Insecurity is defined, in a psychological sense, as a feeling of apprehensiveness and uncertainty; a lack of assurance or stability. More fundamentally, it is the basic fear of the unknown. It is not hard to imagine how one could decide to avoid making certain decisions and taking certain risks due to the fear of the unknown. However, you will shortly see how letting our insecurities affect our lives in a negative way goes much deeper than fearing the unknown. It is because of why we fear the unknown.
The two most fundamental forces driving all of human behavior and the decisions we have ever and will ever make is pain and pleasure. These two driving forces are even more fundamental than the fight or flight mechanism that is innate within every one of us. We weigh the fight or flight options based upon which choice could lead to pain and which one could lead to pleasure. It is important to remember, however, that the avoidance of pain is necessary for survival whereas the gaining of pleasure is not a determinant of whether you live or die. With that said, the human brain, instinctually, will do far more to avoid pain than it will to gain pleasure.
The process of using pain and pleasure as a basis for all of our decision making is based upon the subconscious linking of pain and pleasure to past experiences. Anytime we experience anything new we subconsciously establish what that experience means to us, whether it is pleasurable or painful. Sometimes this linking of pain or pleasure to an experience is very blatant, but other times it can happen without us even realizing it and it is not always rational, either. When similar experiences present themselves to us in the future, our brains go through a lightning-speed process to determine how we should react to them based upon that past linking of pain and pleasure to those experiences.
Let’s take a look at a real-world example of this process to get a better understanding of how our insecurities can run our lives, many times, in the wrong direction. Consider the teenage boy that has been rejected by a girl he likes after asking her out on a date. At the moment of rejection, his brain subconsciously links the emotional pain of rejection to the actual act of asking the girl out on a date. In the future, he is more likely to avoid asking another girl out on a date simply because, in his subconscious, the possible pain of rejection is more real to him than the possible pleasure he could gain by taking the risk despite his past experience.
Based upon this simple example, I’m sure you can now apply the same basic process to many aspects of your own life. Maybe someone you know suffers from an eating disorder. This is because they link so much pain to becoming overweight from eating too much. This pain becomes so real to them that it drives their decisions to an extreme level of avoidance of food as in anorexia. The obvious result of this is them becoming sickeningly thin and malnourished. Despite their sickeningly thin appearance, they still tend to perceive themselves as being overweight which causes them to further perpetuate their irrational decision to avoid eating food.
The reason these insecurities and irrational fears can end up running our lives through the decisions we make is because the pain we link to the experience is so deeply rooted in our subconscious minds that we do not have much conscious control over it. It becomes an automatic process when we are faced with scenarios requiring us to make a decision. Much like Pavlov’s dog, it is a type of behavioral programming.
Just because this is an automatic process that takes place without conscious control, all is not lost. We can overcome these irrational insecurities and not allow them to force us into making irrational decisions that make us lose the very likely pleasure we would gain if we chose otherwise. The first step is simply being aware of how the process of linking pain and pleasure works within our subconscious minds. Once you are aware of the process, controlling it becomes a much more realistic possibility.
Knowing that the brain will do more to avoid pain than it will to gain pleasure, use that to your advantage. Try consciously linking more pain to allowing your insecurities to defeat you. Make the loss of potential pleasure gained more painful and make this pain real to you. You must really feel it and even go out of your way to amplify it. Once this new pain is felt and becomes very real to you, the automatic response or behavioral pattern of insecurity begins to crumble. You interrupt that pattern by establishing new meanings to what certain experiences mean to you. Only when this shift takes place will you be able to effectively conquer your insecurities and take more conscious and positive control over your reactions to external experiences and, therefore, more positive control over your life.
“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.” ~ William Shakespeare