Treating Insecurity and Anxiety: Eight Roads to a Solution

512px-Anxiety_cloudImagine you are considering therapy for the first time. Or perhaps your treatment isn’t working. You stand at a crossroads, like the hub of a wheel where eight spokes beckon for attention. How should you choose among them?

Not all are good and you may even realize that as you decide. Here is a guide to thinking about what to do (and what not to do) with the weighty package of insecurities velcroed to your life. Click the link for a comprehensive list of the signs of insecurity.

ALCOHOL AND DRUGS. The issue of substance dependency should not be ignored. Recall the old Chinese proverb, “First the man takes the drink, then the drink takes the man.” Alcohol’s comforting relief and buoyancy is commonly replaced by longer term emotional darkness. Marijuana (cannabis) might mellow the smoker out but leaves underlying insecurity and anxiety untouched when sober. If you are attempting psychotherapy, best to tell the counselor the extent of your substance use straight away. The deepest wounds are slippery things. Grasping them is harder (if not impossible) when alcohol or drugs add to the excess lubrication.

WILLPOWER AND SELF-ANALYSIS. The old saying tells us, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Yes, some few people manage their own psychotherapeutic project. Indeed, Freud analyzed himself. What is required? Although I know of no research on this, I suspect one needs a strong capacity for self-reflection, high intelligence, some degree of emotional openness, the courage to look in the mirror, tenacity, and knowledge gained through reading about treatment. Willpower is necessary because the self-analyst must inevitably get out of his head and leap the wall of fear to master behaviors blocked by insecurity: good eye contact, self-assertion, saying no, asking for things, making uncomfortable phone calls, inviting someone on a date, public speaking, etc.

THE SEARCH FOR A STRONGMAN. Some rely on a mate to perform avoided tasks. The significant other becomes a caretaker or body-guard, an individual who is sought to do the jobs the hesitant one believes he cannot: return a product to a store, accompany him to events otherwise avoided, and so forth. This is no solution to anxiety or insecurity, but a human crutch to sidestep the need to change. Another danger: too often the protector becomes an overlord, pushing you around or worse; the mister turned monster you hoped he would protect you against.

PSYCHOTROPIC MEDICATION. Medications, like other drugs, carry possible side-effects. Antidepressants can impair sexual performance, anti-anxiety tablets often have addictive properties. While a good psychiatrist will carefully watch for these, pharmaceuticals do not create a sense of security and confidence beyond the time you use them. Moreover, to the extent that the psychotropics help you feel better, your motivation to tackle underlying reasons for your symptoms may be reduced. That said, sometimes susceptibility to anxiety and depression is inherited and biologically-based, making the booster of drugs a necessary and permanent mode of treatment.


AVOIDANCE AND THE INTERNET. Anticipation of discomfort, humiliation, or failure translates to turning down invitations — limiting chances for growth, accomplishment, and joy. The troubled soul is assaulted by hatchet-bearing ideas that have become permanent, non-rent-paying residents in the head. The data set of the insecure is based on an unfortunate history. The job of recovery translates to writing over your old history by gradually taking on social challenges and accumulating successes reinforcing your effort.

Beware the false god of the internet! The more time you worship at its alter and “let your fingers do the walking” on the keyboard, the less you have for direct human contact (involving actual walking out of the apartment). For all its marvels, this deux ex machina can become a screen behind which to hide the human face, trading yours for a virtual one. Yes, social media can be a stepping stone to a life beyond the keypad. For many, however, it’s another form of concealment and self-distraction. You can identify too fervent online social network disciples by the pain they will suffer for their god: a malady called text neck, the product of bending over their smartphone.

PSYCHODYNAMIC PSYCHOTHERAPY. Psychodynamic treatment, the traditional talking cure, can be a foundational part of counseling. It helps one clear the life-history undergrowth undermining a healthy self-image, planting  seeds of sturdiness to deflect the inevitable defeats we all encounter. Such counseling also lifts the weight of self-blame by recognizing the fingerprints of others on one’s problematic background story. It cannot stop there, of course. Grief and grieving demand attention.

