I see two kinds of insecurity. The first kind of insecurity is one that thinks of oneself as dumb, bad, evil, a failure or a screw up. It’s a view of oneself that is about your identity. This kind of insecurity can lead to self-pity, depression and a feeling of worthlessness.
The first kind can be attributed to some really horrible upbringings. Maybe you were never told you were loved. Maybe your church had a theology of total depravity and you think you are worthless without your religion. Maybe your friends teased you non-stop. Maybe you were beaten, or suffered assault and grew to understand yourself in light of those brutalities. All these things easily end up contributing to a way of viewing oneself poorly and inaccurately. This kind of insecurity is so hard to reverse. It’s a result of a specific narrative that they have about the world and their place in it. The stories we tell ourselves about who we are are extremely powerful and foundational to everything else in our lives.
The second kind of insecurity is one that doubts one’s abilities and potential of failure. It’s a view of oneself that realizes that they are very capable of doing evil, dumb and bad things. This kind of insecurity can certainly lead to fear and anxiety; the constant gnawing feeling that you are one step away from screwing everything up and that you are only one bad decision away from your life unraveling.
The second kind of insecurity I think can go one of two ways.
If you always view yourself with the potential for great evil, or life-crippling failures then you will walk through life humbly and be less likely to judge others and be disappointed in them. At anytime you can see yourself in their shoes. You can see how they ended up there and you live in gratefulness that you’ve made it this far. However, it can also go too far. This awareness of your potential for evil could quickly create fear that you would screw up and end up paralyzing you completely.
I remember back in high school when I was in charge of running a youth event. With my limited knowledge, I really wanted to shape the youth event like an AA meeting to explore this aspect of spirituality. I brought a team to meet with a friend’s father who had been part of AA their entire lives to speak to our leadership team to help us shape the event in a way that would honour the tradition. When we arrived at his home, I kicked off the meeting by asking him how long he had been sober for. He said one day.
I can’t tell you how confusing this was a teenager. I think I was expecting to hear a number of years and to celebrate and then to move on to hearing about how these meetings went. But instead, he went on a one hour rant about how little we understood addiction and struggle and the damages that alcohol does to families. He said that if he looked at himself as having accomplished something over the course of time that he would be at risk of becoming prideful and believing that his soberness was a result of his own hard work. Every morning he woke up and asked for the strength to make it another day, not celebrating in the victory that he made it the days before.
This man was very self-aware of his own inability and lack of strength to do the right thing and that he was dependent on something other than his own will-power to do that which he wanted to do. Does this make him insecure? I think it does in a way. But it doesn’t seem to be in a bad way. His insecurity here actually made him more self-aware and cognizant of himself.
Another example of this kind of insecurity would be that of my father. He wrote me a song when I was born that listening to it later helped me see. The song was a song of gratitude that I was here and was brought into his life, but also there was a fear that he wasn’t capable of the responsibility that was now in front of him. It was a cry for help in a way. In the song he states over and over again that I shouldn’t look up to him, I shouldn’t depend on him, I shouldn’t idolize him and to look to our heavenly father instead because he just doesn’t have what it takes. His insecurity lead to a kind of humility and self-awareness that few are capable of.
Instead of believing that you are dumb, stupid, bad, evil or a failure; it is better to see yourself of having the capacity to be dumb, stupid, bad, evil or failing. Instead of accepting your identity as these things, you accept that there is nothing but grace that separates you from those identifiers. Distinguishing that difference I think is a crucial element to having a healthy and realistic understanding of oneself.