Fear is one of the greatest enemies of deep, meaningful and developing relationships between human beings and it manifests itself in a number of ways. When we’re afraid in dangerous situations, we instinctively do things to protect ourselves and the parts of us that will feel the most pain. We either become defensive or we lash out! It’s the same in our relationships with each other. When fear comes between us as people, our instinct is to guard against pain or inflict it first. In this post I’d like to talk a bit about one of the ways fear can operate in us and outwork itself in our behaviour and relationships. As you’ve probably guessed from the title, I’m talking about Insecurity.
What is it and what does it look like?
By insecurity I mean being constantly moved and shaken by the opinions of others* towards you, your thoughts and attitudes or your way of life. Insecurity is an issue of identity and whenever someone or something challenges an area of our lives in which we place our identity, our level of insecurity gets put on display. A dude called Bill Johnson once said that “Insecurity is wrong security exposed” meaning that as long as our trust and identity is placed in the wrong thing, we will always be insecure. A lot of people like to think that insecurity is just something that bothers children and teenagers whereas adults are more secure and mature. I personally don’t think that’s true. I’d say in a lot of cases, our insecurities are most exposed during our teenage years as we go through puberty and all sorts of physical and emotional changes in a diverse environment but we then either adopt them as “personality traits” and allow them to define us, judging each other by them or we learn how to hide them convincingly. Sadly in the Church insecurity can pass for humility and can be encouraged and praised and therefore emulated. Trouble! Jesus wasn’t insecure despite the fact that He actually KNEW what people were thinking about Him. But more on that later…
So let me ask you, do you think you’re a secure person? Being secure is not the same as being good at or sufficient in everything that you place your identity in. Often people who claim to be secure on this basis get very upset when either their performance is mocked or their position is challenged. Stereotypical examples? Sheila, who claims to be secure in her appearance when she is apparently the most attractive girl around and receives a lot of male attention. This security is tested when a girl who is deemed more attractive than her comes in and the male attention shifts. Bruce has the biggest muscles in his social group. If people comment on him looking weedy or if another guy with bigger muscles shows up and Bruce doesn’t start hitting the gym hard, we know he’s probably secure! (forgive my misogynistic stereotypes) As I mentioned before, insecurity is an issue of identity. When something is secure, it is safe, fixed, immovable. If someone’s words can reduce us to a self-conscious mess, we may have some insecurity to work out of our lives!
Fear of failing in the eyes of others is at the root of insecurity which actually exposes the fact that our understanding of personal success lies in the opinions of other people. If we can stop at this moment and look at the logic of that, we see that it’s crazy! There will be as many different opinions of us out there as there are people! One of the ways we can wrongly convince ourselves that we’re no longer insecure is by only hanging out with people that either just like us or are just like us. These people are far less likely to challenge our thoughts and ideals, call us names or disagree with us. We no longer feel as though we need our guard up because we believe we can be ourselves with these people. This level of openness makes us feel as though our insecurities have disappeared and we’re now a well-rounded, confident individual ready to take on the world. We’re likely to find out the truth when we’re in the absence of our trusted group of friends. What happens when we meet new people? What happens when we enter a room alone? Are we struck with fear? Do we change our behaviour to fit the people around us? Do we become painfully aware of everyone’s eyes? Are we hoping that our trousers don’t roll up and reveal our “Wednesday” socks on a Thursday?
Insecurity is also being unable to be yourself when those around you aren’t like you.
The fear of not measuring up to people’s expectations can be pretty crippling. Insecurity becomes a lens through which you see the world, filtering out positivity giving you the impression that as you do and say things, you’re walking on a tightrope. You automatically interpret people’s opinions of you to be negative if they are not immediately positive**. If you went to a school where uniform was compulsory, you know what I’m talking about! “Own clothes day” was make or break! Up until this point you were equals with everyone and maybe even considered cool but an out of season jumper, a holey trainer or your WWJD t-shirt could ruin everything! You spent the night before carefully crafting your outfit for the next day (the scary part is that you probably spent the rest of the day judging everyone else by their clothes as well!) because you just had to get this right. Putting on whatever was clean never even crossed your mind. Maybe that wasn’t you but situations like this in school tend to prepare us for life. We often have this expectation that people are going to judge us no matter what and that can be scary if we don’t already know who we are. Very few teenagers know who they are and so the cruel labels that others want to dish out to them are terrifying because if you don’t know who you are, you don’t have a reason to object to someone who claims they do. “Geek”, “Gayboy”, “Ugly”, “Bible basher”, “Emo” etc etc. All weapons in the hands of other people who are probably just as scared and confused as you. Knowing who you are takes away the power of labels and looks.
