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The Importance Of Being Insecure
How rampant self-doubt changed my life for the better
“We all self conscious - I’m just the first to admit it.”
Kanye West (before he went mental) - All Falls Down, 2004
Growing up in my family, one of the worst things you could say about someone was that they were insecure. My old man would use the word pejoratively about anyone who displeased him: a colleagued disagreed with him at work? ‘He’s a deeply insecure man.’ A kid bullied me at school: ‘Don’t worry about it, he is obviously insecure.’ A pundit on Match Of The Day irritated him? ‘Look at his face! You can see how insecure he is!’
I would nod and shrug and try to imply that I understood how pathetic and pitiful the legions of insecure people that surrounded us really were. But I didn’t understand. By which I mean, I literally didn’t understand what the word ‘insecure’ meant. All I knew was that it was a very bad thing to be. And that I wasn’t it. I knew this because my dad would tell me: ‘Insecure people behave stupidly and are annoying. Luckily, you are not insecure.’
Years later I found out what insecure meant. And then I realised that my dad had been wrong because, in fact, insecure was exactly what I was. In fact, I had been so insecure that I was unable to just ask my dad what the word meant. I thought he would judge me for it. I didn’t live with my dad - ours was a weekend relationship. As such, I put myself under a certain amount of pressure to make a good impression in the brief windows of time we spent together. He seemed particualrly focussed on intelligence and confidence as the facets he was looking for in a child. I tried my best to feign both, always feeling as if I fell short. Hence all the insecurity.
I was insecure about the way I looked, the way I spoke, the things I was interested in, the way I dressed, the way I walked; I was insecure about the very essence of my being. What was the point of me? I didn’t know. I felt insecure about that. But having learnt that insecurity was the deepest of all character flaws, I felt ashamed of it too. So I sometimes went over the top by acting like a person who was profoundly secure in themselves. I thought that behaving with forthright assurance was the only way of making anyone like me. Often, I discovered, it had the exact opposite effect.
I’m not blaming my dad. He probably thought that by telling me I was a secure person then it would be so. It was flawed logic but probably driven by good intentions.
The truth is, everyone is a bit insecure, aren’t they? To not be insecure is to have total, unwavering (and slightly weird) self-confidence. A person devoid of all insecurity must never lose any sleep over the things they have said or done or the way they are perceived by others. In fact, other people’s opinions of them are probably a complete irrelevance to them. You might suppose that someone whose self-assurance is that water-tight could lack a little empathy. I mean, if you really don’t give a second thought to how your behaviour impacts upon others then, yes, you must feel wonderfully free. But I’m pretty sure it also puts you somewhere on the psychopathic spectrum. Say what you like about Charles Manson, I bet he wasn’t insecure.
To be insecure is to be human. To me, a certain amount of insecurity denotes a willingness to self-reflect. Which is not only healthy for you but those around you too. If you are able to carry yourself without an iota of self-doubt then, I suppose, you must have established your worldview and convictions in childhood and not had any reason to revise them since. Which would be really impressive - but I just don’t buy it.
Who on earth can charge into life without ever stopping to worry about the wisdom of their actions, the suitability of their behaviour, the strength of their emotional responses, the shape of their nose, the choreography of their dance moves, the style of their kissing or the length of their trousers?
Of course, you need to keep this shit under control. You can’t spend your whole life fretting over every last thought and deed or second guessing how others might react to you. You need to overcome a certain amount of insecurity or at least learn to live with it. You might not ever be 100% sure of yourself but you can at least learn to say ‘fuck it, who cares?’ once in a while.
I think I’ve managed to get the balance right, although it’s taken me the best part of 48 years. I’m able to walk the dog on a hot evening in my pyjama bottoms and a pair of flip-flops without giving a fuck what passers by might think of me. But I still have a little voice in my head that sometimes tells me I might be imperfect, incorrect, disgusting or twattish. Who would I be without that voice? Probably the sort of boring bastard that thinks he’s got life sussed.
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Some services, links and phone numbers to help you through the tough times
https://www.samaritans.org/ Tel 116 123
@YoungMindsUK 0800 018 2138
@CharitySane 0300 304 7000