Signs of Insecurity: Behavior That Reveals a Lack of Confidence

http://drgeraldstein.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/insecurity.jpg?w=225

Insecure people often reveal their self-doubt without being aware of it. Indeed, a wise observer can frequently “read” another individual very quickly. For example, members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra have told me that they can tell whether a new conductor is competent and talented within 10 minutes of the beginning of their first rehearsal with him.

What follows is a short list of behaviors that suggest insecurity:

  • 1. Are you able to give a compliment? Even more important, can you graciously accept one? The latter behavior tends to be difficult for someone who is unsure of himself. He might blush or become flustered. Alternatively, he is prone to dismissing the validity of the praise, instead telling you why it isn’t true. What should one do if complimented? Simply smile and say “thank you.” Nothing more.
  • 2. An inability to maintain eye contact is hard for many individuals who lack confidence. They will look away or look down, but rarely maintain the gaze of the other by looking into his or her eyes.
  • 3. The self-doubting person tends to apologize a good deal when no apology is necessary. It is as if she expects to be reproached or is afraid to give offense; so, she prophylactically tries to excuse any possible mistake on her part in order to avoid just such a response.
  • 4. Answering a question with an upward inflection of the voice has been heard or done by everyone. The person being questioned doesn’t have certainty about his answer, so he replies with a tone of voice that betrays his insecurity.
  • 5. Men and women who are uncomfortable with sharing personal information for fear of being judged will oft-times turn the conversation to a different topic, away from anything that might make them vulnerable or reveal too much. This is also called “changing the subject.”
  • 6. One way of inoculating yourself against criticism is to make jokes at your own expense. Do this too often and others may conclude that you put yourself down because you believe yourself to be seriously flawed.
  • 7. Do you have trouble making a decision? The comedy team “Cheech and Chong” (I’m not sure which one) said: “Taking responsibility is a lot of responsibility.” If you automatically let others choose the restaurant, movie, or other activity, you are either very easy-going and good-natured or you don’t want to be held accountable for making the wrong choice.
  • 8. Do you state strong opinions in the course of a conversation? Those who avoid doing so might want to keep the peace — often a very good thing — but some of them fear drawing fire and unwanted attention to themselves, putting themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to defend their statements.

Before I give you eight more signs of insecurity, I’ll say a few things about what causes that condition. Many things can contribute. Critical or neglectful parents, poor academic skills, frequent moves that make you “the new kid” (especially if you are introverted by nature), learning disabilities and ADHD, being “different” in some fashion (size, shape, color, religion), thinking that you are the “poor” kid in a community of the affluent, sensing that you are the average child in a school filled with very bright youngsters, feeling ashamed of your parents or your residence, frequent rejections, getting fired or laid off (whether deserved or not), clumsiness, a history of abuse or bullying; physical unattractiveness, deformity, or injury; and so forth.

For a more thorough discussion of these causes, click here: The Causes of Insecurity.

Now back to the list of signs of insecurity:

  • 9. Are you prone to nervous laughter in social situations? It is another behavior that betrays insecurity.
  • 10. People will appraise you harshly if they see you bite your nails or simply observe that they look bitten.
  • 11. Do you routinely efface yourself and place yourself at a disadvantage — letting others go first, speak first — reluctant to raise your hand? Do you hesitate to take your turn? Are you extremely self-sacrificing? Insecurity can make you wait and wait until the opportunity before you is lost. Excessive deference displays little regard for yourself, even if some amount of deference is often a sign of good breeding and consideration for others.
  • 12. Are you nervous when eating or drinking in front of others? Are you fearful that you will drop something, display poor table manners, look funny, or make a mess of yourself? You probably won’t; at least not more than the rest of us.
  • 13. Can you make phone calls without trepidation? Especially those in which you need to introduce yourself, correct a problem, or speak to an authority? Too much discomfort in anticipation of these sorts of actions can reveal your sense of personal uncertainty.
  • 14. Might you make too many excuses? Those who are unsure often give explanations for their decisions where none are required. For example, imagine that you order an entrée at a nice restaurant and the waiter asks whether you want an appetizer or salad to start. Instead of just saying “no,” you feel compelled to give a reason why you don’t. Some folks offer multiple excuses for what they do and why they do it, especially if someone else will be disappointed by their action. A word to the wise: if you must give a reason, limit yourself to one. The more excuses you give, the more uncertain (or dishonest) you sound. For  example, “I can’t come to the party because I have a stomach ache and my car broke down and I need to study.” One reason will be much more convincing than three, but you probably needn’t explain yourself nearly as often as you think you do.
  • 15. Insecurity can be suggested by hesitation to ask for a favor or an inability to say “no” to someone who asks you for something. Anticipation of rejection or disapproval is the motivator for both of these problems with self-assertion. By contrast, a self-assured person will not automatically believe that the relationship (or his own value) is dependent upon going along with someone else’s wishes or doing things for others.
  • 16. Do you make more than occasional requests for reassurance? A few examples: “Does that make sense?” or “What do you think?” or “What would you do?” or “Do you think that is a good idea?” or “Do I look OK?” Do you need to have sex frequently to prove to yourself that your partner remains interested in you? If you are self-assured, you won’t regularly implore your partner to calm your doubts and remind you, over and over, in words and deeds, of your desirability or intelligence.

