If you've ever felt like everyone was watching you or judging your decisions, had feelings of imposter syndrome, or felt insecure about your body or looks, you aren't alone. In fact, more than 99 percent of men and women remember the very first time they experienced an insecurity and how old they were when it happened.
These feelings of insecurity can be incredibly common. And even though you might know better than to give into the doubts that can creep into the back of your head, they may be hard to fight off. Worse yet, these very common insecurities can make it hard to form healthy relationships, feel comfortable sharing your feelings, or interact with people you think wouldn't understand your emotions.
But where do these insecurities come from, and how long do they stick with us? To learn more, we surveyed 1,000 men and women about their self-doubt and uncertainties. We asked them about their very first feelings of insecurity, where they originated, who might have caused them, and what they do to practice self-love despite those anxious feelings. Read on to see what we learned about the nature of doubt and how to overcome it.
When you think back over old memories and the events that are more likely to stick out in your mind, do negative experiences make a more lasting impression than positive ones? As it turns out, the idea of a "negativity bias" is fairly common – it helps explain when the events and encounters that didn't make us feel good somehow became more memorable than the ones that did.
That might also be part of the reason our insecurities stay with us for so long. More than 99 percent of people told us they remembered their very first experiences with feelings of insecurities and how old they were when it happened. Both men and women surveyed admitted their first insecurities developed when they were only 16 years old, and that doubt was focused on just one thing for nearly 57 percent of women and more than 48 percent of men: their bodies.
Feeling confident about the way you look can sometimes feel impossible, and those hurtful thoughts develop at a relatively young age for many Americans. But our bodies aren't the only things we start to feel insecure about as adolescents. More than a quarter of women and almost 36 percent of men said their first insecurities were about their personality or abilities, and nearly 1 in 10 said their clothes and possessions made up their first feelings of self-doubt.
In most cases, the very first time we feel insecure about ourselves, those emotions are provoked by the actions of other people. More than half of men and women said another person's comments were the cause of their first feelings of self-doubt.
Those experiences can manifest into a different kind of self-consciousness, though. Fifty-seven percent of men and women said the insecurities they felt later in life were self-imposed criticisms rather than the kinds of thoughts brought on by other people.
For young children and teenagers, the effects of bullying can have a dangerous and lasting impact. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bullying affects 20 percent of teens in high school today, and cyberbullying (through digital channels like social media) affects 16 percent. For many young people, that bullying is often a consistent experience as opposed to something that only happens once. Beyond feelings of anxiety, social isolation, and symptoms of depression, these encounters may form into the personal insecurities that stay with them well into adulthood.
Nearly 59 percent of people who said their bodies made them feel insecure the first time they experienced uncertainty about themselves said the thoughts were brought on by another person's comments. Close to 74 percent of people who felt self-conscious about their clothes or possessions said the same. In contrast, concerns about their personality, abilities, or family were often more likely to be self-imposed rather than brought on by someone else.
For more than half of people who remembered the details of their first feelings of self-doubt or insecurity, a classmate was the person responsible for provoking those emotions. In some cases, our first insecurities are brought on by the people in our lives we're meant to trust the most. Over fourteen percent of men and women said it was a friend, and nearly 1 in 10 said their mothers initially made them feel insecure about themselves.
Whether they come from classmates, friends, or even ourselves, the first insecurities we experience can sometimes become traumatic experiences.
Roughly 41 percent of women and 45 percent of men said they felt better today about the things that first made them feel insecure, often when they were much younger. For more than 68 percent of men and nearly 72 percent of women, however, those insecurities were either the same or worse than when they were young.
Learning to Love Yourself
Real or imagined, feelings of self-doubt can be roadblocks on the path to happiness and might even have a deeply negative impact on mental health. Experts suggest there's actually a relatively straightforward method for overcoming these feelings of doubt: Become an optimist. Actively trying to think of the glass as being half-full rather than half-empty can help you turn negative emotions into positive experiences. For some people, optimism is like a resource they can draw on in times of anxiousness or unhappiness.
