the more secure we can all feel.