I suspect that you get the idea. Feel free to add an item or two yourself.

You can use the list in one of two ways: to consider whether you are personally insecure or to evaluate the confidence of some of those around you.

Of course, you are the only one whose self-confidence you can change.

You may find the following related post of interest: Signs of Self Consciousness: When the Mirror Isn’t Your Friend.

The image above is Insecurity by Lacey Lewis: http://www.lacey-lewis.com/ With permission.

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60 Responses to Signs of Insecurity: Behavior That Reveals a Lack of Confidence

  1. Kesha T. says:

    Thank you! It hit home with me.

  2. bobthecook says:

    The best thing to remember that insecurity is a form of pride masquerading as something which is fundamentally low self-regard. Insecure people lack humility: they think of themselves over and over again, exaggerating their flaws, and projecting the awkward delusion that others are focused on them as much as they are on themselves.

    • drgeraldstein says:

      I agree that those who are insecure are preoccupied with the impression that they are making. As you say, few people pay as much attention to us as we do to ourselves, whether we are insecure or not. Thank you for you comment.

  3. Marina says:

    Is there any human being on this planet who is 100% confident and is not insecure up to some extend, in some areas of life more than in others?

    • drgeraldstein says:

      I’m sure that you are right. We all have areas in which we are much less than expert. I think what I was trying to say in this essay had more to do with a more generalized sense of insecurity.

  4. Rob says:

    I am definitely insecure and egotistical. This was helpful, especially of the comment that people (me) like this think of themselves over and over again and think others are focused on them (me) – it is a delusion I will try to counter in myself.

  5. alex says:

    It finally hit me.I’ve been insecure all most all my life and I’ve just been rejecting it. When I’m in my classes I feel like everybody is staring at me,just waiting on me to mess up.I feel the urge to be perfect, even though I know you can’t.Thank you for wrighting this, it really changed my outlook on life.

    • drgeraldstein says:

      Very happy to hear that it was useful, Alex. In general, people don’t spend nearly as much time thinking about us as we think they do. They are much too busy thinking about themselves! All the best.

  6. Paula Valenzuela says:

    Great! I have to work on some of this! I have come a long way but gotta continue to improve’ why did I feel you were talking directly to me? Omg great stuff lol

  7. Christy says:

    omg… all my friends can see that im insecure and im trying to change and ive been insecure all my life and i need help. I read this biography and i totally understand and im going to take the advice that u have wriiten in this passage.

  8. Del S. says:

    Another sign of insecurity can be constantly fidgeting with clothes or hair. It displays nervousness/ anxiety or the fear that there might be something wrong with your physical appearance

  9. Kim says:

    So we have determined we are insecure
    and lack confidence. What do we do about it?
    How can we change

    • drgeraldstein says:

      I’m afraid that I don’t have a short answer for this, Kim. But, here are a few things to consider: 1. Might you benefit from psychotherapy? 2. Do you need particular help in self-assertion and should that be a part of the treatment? 3. Do important people in your life, past or present, tend to undermine your confidence? If so, that would then become another issue to address in the course of trying to change yourself. I’ve written a number of blog posts that deal with pieces of your question, just in case you’d care to spend some time reading my thoughts on one or another aspect of the way to overcome insecurity. Good luck!

