You feel insecure when you are uncertain if you are good enough for something1, for example, whether you are smart enough to join an honors program, whether you are attractive enough for other people to be interested in you, or whether you are charismatic enough for people to want to spend time with you. These personal qualities are generally of the kind that we assess through other people’s judgments.
It generally depends on the social context which personal qualities are relevant and important, and thus, what people are insecure about. For instance, in a working environment, people may care much less about looks and more about professional competence. Because insecurity is about measuring up to a certain standard in the eyes of other people, the emotion is ultimately a fear of not being accepted, respected, or popular.
If people have a strong and frequent tendency to experience insecurity, it can be a trait, in which case someone is said to be ‘an insecure person’. However, insecurity as an emotion is experienced by everyone from time to time. Although insecurity is about the future possibility of something bad happening (as all fear-emotions are), past events can make it more likely to occur. For instance, you may become insecure about your fashion sense if someone made a remark about your outfit. Even when no one says or does anything that reveals a negative opinion, someone may notice that they fall short on a certain quality, compared to others in the group (through a process called social comparison). Secondly, people’s tendency to experience insecurity is inversely related to their self-esteem2.
Sometimes insecurity is restricted to a certain personal ability. For example, if someone makes a sneering joke about your looks, this may not impact your feelings about your intelligence. However, often insecurity has an overall negative effect on your self-esteem, making you feel worthless altogether.
In the comic, Murphy becomes insecure when he is coaxed to talk to Jessica, a female colleague he likes. He suddenly finds himself lacking in his appearance and eloquence.