Hoping to start a discussion about overcoming insecurity

by ILikeLogic 4 min read22nd Sep 201353 comments


Since Jr High at least, I've been frustrated by my insecurity. I don't intend this to be a personally revealing post so I'll just sum it up by saying that being insecure has had a profoundly negative impact on my life. I feel that it is the single biggest reason why I've failed to reach my potential in all ways. That's fine though, I'm not really bitter but I remain very frustrated and I want to solve this problem. I want to 'crack the code', if you will.

I've recently started reading some psychology books (again) which has led to me to revisit a couple of the self-help/psychology books that I used to be very fond of.

I've really been wanting to find a forum where I can discuss this with people who will understand what I'm talking about. Well, the other day, I followed a link to LessWrong, which I was somewhat familiar with because I used to visit and spend time here every now and then, and I remembered that I had read on here about self-help. Also I remember reading about how some of the people here had really liked the meetups because they were able to to talk more freely and be better understood than they normally are. I have had some frustration in discussing emotional topics elsewhere because of the lack of intellectual rigor with which they are often discussed. Like everything else, human emotions 'work a certain way'. Exactly how they work is not something that is perfectly understood by anyone but I find it frustrating when discussing them with people who don't seem to understand that, whatever the rules are, there are rules. So it occurred to me that LessWrong might be a good place to have the kind of discussion that I'd like to have. If you are interested in emotional insecurity in general and my take on it then you may want to read the rest of this post.

I've developed my own understanding of insecurity, which, admittedly, is a synthesis of other people's ideas, but I haven't found any book or therapy or system that puts it all together in a way that I fully agree with.

Here is what I think:

I think that what insecurity is, is inhibition of feelings of disappointment/loss because of an implicitly learned belief that to express these feelings will have negative consequences (ie – it will only make things worse).

I came across this idea after reading some EvPsych theory about the functional purpose of shame. The purpose of shame, it seems, is to signal to the other person that you feel badly and to elicit a rapprochement, a re-initiation of the connection that was broken when the other person broke it (due to anger or rejection or disapproval). Shame is functional. It allows group members to signal how much they value their connections to one another when those connections are temporarily broken. The person who engaged in the behavior that elicited the disapproval/rejection/anger feels a rather intense aversive feeling when the connection is threatened and this is signaled by the signs of distress that accompany properly functioning shame. The other person recognizes that the transgressor regrets the transgression and this appeases their anger. So the whole thing results in everyone feeling better, all connections restored, and the transgressor being a little bit wiser for it all.

I think insecurity develops when a person who has had a connection interrupted, expresses the normal distress and is further punished for that expression. If they are punished enough for expressing this distress they will suppress it, consciously at first and then automatically after the habit is formed. (I remember as a child being proud that I could endure these humiliations without crying. But I was naive, because I believed that if I wasn't reacting to it I wasn't affected by it. Wrong. This was not a good ability to have.) Before long they will be repressing their distress without even being aware that they are doing so. If they are like me they will, later, wake up to the fact that they are anxious and awkward and that these things are making their life a lot worse than it could be.

This is where a couple of the books that I've been reading recently come in. The two books are 'The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy' and 'Unlocking Your Emotional Brain'. At one point in 'The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy' the author (Louis Cozolino) talks about his job as a therapist being to create, in his clients, the expectation of reassurance or soothing, when they are faced with distress. It occurred to me that the anxiety that I was experiencing may be just the memory of a rejection/disapproval followed quickly by inhibition(accomplished via fear or anxiety). Inhibition that became a habit because there was no reassurance or soothing when the rejection/disapproval occurred. And so the idea naturally followed that if I could perhaps, somehow, not inhibit the feeling, and instead jump in and console or reassure or soothe myself in one way or another, then I could break the habit of inhibition and be rid of the anxiety.

That brings me to another self-help book, 'Focusing' by Eugene Gendlin, which I read about 20 years ago. The basic idea of 'focusing' is that if you pay attention to the feeling in your body, and don't distract yourself with too much thinking or paying attention to other things but just 'stay with' the feeling in your body then after some time (seconds or just a few minutes usually) you will recognize the feeling and have an insight about what it is that will provide you with immediate relief as the feeling, consciously recognized, runs its proper course. I remember really liking this book when I first read it and tried its ideas. The relief that you can feel is immediate and unmistakable. This is not something where you adopt some positive attitude that you think will benefit you but underneath you still feel anxious and insecure. No, the relief leaves you really feeling good and confident.

When 'Focusing', a book written about 30 years ago, showed up in the “Users Who Bought This Also Bought” on Amazon.com for 'Unlocking Your Emotional Brain', I remembered reading it and naturally got the idea to combine the focusing technique with my idea about jumping in with reassurance.

At about this time (this was fairly recently) I had also started reading 'Unlocking Your Emotional Brain' (still am – I'm about 1/3rd through it). This book is very exciting because it goes into a bit of detail about some of the scientific research on memory re-consolidation that really makes it seem possible to permanently rid one's self of unhelpful automatic emotional reactions. The gist of the memory re-consolidation research is that every time neuronal connections are activated they are vulnerable to change, and will change if a relevant experience that contradicts or modifies the belief on which they are based, happens soon enough after the emotion has been activated. If they are not activated, however, they cannot be changed. So just talking and thinking about feelings without activating them cannot change the learned emotional reactions. The authors have a therapy that they call Coherence Therapy which is designed to take advantage of this. I haven't really read far enough to know the details of their Coherence Therapy but what I have read so far fits in well with my own developing understanding of this.

Also relevant is Arthur Janov's primal therapy. When I read his book, also almost 20 years ago now, I had a strong intuition that he was right, even if his theory to explain it was a bit half-baked and nonsensical. I tried to do Primal Therapy on myself and at times I succeeded. And the change in how I felt was, like with focusing, profound. The change with a good primal was even stronger than with focusing. I felt completely secure and free of anxiety for up to a few days. It was wonderful. It also had a feeling of “this is how it is supposed to be”. So my experience with Primal Therapy (on myself, never with a therapist) also leads me to believe that some experience that involves actually engaging the problematic feelings is necessary to change them.

Well that's about where I stand with it right now. I'm trying to spend some time every day doing my process (a modified form of Focusing). When I have some quiet and a decent block of time (at least 20 minutes uninterrupted but ideally up to an hour) I seem to be having some good success with it but it is also frustrating at times as sometimes it is difficult to get 'movement' in how I feel.

I'd really appreciate anyone's thoughts on this. Thanks in advance.