Insecure. The feeling or state of not feeling safe. Whatever the reason is, we all experience insecurities at some point or another. They can pop up at any time especially in times of unrest or uncertainty – especially if you haven’t been taking care of yourself. Insecurities at a new university, in a new city or country, with even a new language – all on top of the COVID-19 crisis – is a lot to handle. As a new Freshie, Pre-Masters, or a returning student this can be feel overwhelming. But what exactly do insecurities mean for you and me, and how can the unpredictable COVID-19 play into our insecurities?
Our Professor Ella Roininen is taking some time with me today to walk us through insecurities. What are they, how can they manifest themselves in your personal and school life, and where to go once you’ve identified them are just a few questions we’ll dive into today.
Are you ready? Let’s go!
For a clear understanding, what are insecurities?
In this context I would like to define it as an emotional insecurity and unease that comes from perceiving oneself to be vulnerable or inferior in some way. For instance, you may feel insecure when feeling that your classmates have a better grip on things than you do, e.g. do better, know more, can express themselves more fluently and confidently in front of the group, have more or fancier hobbies, are active in student initiatives, etc. Or you may feel insecure to speak up around people or in the classroom, thinking the others know better and will judge you for what and how you say things. Or you may feel insecure about your looks and appearance, thinking these should be brushed up somehow for you to be acceptable and to fit it. You may even think that you are the only one alone, all the others have friends, and you won’t be interesting enough to have even one friend… You see, insecurity can be a passing feeling, but also a persistent feeling of insufficiency in one way or the other.
Is it bad to have insecurities? Or, to not moralize it, can it be seen as negative to have insecurities?
It’s completely normal to feel insecure and especially when you are in a new place surrounded by new people. I feel insecure often, probably every day about one or the other thing. We are social beings, and this includes a mechanism that makes us measure ourselves to others, so I am pretty sure everyone feels insecure every now and then. Some more often than others depending on our temperament, such as shyness, and how we are brought up. Most people just become very good at hiding their insecurities, because outgoing and expressive people tend to get valued in society around us — just think of how people behave in TV series or think of who are ‘sold’ to us as professionally successful people, or social media influencers, or those students in your class that seem to ‘have it all together’. Almost everywhere we go, confidence gets idealized and rewarded, while everyone I know feels small and insufficient and overwhelmed from time to time!
How can insecurities manifest and what can cause them?
I think “feeling small” is a descriptive expression to the kind of insecurities I am talking about right now. This may lead to a withdrawing behaviour, or anxiety manifesting in different ways (such as sleeping problems, fright mechanisms, sadness, isolation, mood swings, substance abuse), or compulsively comparing oneself to others, defensiveness and blaming and criticizing other people, and generally being negative about everything. If someone is complaining all the time about their studies, you, or things dear to you, they are likely having some feelings of inferiority, which they are not able to pinpoint to themselves or express to you outright.
How can insecurities impact me or my friends and family?
If you have difficulties recognizing and accepting your insecurities, they may dampen things for you. As said, you may feel all over negative about your life and people in it, and this is bound to have an effect on your general mood and relationships. Or if you are feeling insecure about your studies or being in the classroom, you may fail to notice the beautiful and inspiring things in them.
What can I do to better identify and mitigate any insecurities I may be feeling now or in the future?
If you are brave enough to admit and even embrace your insecurities, your problem is already half solved. It’s like letting air out of a valve. Relaxing the standards you set for yourself makes you look a whole lot better to yourself (and also shows how artificial and demanding those standards may be): So what if I’m not as fast to pick up things as someone else? What if I’m shy and blush when I’m speaking? What if I prefer to be alone rather than spending my time with a bunch of friends? That’s all me and who is to say it’s not a fine way to be? Maybe easier said than done — it may take years of practice — but once you can honestly say to yourself: I have this vulnerability but it’s ok to me and to the people that really mean something to me, your confidence will soar.
This is the reason it is good to work on our self-knowledge and self-awareness. This means asking questions from ourselves, such as “What is this emotion I am currently experiencing trying to tell me?”, “Why am I really feeling angry?”, “Where does this feeling of jealousy come from?”, “Why do I hate that class so much?” If you can connect to your insecurities, look at them objectively, and – even become if not befriending them – at least tolerating them, you are growing that resilience muscle I was talking about in the earlier blog. That is, you are finding ways to cope, and every time you find yourself coping, you are getting more comfortable with yourself. You will still have those vulnerabilities, but they won’t dominate your life. This of course gets easier when one gets older, gains more perspective on things, and becomes less dependent on peer acceptance. But nothing stops you from considering these things now and to start practicing them. The sooner you start, the faster you get there.
Apropos acceptance. It doesn’t make sense to aim for it. I have this power sentence I use when I feel someone judging or bullying me: “They don’t know a thing about me.” Meaning they don’t know who I am, what I’ve experienced, how I feel about things, what I know, and all I’ve coped with. In short, other people’s judgement touches such a superficial part of us, it’s just a drop of water in the ocean. How much of my attention does this person and their judgement really deserve? Nothing.
Is there any way I can help those around me deal with their insecurities?