I’ve found that there are plenty of ways that insecurity can be covered up and disguised and pass for security. One that I’ve noticed that may be less obvious is perfectionism. In some cases, but not all, I believe perfectionism is a fear of imperfection fuelled by the belief that people will judge us on the quality of what we produce or what we do. That can be really intimidating and can even scare us into doing nothing aka apathy (apathy is really just a fear of failure). Perfectionism often gets praised because the rest of the world gets to see the positive fruit e.g. perfectly formed sculptures, perfectly written poems, perfectly cooked dishes. We can raise perfectionists up as heroes and I definitely believe some of them are but I also think that some of them are prisoners of the opinions of others forced to work down the mines of solitude, disappearing deeper and deeper into themselves and only emerging when they believe they have something that will be of worth to the world instead of understanding that they are of worth. We can defend our perfectionism by claiming that we “just want to do a good job” or that “if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well” but this is often just a way of turning our weaknesses into apparent strengths which is another clever defensive manoeuvre for Team Insecurity***. Another potential cover up is continually talking about how secure we are and outwardly judging others that we think are insecure. “Gosh, I wish those girls would have more respect for themselves.” “He’s just fishing for a compliment because he’s insecure.” “I really don’t care what people think of me.” “I don’t need to wear make-up because I’m happy with myself the way I am.” Sometimes I hear people say these things or I say them myself and I hear the faint echo of hollowness and it becomes apparent that the speaker is simultaneously trying to convince themselves and their audience of what they’re saying. If I came up to you and told you I was a human being, I hope you wouldn’t be too surprised but I expect you’d be a little confused. “That’s obvious” you’d think “Why is he telling me that?” We don’t go around telling people that we’re human beings because it’s obvious. We know it enough to not feel the need to convince others and we know others know it enough to not need us to tell them. If I’m constantly talking about how buff I am or how much I’ve been to the gym, it’s likely I’m looking for some validation. I think it’s the same with insecurity.
The more I feel the need to tell you how secure I am, the less secure I probably am. Tricky.
Believing that the quality of our existence is validated by other people and what they think often leads us into ill-advised (maybe romantic) relationships with people who will a) tell us we’re amazing ALL THE TIME and keep our insecurities at bay; b) give us the appearance of being a valid member of society by having a boyfriend/girlfriend or c) treat us terribly as we think we deserve because we’ve decided our insecurities are who we are. All of these relationships are just about treating the symptoms, not finding a cure. It’s about as affective as putting on a new shirt to heal your bullet wound. The problem is that the relationships are likely to end (badly, loudly and messily with lots of smoke) and when they do our insecurities are upset that we left them alone for so long and they come back with a vengeance! We then try to do more extreme things to quiet them again. Don’t get me wrong, what people think of us is important and can be helpful but it’s not the last word in our identity or worth. Sometimes, in order to “in-courage” ourselves or someone else, we first have to expose fear. As they say, courage isn’t the absence of fear it’s action in the presence of it. If we want to be bold enough to overcome insecurity in our lives we need to admit that it’s there. That means no cover-ups, no denial, no treatment of symptoms. Then we’re ready to deal with the problem.
What’s the answer?
Well let’s look at Jesus (if you’re not a Christian carry on reading but I’m talking to Christians in this bit. If you want to get to know God and have a relationship with this Jesus, let’s talk). He is our role model and we’re supposed to be becoming more like Him so what were His tactics when insecurity came knocking at His door? We know that the devil went after Jesus’ identity in the wilderness while He was fasting, “If you are the Son of God…” He would challenge Jesus to prove His sonship i.e. prove His identity was as solid as He thought. Instead of being provoked by the audacity of a created being challenging the Godhood of the Eternal Son and vaporising him by whipping out some unapproachable light, Jesus just quoted Scripture. Interestingly He didn’t quote the Scriptures that spoke of Him and His identity as the Son and the Christ, but only those that directly responded to the devil’s attempts to call Him out. He did this until the devil had nothing else to say and awkwardly walked off (I imagine there was laughter and cheering in Heaven). This is important for us to understand. Sometimes we get our identity challenged by people (or the devil) and we fly into a self-justifying frenzy! Sometimes it’s external for all to see, sometimes it’s internal and we pretend not to care but either way it’s happening instead of us remembering what God says about us. Let’s look at Jesus again in John 5:31-43. Don’t worry, I’ll get it for ya! Red print and everything! You’re welcome.
“If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is true. You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light. I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him.”
Basically some guys tried to step in the ring with Jesus like satan did but check out how He responds. He says’s it’s not even about what He says about Himself but what the Father says about Him. He tells the guys straight that the Father is the only one He will be listening to when it comes to defining His identity. He says that He’s not bothered about human glory because these dudes would be ready to embrace another person that was promoting themselves because they’d recognise their own kindred spirit of pride in them (my interpretation). So what can we learn? Jesus says that He knows that the testimony of the Father about Him is true. How? Whatever God says, is. If it wasn’t before, it becomes. “Let there be light” Erm sorry God, light doesn’t exist here I don’t think we can just do that… Haha nope! Light came into being because He spoke it. The creative voice of God is a beautiful thing but when it gets applied to your life, it’s still true. If we want to find our identity we need to know what God says about us! A lot of people like to promote positive self-talk and a positive mental attitude (PMA, shout out to Kriss Akabusi and the 90s kid massive) and I’m not against that but I do think it doesn’t cut it when it comes to identity. I can tell myself all day that I’m a world class ballet dancer but that won’t make it true.
We need to hear from God concerning ourselves and regularly too if we want to know who we are and be secure in it, not just because it helps us to remember but what He says about us actually makes us who we are.
It’s SO important for us as Christians to be constantly growing in our security and identity because it prevents most of the relational issues we have in the Church. If we’re secure we don’t need to judge others out of fear of them judging us. If we’re secure we don’t need to form exclusive cliques to keep our insecurities safe. If we’re secure we don’t need to keep each other at arm’s length to avoid being challenged on our lifestyle. If we’re secure we can have healthy, vibrant platonic and romantic relationships and fulfil John 13:35.
“God loved you before He made you, before you did anything. His love has never been about what you do.”
Try and wrap your heart around that. In the mean time, here’s an epic poem about all of that…
*Listening to wise counsel and allowing it to affect your decisions isn’t the same as being insecure.
** If this sounds familiar, check out my blog on Rejection
***Here’s a link to a blog on weaknesses:
Thank you for reading. Let me know your thoughts!