Beyond relieving submerged pain, one must eventually take psychoanalytic insight for a test-drive: try new behaviors just as one would a new car before purchase. However much a “depth psychology” approach is needed, empirically based (research supported) interventions provide the practical impetus for emotional availability, symptom reduction, and behavioral change.

COGNITIVE-BEHAVIORAL THERAPY (CBT). Many of the well-researched and effective treatments just referred to fall into the category of CBT. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), for example, is among those problems amenable to this set of tools. Indeed, attempting a solution for OCD psychodynamically is, in contrast, a therapeutic cul-de-sac. CBT can often, however, be combined with more traditional talking therapy to join the best of both worlds.

ACT (ACCEPTANCE AND COMMITMENT THERAPY). ACT is described in the following way on its website: “Developed within a coherent theoretical and philosophical framework, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a unique empirically based psychological intervention that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies, together with commitment and behavior change strategies, to increase psychological flexibility. Psychological flexibility means contacting the present moment fully as a conscious human being, and based on what the situation affords, changing or persisting in behavior in the service of chosen values.”

Plowing through this technical language, ACT deals with the losses most patients have sustained, traveling from a grieving process toward acceptance of those life circumstances that can’t be changed, reduced avoidance, learning to live in the moment via meditation, deciding what is most important to you, and choosing behavior consistent with your stated values.

WE ALL TAKE TURNS at life’s crossroads. Sometimes the best advice is to make no movement, patiently waiting for the traffic to clear. Do remember, however, not choosing is also a choice. The clock is always ticking, even if, in the digital age, we must strain to hear it.

The top image by John Hain is called Anxiety Cloud sourced from Wikipedia Commons. The photo beneath it is Girl Suffering from Anxiety by Bablekahn at Kurdish Wikipedia.

7 thoughts on “Treating Insecurity and Anxiety: Eight Roads to a Solution

  1. Thank you for another excellent post 🙂 I fear that I indulged that search for a strongman, with the risks that you identified…..and I sort of knew it at the time (though not the risks) in that I consciously ‘chose someone’ who I thought was stronger than I was. I sensed it on many levels – the panic disorder that really took grip when I left home and went to university, mysteriously went away when I found my strongman (or, I guess, parental substitute….). But I _am_ trying to do things differently now – and in that sense others around me have to change too, even if it’s a slow slow process when they aren’t in their own therapy and aren’t motivated to carry out the same sort of self-reflection…..your posts are always so thought-provoking!


    • Glad to be provocative, especially with the many bright folks who read my essays, you included. The line that caught my attention is the one about how others must change too. Three categories: those who will gladly change, those who will dump you because you aren’t the person you were, and those who will try to pressure you into being who you were. I wrote one post about this some time ago, but don’t recall the title off hand. Anyone who prepares to change faces this. Some succumb to the pressure to revert. I imagine this has or will come up in your therapy.

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  2. When we overcome a fear, each time our self esteem rises just a bit. Something minor may force it to plummet once again, but still a little bit remains and we hang in there. I was scared to drive to Albany, NY from my home about an hour and 20 minutes North. Traffic scared me. My husband always did the driving on Interstates, Mass Turnpike, on our way to Maine because we had to pass through what seemed to me to be “big city traffic”. But he’s been in the Albany Medical Center for going on 4 weeks and I’ve had to drive down there many times, sometimes down and back in the same day, sometimes drive down and come back a few days later. And you know what? I can do it. In fact, I like it. I plan not to be in the area when there is rush hour traffic or during Saratoga Race Track arrivals and departures, and I’m fine. And I think back and think to myself that “Doug would be so proud of me”. Of course, he wouldn’t one way or the other, but I think of his encouragement so many times and think how independent I have become because of it. I was a little insecure when Laurie06 didn’t respond after I wrote back, but I thought maybe she didn’t get the message or doesn’t need my support. I still think of Doug and miss him sometimes, but realize that I should not beat myself up and try to change those feelings. He was an important part of my life for over 7 years….and his teachings have made me a better person. Still wish he could see how far I’ve come and be proud of me…but I try to tell myself that he knew it would eventually happen in time and had confidence in me when I didn’t have it in myself. Lots of stumbles along the way, but weekly sessions with Elizabeth and your weekly column help me understand and accept myself. Thank you again. Have a nice weekend! Go Red Sox!


