The ruling paradigm claims that we should rely on our strengths to manage personal insecurity. All of us have doubts and all of us have strengths. Both are very easy to identify. If it was easy and beneficial to manage insecurities by relying on strengths, everyone would do that by now. Somehow this is not happening. Let us try to dig deeper… More reading materials can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Basic humanity as the most common strength
All of us have somewhat different strengths. Some strengths are more developed than others. There is one thing common to all of us, and this is the basic humanity. We can lose money, prestige, and health, but basic humanity is something we can rely on. Our self-esteem and the value we have as human beings may be derived from our basic humanity.
What is this basic humanity? It is closely related to compassion. We can feel deep interest and emotional involvement in the lives of other people, and we can also apply this skill to ourselves.
Basic humanity is an innate interest in the well-being of other people. When we feel more humane we feel more compassion and kindness and less guilt, shame, and resentment; we feel more loving and worthy of love. Basic humanity motivates respectful, helpful, valuing, nurturing, protective, compassionate, and altruistic behaviors. In adversity it motivates sacrifice; in an emergency it motivates rescue.
The sense of basic humanity is narrowly focused in the early stages of life, largely restricted to caregivers. With prefrontal cortex development, it expands to kinship and tribal or communal affiliation, and with maturity, it can include the entire sea of humanity. It grows with high self-value and contracts with low self-value. The only way to maintain genuine self-value is to think and behave humanely.
The most common insecurities
What are the most common anxieties? Usually, they are “sticky” self-talk patterns.
- The pretender syndrome. A common thought among people who achieve something. “My achievements were caused by some lucky coincidence. At some point, people will understand that I am not as talented as they think. Then they will make me feel guilt and shame.”
- The fear of failure. A person who is about to launch a risky project may think: “I am not good enough for this. Everything I have done so far did not prepare me for this particular challenge. I will fail all those who trusted me and rely on my success. That will be unbearable.”
- The feeling of inferiority. One who does not even try usually has a great reason for it. “I am not as good as these other guys. Even they fail, and they are stronger and smarter than me. I could never do the stunts that they do and they do not even sweat.”
- The oppression resentment. As a child, I was a Jew in an antisemitic country. The common reasoning was as follows. “The odds are stacked against us. All the doors are open for the others. We need to be stronger and smarter than everybody else even to get a chance. Then we need to be stronger and smarter than our kind to get in. And then they still will do all they can to fail us.”
- The non-competitive mindset. Avoidance is often elegantly reframed. Here are my thoughts when I stopped playing chess. “I do not want to enter this rat race. When I win I will make someone miserable. If I lose, that makes me, my family, and my trainer miserable. The draw is boring and is not worth the effort. All results lead to suffering. So, why should I play this game?”
- Negative self-image. Some doubts do not need any justifications. Make a video of yourself speaking. What do you feel? “I am ugly. My hair is a mess, I look fat, my voice is disgusting. What a shame! I never want to see this again”. In my courses, I have many hundreds (maybe a couple of thousands) of videos where I am speaking, and I still have this feeling about each and every one of these videos.
The positive effect the insecurities have on us
We associate insecurity with negative feelings, but it is not always justified. Some effects are positive. If there was no evolutionary advantage, we would not get these feelings and thoughts.
- Humility. This is probably the most positive effect. We get closer to our basic humanity as something that cannot be affected by the factors causing the insecurity.
- Awareness. Once we are insecure, we are looking for signs. We scan the faces of other people, we examine in all details the trends and the competition, we try to improve our positioning. In fact, insecure people get some advantage in these valuable skills.
- Caution. As we proceed we make the preparations to retreat with minimal losses. This is also a positive effect.
- Motivation. When we identify that something is not good enough, we try to improve it.
- Compassion. We have a strong emotional connection with other people through their insecurities.
- Teamwork. People work better as teams, and synergy is often about helping each other with relative strengths and limitations.
Insecurities are considered negative for a good reason
- Chemical effects. When we feel bad, there are usually some things in our bodies causing this feeling. Quite often this is a mix of stress hormones and other active ingredients. They are not good for our health.
- Social pressure. Possibly a part of herd mentality. Weak individuals are endangering a herd. If they do not get a chance, the stronger individuals get more resources and offsprings. The herd must survive, and the weakest often sacrifice themselves. The evolutionary drive here is against the survival of the weakest.
- Lost opportunities. The best opportunities are associated with high risk. Cautious or avoidant individuals cannot access the best opportunities, and cannot maximize the profits when the times are good.
- Aggressive behavior. A cornered animal has a strong fight-or-flight reaction. People who do not feel safe can become aggressive. Quite often this is a lack of more effective response combined with extreme insecurity. Oppressed people
- Self-hurt. People who feel strong guilt or shame are more likely to hurt themselves, up to a point of ritual suicide, for example in medieval Japan. We can see similar behavior in trapped animals that can chew their own foot to escape.
- Oppressive behavior. The individuals with a clear advantage sometimes make this advantage more evident by performing degrading acts on other individuals. The classical bullying is often a way of dealing with personal insecurities.
We do not really want to let go of our insecurities. What we want is manipulating their strength and channeling them to more constructive patterns.
For example, we do not want to repeat negative thought patterns. If a negative thought appeared three times, it is a good idea to do something about it. Ideally, every negative thought should automatically ignite four positive or constructive ideas.
We want to channel the energy of the negative thoughts into our strengths.
Mature responses to doubts
Typically reframing allows transforming negative thoughts into positive behavior.
- From pretender syndrome to mentoring. If we can make others repeat our success, this means our success was not random. Helping others may transform pure luck into destiny.
- From the fear of failure to perseverance. If we fail more than once and nothing bad happens, we start to fail smarter, try new and creative options. If we plan and allocate our resources wisely, we can fail many times until something changes. This may be luck, timing, creativity, or training. Perseverance tends to pay off.
- From inferiority to learning. Every time we feel not good enough is a learning opportunity: we can improve. The idea is focusing on what can make us better and acquiring those skills one step at a time.
- From oppression to justice. Personal strengths can be fueled by fighting for honor, honesty, justice, equality, and other social virtues. It is important not to identify with the bully and justify his actions, but try to improve the rules of the game.
- From avoidance to joy. Rather than focus on the bad things that are inevitable, focus on the good things that happen along the way. Accept the bad, and try to gamify the positive elements.
- From negative image to welcoming diversity. We are different, and this difference is not always good for us. But it is a good thing for the world. In all our diversity we are better and more versatile team players than people who are closer to ruling standards. In a way, we are perfect the way we are.
Why is it so hard
Leveraging the strengths feels natural. Weaknesses are something we try to downplay. Transforming weaknesses into strengths is counterintuitive. We try to happify the things we usually avoid.
In one of the possible recipes, we need to
- acknowledge the negative thoughts,
- accept the driving forces behind them,
- understand how the things we fear are actually good for us,
- channel the relevant emotions constructively,
- build positive habits and behaviors from channeled emotions.
- make sure not to revert to less constructive patterns.
Even thinking about all the work required is exhausting… And we need to repeat this each time we have bad thoughts…