Are you secure? This word, secure, shows up in a lot of different aspects of the English language. You can secure your belongings. Your home can be secure. You can feel secure in who you are. You can even feel a secure attachment in your relationships. What does it mean to be secure as opposed to insecure? Why do we as humans crave security so much?
One of my favorite shows to date covers this topic pretty well: the aptly named Insecure created by Issa Rae. The show most closely follows two Black women in their late 20s and early 30s living in L.A. We follow their paths of personal growth—mistakes, toxic relationships, successes, flops, arguments, makeups, and all. Issa and Molly go from being two deeply insecure women with their guards way up to two nuanced, successful women living fully in their power. It’s a beautiful journey, and one we don’t often get in contemporary TV.
More often, the characters on our most popular shows seem to fall flat in terms of character development and personal growth. Not to mention, many reality shows center on dysfunctional relationships and people who never change. Audiences seem to crave the drama and schadenfreude of watching people whose lives are worse than their own. If they don’t have to change, then neither do we. Insecure.
We all have our insecurities. Be they about our looks or our lifestyles, our dreams or our fears, we each have a special blend of insecurities that act as a wall between us and the outside world, us and our potential successes, us and those we want so desperately to love.
When we believe we are in a place of security, we feel more comfortable and confident in taking risks. When we feel secure with each other, we can open up and be vulnerable with others. Yet, life does not come with guaranteed security. Anything can change at the drop of a hat. People die. Manuscripts are rejected. Businesses fail. Relationships fall apart. The world keeps spinning.
Last week, I was on a call with a life coach as part of a nutrition group I’m in, and the life coach was giving a presentation about how shifting our mindset can shift everything about our habits. When it came time to do some live one-on-one coaching, I volunteered. I’ve been having problems with motivation toward my usual healthy habits for months now. I used to blame things on my lack of energy when I was writing my dissertation (I graduated last May) or working 60-hour weeks to pay bills and set myself up for a better job (I started that better job over 2 months ago). Still, the motivation just hasn’t been there.
“What are you feeling when you want to work out but don’t?” The coach is traditionally beautiful, long blonde hair falling in waves around her face, round blue eyes staring intently into the webcam.
“Um,” I hesitate, thinking. “I guess I’m feeling like it doesn’t matter, so why bother?”
“That’s what you’re thinking,” she corrects me. “What are you feeling?”
I think for a moment, bringing up the memory of a recent attempt to exercise that ended in a lack of follow-through. “It’s like a sinking feeling. Starts up in my chest and then sinks into my gut. Heavy.”
“So,” she proffers, “despair.”
It’s not a question. I swallow hard. Despair is a heavy word.
I nod. “Yeah, I guess that is what I’m feeling.”
“And when you feel that despair, you think that what doesn’t matter, exactly?”
“I think that it doesn’t matter what I do or what I eat.”
“Why?” She’s assertive, to the point.
“Because no matter what I do, it’ll never be enough.”
“Enough for what? What is it that you won’t be enough for?”
I hadn’t really thought that far, so I take a pause, letting the question sink in. I let out a nervous laugh, realizing that what I’m about to say out loud is absurd.
“I guess I have this picture in my head of what my perfect life is supposed to look like,” I admit, “and I feel like I’ll never be enough to have that life.”
“Okay,” she presses on. “What does that life look like? Your perfect life.”
The nervous laughter comes again. “Well, I guess I have my own apartment, and I’m in a great relationship, and I love my job, and I work out and meditate daily, and I have a good relationship with my family…”
“Okay, so let’s look at this.” She shifts in her seat and glances up, as if pulling answers from the ceiling. “Working out and meditating, those are both actions, so those are things you can actually do. We’ll come back to those. But, these other things are thoughts. What is a good relationship with your family? What does that look like? Only you know what that looks like for you, and having a ‘good’ relationship with them is about how you’re thinking about it, right?”
“I guess so.”
“Now, tell me what you already have that’s good.”
We keep this up for awhile, as she breaks down what I already have in my life and the things I think I want. She points out how I could choose to put off being happy until I’ve gotten the things on my first list, OR I could choose to be happy now with the things I already have on my second list.
“I’m not enough,” is my own personal insecure thought. In all aspects of my life, it pops up again and again. I’ll never be pretty enough to be in a great relationship. I’ll never be witty enough to have my dream writing career. I’ll never heal enough to mend the pain I still feel with my family. I’ll never… I’ll never… I’ll never…
The coach went on to tell an anecdote about a man who always held happiness at arms length because he feared the pain that was bound to come when the other shoe dropped. Then one day, his wife died in a car accident. The other shoe had dropped. Did he feel relief that he’d kept her at arms length and didn’t feel the pain too sharply? Of course not. He mourned the happiness he could have shared with her during the time they had. He’d let his insecurity surrounding fear of loss steal from him the happiness and love he could have felt for years with her.
I’m doing that every time I tell myself, “I’ll never be enough to…” Instead of rejoicing and embracing what I have, I lament what I fear I’ll never become.
In the show Insecure, the character I most relate to, Molly, has an amazing career as a corporate lawyer. Her apartment is gorgeous. She dresses in all the latest fashions and looks incredible. She’s close with her family and maintains three close friendships. And yet, her insecurity is palpable. No matter the long list of things she has already, she is plagued by the fear that she’ll end up alone—all while rejecting so many potentially great relationships. Even her friends, she often holds at arms length, clearly concerned about what they might really think of her.
We all do this in some way. We’re insecure about our worth, so we reject love. We’re insecure about our ability, so we never try to make our dreams come true. We’re insecure about where and whether we belong in the world, so we self-sort ourselves into belonging nowhere. Is that a way to live? Not fully, no.
So, how do we shift? How do we choose love and joy over our insecurity? How do we find a way to feel secure in a world that is ever-changing and can only guarantee to eventually let us down? That’s a great question. It’s not one I’ve fully answered yet.
But, I will say that I think it comes with practice. I think it comes in looking for the joy first. It comes in waking up every morning and finding something to feel grateful for, even if it’s just that we’re not dead yet, meaning there’s still time to find joy and heal and grow. As Molly and Issa discover in Insecure, it comes in letting people in, bit by bit, until it feels comfortable to embrace love fully. I think it comes in all those small moments of decision when we could choose to stay and try or just leave, and we stay.
Just like learning to ride a bicycle or use a smartphone, learning how to open our hearts to possibility—even in the face of insecurity—takes time and practice and courage. Living in a place of security does not come from walls and armor, but from choosing to feel grounded in gratitude and the present. Instead of looking for the next monster or catastrophe, we can feel secure in knowing that we can handle it when it gets here. We can feel secure in knowing that we don’t have to be alone if we don’t want to be. We can feel secure in knowing that we chose joy over fear as often as we can.