Signs of Insecurity: Behavior That Reveals a Lack of Confidence

Posted on July 15, 2010. Filed under: advice, psychology, psychotherapy, wisdom | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Insecure people often reveal their self-doubt without being aware of it. Indeed, a wise observer can “read” another individual. For example, members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra have told me 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 dismiss the validity of the praise, instead telling you why it isn’t true. What should one do if complimented? Smile and say “Thank you.” Nothing more.
  • 2. The ability to maintain eye contact is hard for many individuals who lack confidence. They will turn away or look down, but rarely hold the gaze of the other by looking into his or her eyes.
  • 3. The self-doubting person tends to apologize 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 to avoid such a response.
  • 4. Answering a question with an upward inflection of the voice has been done by everyone. The person being questioned doesn’t have certainty about his answer, so he replies with a tone betraying 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 joke at your own expense. Do this often and others may conclude you believe you are 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, and other activity, you are either easy-going and good-natured or don’t want to be held accountable for making the wrong choice.
  • 8. Do you state strong opinions? Those who avoid doing so might maintain the peace — often a good thing — but some fear drawing fire and unwanted attention.

Before I give you eight more signs of insecurity, I’ll say what might cause the condition. Many possibilities. Critical or neglectful parents, poor academic skills, frequent moves making 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 of yourself as the “poor” kid in a community of the affluent, sensing you are the average child in a school filled with bright youngsters, feeling ashamed of your parents or residence, frequent rejections, getting fired (whether deserved or not), clumsiness, a history of abuse or bullying; physical unattractiveness, deformity, or injury, etc. For a more thorough discussion of these causes, click here: The Causes of Insecurity. Now back to the list of signs of insecurity:

  • 9. Do you laugh nervously in social situations? It is another behavior betraying self-consciousness.
  • 10. People will appraise you harshly if they see you bite your nails or they appear bitten.
  • 11. Are you self-effacing, placing yourself at a disadvantage — letting others go first, speak first — reluctant to raise your hand? Do you hesitate to take your turn? Do you sacrifice your interests as a matter of course? Insecurity can make you wait until the opportunity before you is lost. Excessive deference displays little regard for yourself, even if some amount can be a sign of good breeding and consideration.
  • 12. Are you nervous eating in front of others? Do you fear dropping something, displaying poor table manners, or making a mess? 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 actions can reveal your sense of uncertainty.
  • 14. Might you make too many excuses? Those who are unsure give explanations where none are required. Imagine you order an entrée at an elegant restaurant and the waiter asks whether you want an appetizer to start. You explain why you don’t. Some folks offer multiple excuses for what they do, anticipating criticism. If you must give a reason, limit yourself to one. The more 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 and I need to study.” One reason will be more convincing. You needn’t explain yourself as often as you think.
  • 15. Insecurity can be suggested by hesitation to ask for a favor or an inability to say “no.” Anticipation of rejection or disapproval is the motivator for both of these problems with self-assertion. By contrast, a self-assured person will not believe the relationship (or his own value) is dependent upon going along with someone else’s wishes or fulfilling the desires of others as a matter of routine.
  • 16. Do you make frequent requests for reassurance? A few examples: “Does that make sense?” “What do you think?” “What would you do?” “Do you think that is a good idea?” “Do I look OK?” Must you have sex to prove your partner remains interested in you? If you are self-assured, you won’t implore your lover to calm your doubts and remind you, over and over, in words and deeds, of your desirability or intelligence.

I suspect you get the idea. Please add an item if you like. You can use the list in one of two ways: to consider whether you are insecure or evaluate the confidence 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. Also, you might want to read  The Upside of Insecurity.

The image above is Insecurity by Lacey Lewis: With permission.

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85 Responses to “Signs of Insecurity: Behavior That Reveals a Lack of Confidence”

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Thank you! It hit home with me.

You are very welcome, Kesha. I hope you read some of my other essays. All the best.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

I’m glad you found the essay helpful, Rob. You might also find this of interest:

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.

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.

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

You are welcome, Paula. Keep working at it! Thanks for your comment.

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.

Glad to be of assistance, Christy. Good luck!

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

Absolutely. Thank you.

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

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!

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

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.

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. .

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

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

A good one, Joe. Thanks!

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

Thank you for this. Do you have a source? I’d love to see it.

Thank you!.

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.


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.

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.

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: All the best.

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

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.

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.

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. :-)

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 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?

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.

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.

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.

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

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 .

Exactly right. Thanks for your comment, Thomas.

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

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.

Very good essay!

Thank you, Julie.

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

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

You are welcome, Aris.

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.

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.

Thank you, Your reply is much appreciated!!!

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

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!

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.

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.

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

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.

I have a cousin who is twenty years old, he just cannot keep his mouth shut, he butts in on every conversation and has to either argue what your saying or make a laugh out of it. He still lives at home with his Mom and Dad and he treats them terrible, he calls his Dad terrible names and is so rude to his Mom and his siblings. I’m seventeen years older than him and I ended up having to walk out one night because the minute I started to talk to my Aunt he butted in with a criticism, I told him, “I’m not talking to you” and he just kept it up. The worse thing is they let him away with it and try to laugh off what he is saying as a joke. People are just sick of him at this stage. I have not been to their house since, which was two months ago and they haven’t asked why, and I know it is because they do not want to confront him over his behavior.

