Written by Karl Perera, MA, DipLC
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Having worked in psychology for many years, I often get asked, what is the difference between insecurity and self-consciousness?
So, I thought I’d put together this helpful article to explain it.
Comparing insecurity and self-consciousness
According to Wikipedia, insecurity is where you feel negative emotions such as nervousness, or fear when your mind perceives a threat to your physical or emotional safety. Self-consciousness on the other hand is being aware of yourself in the moment, and where you fit within the rest of the world.
A perceived threat to your personal safety can take many forms including physical, emotional, and social factors. Self-consciousness can also lead a person to feel insecure.
So, below I will explain what leads to a feeling of insecurity, the overlap between insecurity and self-consciousness, and how being self-conscious can cause insecurity. In addition, we will look at some things you can do to improve your overall well-being and sense of confidence.
What is the relationship between feeling insecure and feeling self-conscious?
Feelings of insecurity arise when you perceive a threat either real or imagined that causes negative feelings. For example, if you are in a public place, and there is a person acting aggressively or erratically in your immediate vicinity.
This makes you feel unsafe because they could hurt you or someone you care about, and you may not feel you have the adequate skills to handle the situation.
Breakups can be a source of insecurity and low self-esteem unless you learn to deal with them.
This makes you feel scared, fearful, and uncomfortable which are all feelings of insecurity.
Being self-conscious, on the other hand, is where you reflect on who you are, and where you fit within your community and the world as a whole. It can be quite a negative emotion, as explained in the following definition by Merriam-Webster:
Definition of self-conscious
“feeling uncomfortably nervous or embarrassed when in the presence of or when being observed by other people.”Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Accessed 27 July 2020 at: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/self-conscious
When a person does this, they over-focus on themselves and their actions. As a result, they can feel insecure, knowing that there are others who they feel are better or more successful, and this may cause stress, shyness, or anxiety.
Typically, feelings of self-consciousness arise when you believe you could do better, and then feel humbled. Or you may feel you have done something wrong.
You may need to apologize for how you have wronged someone in the past, and as a result, must admit to the ‘world’ that you were wrong. In doing so you leave yourself vulnerable to another person to forgive you.
Other times, you may not know exactly where the feelings of insecurity come from. But, there are some key places to look.
What causes the negative emotions that come from feeling self-conscious?
As previously mentioned, sometimes we don’t know exactly where these negative feelings come from. It could be a news story you’ve read about the success of someone else that makes you feel inferior. Or, a story someone tells where they did something that you feel you could never do.
This often leads to feelings that the world is unfair, and that other people have advantages that you could never have. Such as being taller, more attractive, or more successful.
This feeds back into your survival instincts, where you feel that you are inadequate to attract a mate, or feel insecure in gathering resources you need to survive. It also extends to self-improvement goals where you feel unable to achieve your aims in life.
Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs: what it is and how it relates to feeling insecure and self-conscious
Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs provides a good summary of where feelings of insecurity come from, and areas to improve to feel more confident and secure in yourself.
Although most people will have come across this concept, it hadn’t been quantified until recently by a study done at the University of Illinois. It showed that it is a real phenomenon.
The most base level of insecurity comes from the basic survival instincts we all have as humans.
These are shelter, food, and water. When one of these is threatened say by a boss at work, who threatens to fire you, or a person steals or destroys your ability to get food, shelter, and water.
That way you all look out for each other, and you feel nurtured and cared for.
As you take care of your base level needs, this frees up your mind to pursue your true purpose in life.
Therefore, you should reflect on your current situation and take steps to get these needs met, which you can do using goals. There are some great audios on setting goals, one I recommend is Reach Your Goals (From HypnosisDownloads.com).
How do you alleviate feelings of insecurity and self-consciousness?
The key ways to alleviate the feelings of insecurity and self-consciousness are to improve areas of your life that are causing you these feelings.
As the world changes, and old ways of being successful in life that worked for our parents no longer work today’s financial and social environment many people can become frustrated and lash out at others.
To alleviate feelings of being unsafe, you should do some form of self-defense training such as a grappling art like wrestling, jiu-jitsu, or judo. As well as, a striking art such as kickboxing or boxing.
As you gain proficiency you will have a better understanding of your physical abilities. It also has the added benefit of giving you meaningful and healthy relationships and making you part of a community.
Sometimes these feelings are temporary and fade within 2 to 3 minutes as you keep moving and making progress towards your goals.
The reality is that some situations are actually dangerous, and you can’t avoid these feelings without getting out of a particular environment. As Michael Jackson once said “just beat it”, and live to fight another day.
Food, and shelter
In today’s world resources you need are typically money, which allows you to buy everything you need for your survival. So, this feeds back into your ability to secure a job or be successful in your business.
Therefore, improving your ability to earn money by reading books, talking with people, and taking action will do wonders for feelings of insecurity.
You should also take reasonable steps to safeguard your resources such as having basic insurance and living in a safe neighborhood or country.
Ability to attract a suitable mate
To alleviate these you should look to maximize your physical attractiveness. Such as being in shape, and eating healthy. That way you are doing all that you can do in this regard.
It is also the case that most people aren’t extremely physically attractive, so you aren’t alone in this regard, and even the most physically attractive people can suffer from feelings of insecurity.
Being connected and embedded in a social group
You can do this in a number of ways such as joining a meetup group, joining a hobby club such as walking or running. In doing so, you create a new habit for yourself of spending time with other people in a social context.
This is a basic need for humans to have emotional and physical interactions with others and alleviates a lot of the negative feelings associated with being insecure and self-conscious.
The difference between insecurity and self-consciousness is that insecurity is a negative feeling that occurs as a result of having your basic needs threatened. Self-consciousness on the other hand is where you become aware of your current situation, this can have negative effects if you overanalyze this.
This probably makes you realize that you still have a lot of work to do to get to where you want to get in life. This makes you feel humble when thinking about the success of others, and the hard work they put in to get there.
- Wikipedia: Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs
- Wikipedia: Emotional insecurity
- Diener, E & Tay, L, (2011). Needs and Subjective Well-Being Around the World. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 101(2):354-65
Website Author and Your Guide
Karl Perera is a fully qualified Life Coach (DipLC), Teacher (MA), and author of the book Self Esteem Secrets. He has taught at various universities including Durham, Leicester and Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge. He has run More-SelfEsteem.com since 1997 since suffering from low self esteem for more than 25 years overcoming it in his thirties.