Three Ways to Beat Your Insecurity
For many of us, not a day goes by where we aren’t affected by insecurity. In my last blog, I wrote about two primary sources of insecurity. Here, I will talk about an approach to challenging our negative self-concept by seeking inner security, bolstering self-compassion, and countering the “critical inner voice” that resides in all of us.
Developing Inner Security
Each of us formed an attachment pattern in our earliest relationships that served as a model for all of our future relationships and helped shape our sense of self. Early experiences that create insecurity can leave us with lifelong patterns of relating and a tendency to look for and recreate relationships that reinforce these insecurities. Fortunately, it is never too late to seek inner security.
One of the most effective ways to develop a sense of security is to create a coherent narrative. Attachment research shows that making sense of and feeling the full pain of our early experience can enable us to build more secure relationships throughout our lives. In other words, we can break the patterns handed down to us by telling the story of what happened to us. Based on its life-changing possibilities, Dr. Daniel Siegel and I developed the online course “Making Sense of Your Life” to outline an approach to creating a coherent narrative. In addition, forming a secure attachment in a therapy relationship or with a romantic partner whose attachment pattern is more secure than ours can also help us to develop more inner security.
People often mistakenly associate self-compassion with weakness or feeling sorry for oneself. In fact, self-compassion fosters just the opposite by giving us the strength and orientation to look at ourselves with kind and honest eyes. According to Dr. Kristin Neff, a lead researcher on the subject, self-compassion comprises three elements:
1. Self-kindness instead of self-judgment
2. Mindfulness instead of over-identification with thoughts and feelings
3. Common humanity instead of isolation
Self-kindness encourages us to stop judging ourselves too harshly, and instead see ourselves the way we would a close friend. This isn’t about denying our shortcomings or feeling victimized but rather being empowered to feel positively toward ourselves as we face life’s hurdles. “We can’t always get what we want. We can’t always be who we want to be,” said Neff. “When this reality is denied or resisted, suffering arises in the form of stress, frustration, and self-criticism. When this reality is accepted with benevolence, however, we generate positive emotions of kindness and care that help us cope.”
Similarly, the practice of mindfulness can help to reduce our tendency to ruminate on problems or negative ways of thinking that are not conducive to growth or change. Mindfulness can help us avoid getting carried away by self-limiting or destructive thought processes such as the “critical inner voice.”
Our insecure thoughts can undermine our motivation and initiative. Self-compassion, on the other hand, can turn down our anxiety and orient us to make real changes in our lives, moving toward our goals rather than berating ourselves for setbacks.
Finally, the practice of adopting a sense of our common humanity allows us to stop seeing ourselves as other or different. It also helps counter the tendency to take on either a victimized or narcissistic point of view. Instead, we can see our suffering as part of a shared human experience. We all struggle, and we are not alone. We all suffer from insecurity, and we can all persevere on our respective paths.
Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice
Each of us possesses an inner critic that often serves as our worst enemy in every area of our experience. Voice Therapy is a cognitive/affective/behavioral approach developed by my father Dr. Robert Firestone to help people challenge this critical inner voice. There are five important steps to Voice Therapy.
Vocalize or write down your self-critical thoughts in the second person. For instance, instead of writing “I’m so stupid, ugly, worthless, boring,” you would write, “You’re so stupid, ugly, worthless, boring.” This process helps to separate these vicious voice attacks from your real point of view by exposing and externalizing them as an enemy. This exercise can be emotional one, as it can stir up old identifications from your past, for example, ways you were seen or treated in your family.
Start to explore any insights and reactions you have to exposing your critical inner voice. Do the “voices” you expressed remind you of anyone or anything from your past? Do they relate to any early life experiences? What attitudes or events may have helped shape these critical thoughts? This process may help you feel some self-compassion and gain an understanding of the origin of your attacks. Remember these attitudes come from an old source and are rarely accurate reflections of who you are.
Answer back to your voices, expressing a more compassionate, honest point of view. Write down rational and realistic statements about how you really are in the way you would in support of a friend who was saying critical things about themselves. Use the first person (“I” statements) when you do this. This third step of Voice Therapy can be a challenge, because it involves standing up to long-held beliefs and deep insecurities you may have toward yourself.
Start to think about how the voice attacks are influencing your present-day behaviors. How do they affect your career? Your relationships? Your parenting? Your personal goals? Do your self-critical thoughts undermine or limit you? Do they lure you seductively into self-destructive behavior? Do certain events trigger your insecurity and make the voice louder? In what areas is this insecurity most influential?
Make a plan to change the behaviors perpetuated by your inner critic. Even if you feel too insecure or nervous to take a certain action or step, it’s time to do the actions anyway. The voice will do everything to keep the real you repressed and standing up to it may temporarily make it louder, but like a starved monster, refusing to feed the voice will eventually weaken it, and it will fade into the background.
All change and every step we take to give up our inner critic can cause anxiety. Our insecurity has been with us a long time, and challenging it can feel liberating but also frightening. Our voices are part of a defense system, reconfirming our view of ourselves and the world around us, even when that view can be painful or limiting.
It’s essential to feel for ourselves on this journey and stay the course of building our inner security, practicing self-compassion, and standing up to that inner voice. Making these three practices an ongoing part of our lives will strengthen our sense of self and allow us to live with more authenticity.Tags: critical inner voice, inner critic, insecurity, self development, self-critical, self-esteem, self-image, self-understanding, self-worth