  10. patricia says:

    i ask so many questions when i talk to people,i don’t even realize i’m doing it till someone points it out,is this a form of insecurity

    • drgeraldstein says:

      It depends, Patricia. If you are inquiring to find out more about a person’s life, you simply might be a good conversationalist. But, if you are asking that person (and others) questions about how to lead your life, whether you look good, whether your ideas make sense, whether others are talking about you — behavior like that probably suggests some insecurity. It is impossible for me to say for certain, of course, because I do not know you and haven’t seen what you are describing.

  11. Chelsea says:

    I found out in young teens who hide their faces with their hair are insecure. They don’t want others to see their physical appearance. .

    • drgeraldstein says:

      Indeed. Much like the young woman in the painting at the top, trying to hide herself. Thanks!

  12. joe says:

    I tend to always want to tell a better story than the one just told to me.

  13. Ninny says:

    The quote. Cheech: “Responsibility is a heavy responsibility!”

  14. Jeff Roe says:

    Thank you Dr. Stein for the wonderful insight on insecure traits. I am still wondering though, is creating a multitude of “beauty shot” photos of one’s self a sign of insecurity? My lady friend does this & also displays some of the other traits listed.

    Thanks,
    JR

    • drgeraldstein says:

      You are welcome, Jeff. I can’t answer your question with certainty, but it might be the insecurity you describe. Another possibility is narcissism. Does she seem too full of herself? Is she able to get outside of herself and a preoccupation with her beauty? Does she have a capacity for selflessness, compassion, and generosity? Hope this helps. Many thanks for reading and commenting.

      • Jeff Roe says:

        Thanks again for your prompt reply. No, she displays more low self-esteem than being full of herself. She does continually question or believes she looks inadequate. Yes, she does frequently display the giving attributes you mentioned. We now live apart after 2 yrs. of cohabitation. That’s not helping her insecurity about our relationship or my fidelity.

      • drgeraldstein says:

        It sounds like you’ve answered your own question, Jeff. If you look through my blog posts, you might find some things that can be helpful to your understanding of your friend and that she might also benefit from reading. Here is one to start: http://drgeraldstein.wordpress.com/2009/10/08/beautiful-and-smart-but-unlucky-in-love-the-reasons-why/ All the best.

      • Jeff Roe says:

        Thanks Dr. Stein. I appreciate your input & time.

  15. Carrie says:

    Wow, much of these describe me. I’ve had some major insecurity issues this past year, and have gotten to the point where I just wanted to crawl in a hole and stay there, this past spring. I am still pretty insecure, as much as I’d like to believe I changed, I really haven’t. I quit something that I loved, I find myself with excessive excuses when I decide that I have to tell someone something that I think will disappoint them. If someone doesn’t say hi to me one day, I think that they don’t like me. If I think that someone doesn’t like me, my feelings get really hurt and I will try to avoid seeing that person as best I can, even if it means quitting something that I really enjoy. When I first meet people that I really like and want to be friends with, I tend to back away sometimes because I think that they don’t want to be my friend, and I’m not good enough to be friends with them. When I do approach them, I feel really nervous and my face, neck and ears get very hot. As a child I was always very shy, and not at all talkative.

    • drgeraldstein says:

      The first step to changing yourself is to show the kind of honesty and self-awareness that is reflected in your comment. It sounds like you are on the road to doing that. Best of luck.

      • Carrie says:

        Thank you so much Dr. Stein. I’ve never actually really looked into why I operate the way I do. I’m going to work on trying to change these behaviors. :-)

  16. I’m impressed, I must say. Rarely do I come across a blog that’s both
    equally educative and interesting, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The issue is something which not enough men and women are speaking intelligently about. Now i’m very
    happy I found this in my search for something concerning
    this.

  17. Gerald says:

    This is absolutely true, I am a very insecure person.. At least when it comes to my image. That being, personal problems that I find ugly or flaws within me (on my body), yet I don’t know how to overcome them, because I feel that my significant other (whoever it might be) will not accept me this way.
    I am not ugly, or bad looking at all, in fact I get dozens of compliments, but that is because all my flaws are hidden.
    What can I do?

    • drgeraldstein says:

      If you have hidden your innermost self from everyone, then it is likely that sharing “who you really are” would be risky. In therapy with a good therapist, you might find it safe enough to begin to do this, and eventually extend this risk taking to others in your life, until finally you had built some confidence that you have value. If there is a history that contributes to this, that also would be something a therapist will likely work on with you. Best of luck in this process.