Sounds like a difficult situation, Dennis. First, you’ve come up with at least a partial solution: avoid him. It seems as though the cost of this — not going to your Uncle and Aunt’s home — is something you resent, as well as their desire not to see him for who he is. So, if I understand the situation correctly, you’d like three people to change. As a therapist (retired version) I can tell you that it is hard enough to get one person to change and only then when the individual actually wants to. Sometimes it helps to talk about such things with sympathetic friends, sometimes it helps to write about it in a journal. It rarely helps to try to get the last written or spoken word with people who don’t want to listen. So, in a way, you have a grieving process ahead of you, perhaps, to deal with what you’ve lost or what you can’t have. Or, to take a more Zen perspective, an opportunity to learn patience or other strategies of dealing with difficult people who won’t see what is plainly before their eyes. Please don’t take what I’ve written as advice — I’d need to know you personally to give you that, so I can’t be sure that what I’ve said will fit for you. But I hope there is something in what I’ve written that may help. It doesn’t sound fair, but the only person whose life you have control of is your own, and it is your response to your relatives that you have the only probable chance of changing. Again, limiting contact is sometimes the best one can do. Good luck with this.

HI Dr Stein

I totally agree with you, more times people are more annoyed with my Uncle and Aunt, they don’t want to start conflict in their home and will ask them to sort him out, to which they get a reply of, “just give him a box”, and they certainly know that will not happen, although we have all wanted to. So as you say, unfortunately it has to be a stay away situation. He is so smug and smirky when he is doing it as he knows nothing will be said to him, also when he is carrying on like this, he starts to position himself in all different angles on the chair, it’s like he has a bee up his backside and starts moving his hands all over his face and head.

We don’t get to choose our relatives, as all of us know very well. I’ve met very few people, in or out of therapy, who don’t have someone in their family who is a pain. As Sartre said, “Hell is other people,” but we’d be awfully lonely without the best of them. Take care.

Your thoughts please,

Does insecurity in adults manifest itself as a need to flea love when the individual does not find themselves worthy of it. I have had experiences where I am so afraid of the emotions I feel in a new relationship that I have an initial urge to leave and not return. I usually talk myself out of it and try to reassure myself but recently I have been on the receiving end of this behavior and feel the other individual is insecure about the relationship and has felt the need to protect themselves. This particular individual was criticized a lot as a child by a controlling father and humiliation was used as a punishment. I have known this person since grade school and have recently been in contact again.

Thanks for your comment, Jessica. Certainly if one believes oneself to be unworthy of love, avoidance or flight are ways that some people deal with it. As others have said, dating involves a kind of dance. Ideally, the increase of positive emotions progresses at close to the same rate in both parties. If one hasn’t felt those feelings in a long time (or perhaps ever) they can seem pretty threatening. Generally, forcing the issue with an insecure person like that can actually increase their chance of flight. If your friend was badly damaged early in life, he might need to heal those wounds before he is ready for intimacy. Of course, I can’t say anything about your relationship directly, but can only speak in a general way. You are, in any case, the only person you are in charge of. Good luck in dealing with this.

Reblogged this on Dr. Gerald Stein – Blogging About Psychotherapy from Chicago and commented:

Here is a post many people have found useful. This version has been updated since its posting in 2011.

Hello Dr. Stein, greetings from Tel Aviv. I just wanted to compliment you on your interesting newsletters, written in simple, easy to understand language. This one was really good. I also like your comments about classical music.

Thank you, Misha. Best wishes in this difficult moment in the Middle East.

Dr. Stein, this is just a note to advise that there’s a problem in viewing your latest post titled “Mick Jagger was right.”

This message appears: “Sorry – this page cannot be found. Why not to search our archives?”

Thanks, Rosaliene. It was posted unintentionally. It will be revised and then posted properly. Thanks for alerting me.

Look forward to reading revised post.

What to do when he hides watching porn , not only that but what he likes to watch ? . Not only does it make me feel insecure about myself but maybe he likes what he watches instead of me and it seems he would rather watch that than have sex.

Surely this is the sort of thing that would make many people insecure. Assuming that he has been told it bothers you and he has refused to change, it is the sort of problem best discussed in therapy, whether it is marital therapy or individual treatment.

Great information! very helpful.

Your are welcome. Thanks for visiting my blog!

body trama is due to events in ones history. pain and suffering can result. talk theropy can relieve, buy it is impossible to divorce ones events in the past,chemical management can help. our brain retains the pain of the past. it is imposable to not be influenced by our experiences in our past. repeating our scrip from the past of our experiences. deep emotional trama stays with us during the remainder of our life. bad chemistry is the result yielding body distress. disfunctions. biological damage and behavioral expressions do result. insecurity,anxiety are shown. emotional damage and scaring yields many personalty traits,genetic inheirtance can play a big part in ones personal’y traits. healthy correction in experssion is most difficult.

Thanks for demonstrating a further part of the wide range of possible causes of insecurity.

I am 48 years old, and bout everyone of these are Me ! How do you over come it ? I am recently Divorce, and I have tried a few relationship, but I seem to push the partner away !! I need Help !!

The answer, Barbara, would require me to know much more about you than is possible via email. The best I can do is to suggest a visit to a counselor for an evaluation. He/she can then indicate whether you are a good candidate for therapy or direct you to some other form of assistance. If you don’t know someone who can recommend a counselor, you might take a look at the American Psychological Association website. Best wishes.

Thank you so much this article was for me.

I’m glad it was meaningful, Monica. All the best!

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