Uncertainty of action


The feeling when you are uncertain about your ability to do something or to measure up to a certain standard. This uncertainty has a negative effect on your self-esteem.

You feel insecure when you are uncertain if you are good enough for something. For example, if you are uncertain whether you are smart enough to join an honors program, if you are attractive enough for other people to be interested in you, or if you are funny enough for people to want to spend time with you. The abilities that feel you lack are of the kind that are judged and affirmed by other people. The abilities that other people care about largely depend on your social circle. For instance, in a professional environment people may care much less about your looks, and more about your business competences (unless you work in modeling). Because insecurity is about being good enough in or at something for 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 something that everyone experiences 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, if someone made a remark earlier about your outfit, or even if someone just looked at your clothes in a strange way, you may become insecure about your fashion sense. Even when no one says or does anything that reveals a negative opinion, someone may notice himself that he falls short on a certain quality, compared to others in the group. Secondly, your tendency to experience insecurity is related to your self-image or self-worth, which depends on your character.

Sometimes insecurity stays localized, meaning that 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 gets insecure when he is coaxed to talk to Jessica, a female colleague he likes. He suddenly finds himself lacking in his appearance and eloquence.

Movie clips

Typical expressions

“I’m nothing. I’m worthless.”

“If I say something now, people will find out that I’m stupid.”

Murphy's bad day

Read the whole story

Comparisons with other emotions

Insecurity & Anxiety

Anxiety and insecurity are both fears for abstract threats. For both emotions, it can be difficult to pinpoint a direct cause. The difference between the emotions is in the type of threat that they respond to. In the case of anxiety, the threat is existential: threatening the physical and mental wellbeing of a person. For insecurity, the threat is social: not measuring up in the eyes of others and ultimately, being accepted.

Insecurity & Nervousness

If you have to give an important presentation, you can feel nervous and insecure. Both emotions seem to relate to personal success and failure. The difference is that you are nervous for what you do and achieve, and insecure for who you are in the eyes of others. Because most of life’s achievements are somehow linked to recognition (or rejection) of others, the two emotions can often co-occur. However, someone can feel nervous without feeling insecure when they have to do a difficult job that does not impact how other people see them. For example, a doctor can be nervous for a complicated operation, but probably not insecure. Conversely, someone can feel insecure about themselves in a situation that does not require them to do or achieve anything.