On in­sec­ur­ity as a friend

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.