    • Brava, Judy! As to the stumbles, this is what Theodore Roosevelt said, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” As to the Red Sox, I’m all for them unless they face the Cubs in the World Series!

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  3. Since an early age, I’ve struggled with insecurity and anxiety. Growing up in a culture that did not promote therapeutic care, I’ve survived through willpower and self-analysis. As you have noted: “Although I know of no research on this, I suspect one needs a strong capacity for self-reflection, high intelligence, some degree of emotional openness, the courage to look in the mirror, tenacity, and knowledge gained through reading about treatment.” I concur with your observations.

    When using this method of willpower and self-analysis, one also needs a firm belief in an inner power that’s greater than ourselves. I call that power “God.” Others may have other names for that power within ourselves for emotional self-healing.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “emotional openness.” If what you mean is being truthful with oneself, I agree. There’s no point in lying to ourselves about our insecurities and anxieties. Lies are self-defeating.


    • Thank you, Rosaliene. Your achievements in life and your resilience are a tribute to the combination of will-power and self-analysis. As to emotional openness, you have expressed some of it. I’d add the ability to allow yourself to be touched by the world (and therefore able to experience both joy and injury). I’d say it is the opposite of a too intellectualized approach to life that is often characteristic of people who claim they are completely logical. Take care.

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  4. hiddenlayersbeneath

    I have now read about three or four of your linked blog posts on insecurity. I am very insecure. I try to compensate for it, but I am equally open to admitting it. From what I have learned in therapy and from these posts is that there are reasons for my insecurities and I can manage them. I do not want to beat myself up for having insecurities. It is not my fault. But I do want to manage them better. As I age and deal with physical illness, I am faced with more stigma, discrimination, self-doubt, resentment, and insecurity. I was on a healthy plateau about 6 years ago, when my life looked promising. Then aging happened. My youthful clothes no longer fit, and those lovely long locks of hair were no longer youthful or professional. Slumming it for a few years, I wore unflattering clothes and slept a lot. Depression set in because I could not adjust to the changes in my life. Then my relationships changed. I did not feel like hanging out with peers 10 years my junior anymore. And my healthy same-aged friends were saddened by my inability to physically keep up with them. I felt insecure everywhere. Then discrimination and stigma faced me in the workplace and academia, when signs of my aging, no matter how well I dressed for the occasion, became elusive and indirect conversation topics that I swore were meant to insult me. Bluntly, I was told that older people do not fare well in academia, and the stereotype threat was added to my insecurity. Etiologies aside, I want to manage my insecurities now by reinventing the older me. I want to grow old gracefully by finding a new mature wardrobe that flatters my chubby figure. I want to stop grieving over the losses of my youth by focusing on the adventures I can have with the money and time I never had in my youth. I have experience and barely enough intelligence to still make something of myself, even if I am met with ageist pricks. I want to be able to say “pricks” without feeling guilty about it, and so I have. I do not want to apologize for things like coming out of the elevator when someone else is in too much of a hurry to let me pass as they walk inside, nearly head-butting me without apology. I want to be slower to speak, and allow the uncomfortable silence or pauses in between turn into mature and wise dispositions. I want to listen as equally often as I speak, and I want intellectual stimulation as much as I want emotional. I want to laugh at myself when I make a mistake, and I want to laugh with others as they find my character off sometimes. I want to overcome aging insecurity alongside overcoming overdue childhood and adulthood insecurities. I want to be consciously confident, in the here and now, without dissociation or fragmentation.


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