Encouragement works miracles! We can train ourselves to speak positively to ourselves and other people. It is not unusual that we are being judgmental without even noticing it. If you really observe your (self-)talk, you’ll find that lot of it — too much — is negatively coloured. But it is possible to train our self-awareness in this area, too. Rather than taking your words as equivalent to who you are, consider them as habits that can be changed. If you feel the need to criticise anything about yourself or other people, catch yourself of tracks, and consider twice: Is it really necessary to say what I am just now about to say? Why do I want to say it? What does it improve in my/their life? It is likely to be heard the way I mean it? What are the likely short- and long-term effects of it? This is taking responsibility for what goes around in your head and comes out of your mouth. Sounds boring, but in fact, that’s the kind of emotional maturity which smooths things out for you in the long run.
I’m new here – new city, country, language – and I feel overwhelmed. I want to make friends, find a nice apartment that’s not too expensive, and do well at school. This is all so much though and I feel lost. What can I do? How do I know if my study program and (specialization) is the right one for me? What if it isn’t the right study program or specialization for me? What can I do?!
It probably makes sense to study one or two semesters before making any final decisions about your study program. During the first weeks or months you get only a glimpse into what’s ahead, so it’s hard to say if the program is the right one for you or not, especially if you made an informed and well-investigated decision when selecting the program. I have seen students being in doubt at first, but then settle happily in their studies, after they gain some experience of it. On the other hand, it’s of relevance to reflect on the program’s suitability to you (in reasonable amounts) and talk about it to people who can help you with your concerns. You don’t want to waste your opportunity to study the things that really inspire you.
You may also be having difficulties in settling in your studies or at the university, or insecurities about your abilities, and these manifest as dissatisfaction to the study as a whole. This happens to me from time to time in various forms. I get utterly dissatisfied about something in my life, and later find out it was actually a whole different topic that caused the reaction. So here I call for patience. Wait and see how things evolve. Be gentle to yourself, letting things unfold in their own pace, without placing too much pressure to yourself to have it all together, or things having to be right immediately from the beginning. Some people settle in new things faster; some need more time to figure them out. For instance, I have accepted that I am a bit slower in working things out, but once I’ve cracked the code, so to speak, things normally work out fine. Until then, I just have to bear with various insecurities.
How should I deal with a bad apartment or roommate?
First learn your rights as a tenant. Karlshochschule can help you to find the instances that you may need to defend your rights. About a roommate: First check with other if your reality holds, if you are not making mountain out of a molehill, and then open communication about any concerns or problems would be the first and most important step. If that doesn’t help, it would make sense to gather views of the people that know you well to decide on the best course of action. And maybe a bit of patience will be useful here, too. Your roommate may be struggling with insecurities themselves and sort them out over a foreseeable period of time.
How should I address professors and university staff? Should I always be very formal and never talk about anything personal? And can I speak with anyone about personal questions at the university?
One thing you can always do: Ask the person in question. We are all here to make the best out of your study experience, and we appreciate you approaching us and finding out each one of us individual way to do it. As it comes to me, please call me by my first name and be your casual, polite self. I believe this goes to most of my colleagues, too. Counselling appointments are available with me and Professor Annette Gisevius if you’d like to discuss any matters that concern you, anything mentioned here in this blog, or any further topics of concern. And don’t worry whether your concern will be “worthy of our time”. We’ll hear you out and find you the right support.
What makes COVID-19 such a time to heighten insecurities? Are there “special” ways to work on curbing and even reducing insecurities with COVID-19 in mind?
Find out the facts, but don’t overwhelm yourself with the information. Media loves this topic and they’ll pull everything they can out of it, which is likely to make you feel even more anxious about it all. Looking inside your head: train your awareness to catch yourself playing out catastrophizing scenarios. You cannot know how things roll out, so better try not to control them beyond your influence. Which is practically the usual measures of wearing a mask, keeping sufficient distance, and taking care of your hand hygiene. If you follow these and generally keep a healthy routine in your everyday life, taking care of yourself and your relationships, your insecurities are likely to stay manageable. You are stronger than you think. Talk to a trusted person as soon as it feels too much to handle, to us professionals at the uni, or let it out in art: sing, write or draw, dance. Once anxieties and insecurities are out in the world, they shrink into their rightful size and place. Sounds trivial, I know, but none of us can stop COVID-19 by worrying about it.
Take a look at this video. It’s an 8-minute video from The School of Life on how to tell if you’re emotionally mature or secure. It can potentially give you ideas on what may be more sustainable and emotionally helpful comparisons to view yourself and your insecurities with https://youtu.be/k-J9BVBjK3o . Reflect on this video.
Insecurities will always be around you, but they shouldn’t dominate your life. Whether you’re new to or a returning student at the Karls, allow yourself the time reflect on your worries and what they say of yourself. Your insecurities do not define you, rather how you react to and handle them. Be gentle to yourself. Ask yourself how you feel and why you feel that way. Take your time and allow yourself to reflect. With COVID-19 on top of our normal lives your insecurities can make you feel small, but just remember you’re not alone. The University as well as the other students around you all have their own unique lives and challenges. Get in touch with yourself. Reach out. Start a conversation.
If you need to hear this, now is the time to take care of yourself. You are worthy.
Now go out and get started.