Reader K e-mailed me with this question:
I’ve always dealt with insecurity issues and some of them go beyond body image into the range of general personality, so I understand that some of this is probably beyond the scope of what you’d write about for the blog. My brother-in-law has a somewhat-long-term girlfriend that makes me feel incredibly intimidated and insecure, but it’s not intentional on her part and the problem lies entirely with me. The fact that it’s my problem and is something I logically know I shouldn’t feel insecure over adds to me feeling frustrated and ashamed of myself, on top of feeling crappy and inadequate as a person. At the start of this year, I decided to work on feeling good about myself so that I can feel better as I go about my life and hopefully have a good relationship with whoever my BIL may marry on down the line. This has manifested itself in a few different ways and directions, one of which is the style angle (and thus, your blog).
My question is this: what does a person do when a source of insecurity/body issues comes from someone closer than celebrities, models, or even people you went to school with? On those occasions where all the positive thinking in the world doesn’t seem to help? Most of the time I’m good, but I still have moments where I feel horrible and can’t seem to shake myself out of it easily. In those moments, thinking positive thoughts about myself doesn’t work, trying to put myself in her shoes (maybe she’s insecure or intimidated by me in some fashion) doesn’t work, wearing a fabulous outfit doesn’t work, and genuine, unsolicited encouragement/compliments from others doesn’t work. Is it one of those cases where it boils down to just trying to keep on keeping on?
A secondary question/observation is that admitting to feeling insecure/jealous of someone else in any way seems to be very frowned-upon. While searching the internet for answers I’ve read different forum posts on this topic, from women feeling insecure of an in-law (usually mother or sister) or sometimes a sister or female cousin. Every time, there would be at least a handful of responses along the lines of: “You’re just jealous and childish and a bad person for feeling that way.” Even if there was no malicious intent stated and the original poster openly acknowledged that they knew feeling insecure/jealous is not a good thing and they wanted to work to fix it. Can there be any meaningful dialogue where these feelings are acknowledged as a legitimate issue for some people, without condoning/endorsing them as a good thing -or- shaming them into being too afraid of judgement to ask for advice to get past it and be happy and confident?
K is dealing with a tough situation. So many fraught emotions, so much stress, and no clear or easy path. I certainly don’t feel like I have a solid, foolproof answer, but here’s what I told her:
Try to remember that if you feel something, it is valid. Just the fact that you’re feeling it makes it so. People get jealous, insecure, and intimidated all the time! ALL THE TIME, I say! It’s completely natural! To shame people for feeling those things doesn’t make them any easier to cope with, and is often just a way for certain advice-givers to make themselves feel superior. I feel jealous myself, and although I try to identify the root of the emotion (which is often related to my own fears and insecurities), I don’t beat myself up for it. Try to give yourself some space and forgiveness around these feelings because loading shame on top of everything else is just going to make it all feel insurmountable.
The idea that has helped me the most when dealing with jealousy and insecurity is this: Often, feeling envious of someone stems from perceiving them to have something you wish you had yourself, or feel they don’t deserve. The fundamental flaw in this logic is that it rests upon the misconception that there is a limited amount of happiness and success in the world. (Or charisma, sex appeal, talent, beauty … any covetable trait.) Without realizing it, we decide that the person in question has it, and that makes it less likely or more difficult for us to get it ourselves. It’s not something most people actively ponder, but it’s at the root of a LOT of jealousy and insecurity. And once you see that and start to move past it, those feelings often loosen. You are an autonomous individual, and your own happiness and success is not contingent upon the actions of anyone but yourself. It’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s also liberating.
I also asked K to consider examining what it is, specifically, about this woman that makes her feel insecure. Does she have something you don’t? Is it something you want? Is it something that has been hard for you to get? Why? Has this always been the case? What can you do to take control of that part of your life? Alternately, does this woman remind you of some other person or relationship from your past? Is it possible that it’s not her so much as what she reminds you of?
Another tactic to consider: My mom once told me that there will be some people in your life who are just “difficult personalities.” And labeling them as such – internally, of course – can be really helpful. It may sound small-minded, but here’s why it’s potentially helpful: You interact with someone, you feel insecure, then you feel cruddy for feeling insecure, then you feel confused, and maybe hopeless. If you enter into your interactions with this person knowing ahead of time that she’s a “difficult personality,” you won’t beat yourself up if your emotions spin out of control. You can just say, “Oh yeah, she’s hard for me to handle. And that’s OK.” You don’t have to change yourself or her, just change how you view the situation and give both of you room to be yourselves.
Finally, if you feel there’s real friction on both sides, you could consider trying to broach the subject with the person causing these difficult feelings. She may be a permanent fixture in your life, so it would help to clear the air. If that’s not gonna happen, you could also consider talking about or even cultivating mutual interests. Do you both like shopping? Love a certain band or author? Or would you consider asking her to join you at an event or for a class? Having something specific in common might make some of the other stuff fall away. You can focus on the places you two overlap, and less on the places where you diverge.
Originally posted 2013-04-22 06:03:14.