      • Gerald says:

        Thank you so much! And its not that I hide who I am, my personality always comes out, and I always feel like myself, being honest with everyone I meet and know.
        But when it comes to intimacy or anything related with “showing the body” is when I get insecure due to my self-consciousness about my flaws.

      • drgeraldstein says:

        This is probably all he more reason to consult someone who has experience in treating those who have such bodily concerns.

      • drgeraldstein says:

        One additional comment. In order to find someone to help, you might consult the websites of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies, and the National Register of Health Care Providers in Psychology.

  18. Thomas says:

    doing nothing with life , not trying get what you want because you are afraid of failure and rejection , you convinced yourself that you are not good enough before you have even tried .

  19. drgeraldstein says:

    Exactly right. Thanks for your comment, Thomas.

  20. Yosef T. says:

    Dr. Stein – Hello from a loyal reader! I have a boss (female, nearly 65 yrs. old) who has no professional training or experience in her current position. That is, she’s the Global Director of X and doesn’t know the first thing about X. I’ve noticed that whenever I send her a news item about X, she responds by saying: “Oh, I already knew that” or “Yes, I’m very familiar with that.” Do you think that she’s trying to cover up her ignorance by making these assertions? Thanks! Yosef

    • drgeraldstein says:

      It certainly does sound as though she needs to “one-up” you, Yosef. Of course, there are some people who are so “full of themselves” that they actually do believe that they are more talented than others. But your interpretation sounds very plausible. Thanks your reading and for your comment.

  21. Julie says:

    Very good essay!

  22. […] Signs of Insecurity: Behavior That Reveals a Lack of Confidence. […]

  23. Aris Moreno says:

    Wow. Thank you so much for this short list. :-)

  24. Jason says:

    There is some really good information here, especially just discovering much of this. How does one know where the distinction line of multiple insecurities and social anxiety disorder are? They seem to cross each other by descriptions.

    • drgeraldstein says:

      The difference has to do with self-evaluation (about your inadequacies) which is essentially an overly critical attitude toward yourself vs. anxiety; that is, what you think of yourself vs. becoming nervous in social situations (or too nervous to enter into those situations). I agree that there is much overlap here. Hope this helps. Thanks for your comment, Jason.

  25. Daniel says:

    I was able to relate to the part about the eye contact. I seem to have difficulties talking face to face with people because I cannot look them in the eyes

    • drgeraldstein says:

      It is a common problem, Daniel. It that is the only thing that you could identify with, the good news is that you seem to have only one target to tackle, assuming that it is something that bothers you. Good luck!

  26. A. says:

    I see so much of my husband in this, but when I try to build him up, he acts like I’m obligated to compliment him because I’m his wife. I’ve tried to explain that as his wife, not his mom, I chose to marry him and I choose to stay because he’s my favorite person. Sometimes I think this is an internal resource built from within.

    • drgeraldstein says:

      Thank you for commenting. It does take a certain amount of will in order to become confident about those things that make most of us uncertain. While acclaim and approval will reinforce it, increased security often comes from taking some small risks, having a bit of success, and building on that. Therapy can frequently help with this. Best wishes to you and your husband.

  27. sarah says:

    OMG,honestly doc I fink ΰ r talking abt me. I’m so insecure that its affecting my marriage. I can’t seem to trust my husband(faithful one at that) cos in τ̣̣ђё past he dealt wit ds girl but nothing intimate happened jus that he had affections 4 her. I jus feel he sees other girls on weekends (which isn’t true) cos of that past experience. Wat do I do? He has complained severally that its jus mi feelings but I stil feel insecure. He really treats me special I must say but yet can’t do otherwise. Pls help doc,I’m in that part of the world where we don’t hav a therapist aside in church(counsellors). Pls reply. Many thanks sir as I await your reply

    • drgeraldstein says:

      It would not be unusual for a man to find someone else attractive. We were built to reproduce and men do notice other women, as women do notice other attractive men. So the question is, does he go beyond that point to some sort of sexual relationship outside the marriage? If he doesn’t, then the church counselors (if they are good at counseling) can be a resource for you. If not, you might have to search the internet for therapists who are willing to talk to you on the phone or by Skype (I am not one who does that) or read self-help books on building your self-confidence. But I would say that even if you need to travel some distance, it would be best to find a good therapist to meet with face-to-face.

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