Today, I’m writing about something that hits very close to home for me: insecurity. As a learner, leader, pastor, and participant in the human journey, I’ve struggled with profound insecurity for most of my life, and only in about the past decade have I embarked on a very intentional journey away from it.
So I write not as a expert who has mastered it, but as a fellow traveler engaged in the daily struggle. I believe I’ve made some progress along the way, but I also know how far I have left to go. But I also observe daily the damaging effects of it in the lives of others around me.
I believe insecurity is perhaps the number one destroyer of potentially good relationships and the biggest threat to true greatness- reaching the God-given potential that I believe has been placed inside each of us uniquely.
In the name of self-protection, insecurity has an uncanny way of sabotaging the good things in life that are actually the true hopes and dreams of many insecure people. It also chases away good but challenging things that have been brought into our lives to stretch, strengthen, and grow us.
What is insecurity? Insecurity is when you believe that your value and worth as a human being is determined by a marketplace of humanity. It's a marketplace because it becomes all about relative value- how well you sell yourself, and how well others do the same. It's when you believe you are not valuable because you ARE, you're only valuable in relation to your performance, the perception of that performance by others, and the performance of those around you.
Insecurity comes from many places – some of it is inherent to our specific personalities, and some due to circumstances and relationships that we derived our behavioral patterns from, especially in our formative years as children. But the important thing is that regardless of where it came from, there’s only one person can own it now and begin to do something about-YOU.
I write as a Christian and a pastor. One of the great problems in churches is that we Christians rarely do the hard work of getting to the root of our insecurities. Instead, we paper them over with spirituality. But that doesn’t make them go away.
If you are an insecure person, and then you become a Christian, It’s incredibly likely you’ll be an insecure Christian person. Jesus may have saved your soul, but that’s just the start of the journey. It's the hard work of discipleship – walking with Jesus and others in transparent, vulnerable community over time- that really gets at the root of these deep patterns. And sometimes, it also takes the skills of a competent counselor to help you surface and navigate through the deepest roots.
This is a complex subject that I am only scratching the surface of, but here are some telltale signs that you might be insecure:
- Do you look to your positions or roles as a big source of your identity? Are having titles and having your responsibilities protected by an organizational chart or rigidly defined position very important to you?
- When someone else succeeds in an area of your life you have assigned emotional value to – gets the gig, gets a promotion, wins, receives attention– do you feel like you are somehow diminished and find it very difficult to truly celebrate for them and with them?
- Do you find yourself very threatened by other people who do the same things you do well? Do you constantly critique and analyze their work, looking for signs of deficiency or weakness?
- When someone who's ahead of you in some area of life stumbles and falls, is there a small part of you that enjoys it?
- Are you constantly maneuvering in your relationships with other people – subtly advancing yourself, diminishing others, building alliances with and against others– in an effort to secure your sense of personal well-being?
- Is your outlook on life and your feelings about yourself highly dependent on receiving affirmation or acceptance in specific ways from specific people?
- When you fail or fall short at something, do you feel an urgent impulse to find some external circumstance, person, or reason to deflect the blame to so that it feels less like your fault?
- When someone offers you any kind of feedback or criticism about your behavior or performance, do you get highly defensive and put the walls up? As a second part of this – are you tempted to identify that person's own shortcomings or failures to even the score, even if this is just an internal conversation in your mind?
One of the loudest and most frequent messages of insecurity is "I must control and manipulate my environment and especially the people in it – to be OK. If I cannot, then I am not."
Many people try to first address insecurity by doing this, and when they can’t, they remove themselves from that environment. They can look into their past and see a long list of people they used to be friends with, churches they used to be part of, groups that they used to be in, places they used to work. Now, don't get me wrong – sometimes there are unhealthy situations and people that you need to build boundaries with. But these are usually the exception, not the norm.
If this is a recurring pattern in your life, you need to face a hard truth: It's probably not all them, it's probably you. You're the one common denominator in all of those situations. If any of the above sounds like your life, you might just be insecure. Relax, it's normal. Many people are. I am! But what you do next about it what makes all the difference.
Living this way is exhausting and destructive to your soul. The only real cure to this never-ending treadmill is to own it and then to seek help in addressing the root causes and developing new patterns of living the can help you live into a different, healthier, brighter future.
As a Christian, I believe that your value and identity is set once and for all by God. But truly living out of that reality is quite a journey for most people, especially in a culture which loudly communicates over and over again "your value is based on your last performance, how well you keep up appearances, and how much you put out."
Today could be the first day for you on a new journey away from insecurity. I can promise you it will be a hard struggle, and it will take a long time. But it will also be one of the most valuable things you ever do.
(Image by Joie De Cleve)