Despite their different form of insecurities, more than 59 percent of men and 50 percent of women believe they've learned to embrace themselves rather than focus on the feelings of self-doubt. That process can take time, though. We found that younger Americans, especially those in their teenage years through their 20s, were much less likely to say they'd learned to embrace themselves. -
Between 50 and 60 percent of Americans in their 30s, 40s, and 50s felt confident in their own skin, followed by more than 60 percent of people in their late 50s and 70 percent of men and women in their early 60s. By the time they were 65 or older, we found that more than 85 percent of men and women loved who they had become.
Path of Self-Discovery
Learning to love yourself and feel confident in the person you are (or are becoming) can be a process. For most people, it takes time and dedication. Feelings of self-doubt and uncertainty are common, and it can be hard to make them go away completely. Instead of focusing on what other people think or feel, experts recommend starting with yourself. Self-inflicted criticism is more likely to plague us later in life, and learning to overcome those kinds of thoughts can go a long way in the process to self-love.
More than half of people we surveyed who said they didn't currently fully love themselves said they didn't think they ever would. While women often found self-acceptance by age 33, on average, men found the same peace of mind several yearsearlier, at 27. Still, it can be a journey. Of those still hoping they find their own sense of self-love, women expected it to happen by the time they were 45, and men by the time they hit 40.
Power of Positivity
Learning to love more about yourself than the way you look could be a key to finding self-love and acceptance.
Roughly 62 percent of men and women who favored their personalities and abilities above their body or families had the healthiest feelings of positivity towards themselves. People who favored their personalities were also more likely to say they loved themselves unconditionally and the least likely to suggest they wanted to change things about themselves in order to be "good enough."
Valuing material possessions too highly could be doing more damage to your self-esteem than you realize. Less than 1 in 4 people who said they were the most proud of their clothes or possessions were able to say they loved themselves unconditionally, and more than 2 in 3 felt they needed to change something about themselves to feel worthy of acceptance.
Trusting the Process
Learning to feel confident in who you are and the things you're doing can feel like an uphill battle, but people on the other side of that journey had encouraging perceptions of what it takes to achieve self-love. Nearly 55 percent of people said there wasn't a trick to loving themselves, but overcoming the feeling of self-doubt was just something that happened naturally over time.
Another 52 percent of people said they learned on their own, and close to 46 percent said they simply stopped caring so much. Other methods of positive reinforcement included discovering what they were good at (35 percent), getting help from their significant other (24 percent), and improving their fitness level or weight (22 percent).
Channeling Energy Into Emotions
Depending on how you're feeling, the last thing you might want to do is get up and go to the gym when you're experiencing insecurity. Believe it or not, that might be exactly what your body needs. In fact, one of the biggest psychological benefits to routine physical activity is an improved sense of self-esteem. Because exercise releases natural endorphins (the "feel good" chemical) in the brain, the feelings you get after going for a brisk walk or a workout at the gym can literally be euphoric.
For people who've learned to embrace themselves as they are, the most popular practice of self-love was exercise. Other people liked to talk to their family, friends, or significant others, while some said reading books or meditating helped them embrace themselves and let go of the doubt.
Overcoming the Doubt
No matter who you are or what makes you self-conscious today, almost everyone remembers the very first time those insecurities started to creep into their mind.
In many cases, our first experiences with self-doubt originate from interactions with classmates, though even people close to us (including friends and family) can cause feelings of inadequacy. Those feelings don't go away easily, either. Most men and women told us they either still harbored those specific feelings of insecurity or that they had gotten worse over time. Still, there are things everyone can do to help combat feelings of self-consciousness. Exercise, communication, and reading may be able to help on the path to self-love and acceptance.
We surveyed 1,000 people on their experience with insecurity from the earliest time they could remember to now in order to explore and better understand the emergence of insecurity, how it evolves, and the nature of its conquer. Fifty-four percent of our participants were female, and 46 percent were male. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 84 with a mean of 36.1 years old and a standard deviation of 11.5. We excluded any participants who did not remember their first insecurity or who reported never having felt insecure before. We weighted the data to the 2016 U.S census for age and gender.
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