On insecurity as a friend

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There’s a com­mon nar­ra­tive about con­fi­dence that says that con­fi­dence is good, in­se­cu­rity is bad. It’s bet­ter to de­velop your con­fi­dence than to be in­se­cure. There’s an ob­vi­ous truth to this.

But what that nar­ra­tive does not ac­knowl­edge, and what both a per­son strug­gling with in­se­cu­rity and their well-mean­ing friends might miss, is that that in­se­cu­rity may be in place for a rea­son.

You might not no­tice it on­line, but I’ve usu­ally been pretty timid and in­se­cure in real life. But this wasn’t always the case. There were oc­ca­sions ear­lier in my life when I was less in­se­cure, more con­fi­dent in my­self.

I was also pretty hor­rible at things like read­ing so­cial nu­ance and figur­ing out when and why some­one might be offended. So I was given, re­peat­edly, the feed­back that my be­hav­ior was bad and in­ap­pro­pri­ate.

Even­tu­ally a part of me in­ter­nal­ized that as “I’m very likely to ac­ci­den­tally offend the peo­ple around me, so I should be very cau­tious about what I say, ideally say­ing noth­ing at all”.

This was, I think, the cor­rect les­son to in­ter­nal­ize at that point! It shifted me more into an ob­server mode, al­low­ing me to just watch so­cial situ­a­tions and learn more about their dy­nam­ics that way. I still don’t think that I’m great at read­ing so­cial nu­ance, but I’m at least bet­ter at it than I used to be.

And there have been times since then when I’ve de­cided that I should act with more con­fi­dence, and just get rid of the part that gen­er­ates the in­se­cu­rity. I’ve been about to do some­thing, felt a sense of in­se­cu­rity, and walked over the feel­ing and done the thing any­way.

Some­times this has had good re­sults. But of­ten it has also led to things blow­ing up in my face, with me in­ad­ver­tently hurt­ing some­one and leav­ing me feel­ing guilty for months af­ter­wards.

Turns out, that feel­ing of in­se­cu­rity wasn’t a purely bad thing. It was throw­ing up im­por­tant alarms which I chose to ig­nore, alarms which were sound­ing be­cause it rec­og­nized my be­hav­ior as match­ing pre­vi­ous be­hav­ior which had had poor con­se­quences.

Yes, on many oc­ca­sions that part of me makes me way too cau­tious. And it would be good to mod­er­ate that cau­tion a lit­tle. But the same part which gen­er­ates the feel­ings of in­se­cu­rity is the same part which is con­stantly work­ing to model other peo­ple and their ex­pe­rience, their re­ac­tions to me. The part that is do­ing its hard­est to make other peo­ple feel safe and com­fortable around me, to avoid do­ing things that would make them feel need­lessly hurt or up­set or un­safe, and to ac­tively let them know that I’m do­ing this.

Just carv­ing out that part would be a mis­take. A moral wrong, even.

The an­swer is not to get rid of it. The an­swer is to in­te­grate its cau­tions bet­ter, to keep it with me as a trusted friend and ally – one which feels safe enough about get­ting its warn­ings listened to, that it will not scream all the time just to be heard.

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