Insecurity And Contagion

As much as I like to project the impression that I'm 100% confident and self-assured all the time, I'm not. Trust me. My friends know exactly how neurotic I am. I'd say I'm self-assured and confident and A-OK with myself until something rattles me.

Recently this rattling has come in the form of other people's insecurities. One friend of mine--let's call her Friend A--seems to have internalized her mother and her sister's body image issues and diet obsessions while growing up. She gripes about how she has to work twice as hard as everyone else to stay slim. Never mind that she's lovely the way she is and my guy friends extol her hotness. In her mind she comes up short next to tall, willowy size 0 girls. Meanwhile, Friend B and I went shopping recently; Friend B grapples with her own weight issues.

The really startling thing? All three of us wear the same waist size in jeans, and Friend B and I are the same weight. And for the most part I like how I'm built--petite, strong, and healthy.

Lately, I feel as though being exposed to the weight and body issues of others is weighing me down. Thoughts along the lines of "If she's so lovely and amazing and regards herself as unacceptable, what must I be?" are plaguing me like pesky mosquitoes. And before you know it, this rhetorical trap becomes a vicious downward spiral.

The contagion effect of personal insecurities doesn't just apply to body image. Let's say you have a BFF who's brilliant at her job or her studies, or she's an accomplished dancer, a talented writer, or a top-notch athlete. If she constantly beats herself up over how deficient she is, it's very difficult to see yourself through untainted eyes and realize that you, as an autonomous entity, are no less brilliant, accomplished, talented, and top-notch in your own right. The insecurities of others can affect you, especially if building self-assurance is a battle you fight every day with the naysaying voices in your head.

So, what do you do if you think that the insecurity around you is catching? These days, the best thing I can do to deal with contagious insecurity is to distance myself from it, either by throwing myself into my work, going for long walks to clear my head, or surrounding myself with more positivity and spending time with people who have clarity and conviction. I can take better care of myself by pampering body and spirit.

To the people constantly complaining about their flaws or deficiencies to their friends, consider this: Indulging in insecurity is a deeply narcissistic, destructive, and often selfish act. It hurts yourself, yes, but it affects those around you too. Embracing positivity is one of the most courageous, selfless, rewarding things you can do.

I realize I've opened up a can of worms with this topic and I'm far from having all the answers, so I turn this discussion over to you. Have you ever experienced contagious insecurity, or are you someone grappling with personal insecurity? How do you deal with it?


  1. Lisa, you're awesome for speaking out about this. I hadn't ever thought about self-deprecation as a selfish act, but I understand what you mean.

    I'm sure if your friends knew the affect they were having on your self-image they'd be appalled. In my experience, insecurity is very self-focused and we seldom realize that our own fears may be hurting others, too.

    I think some distance is best for now, but if these comments and views continue to bother you, consider talking to your friends. It might benefit them in the long run to know how much their own self-loathing - misplaced as it may be - is hurting you. It's possible that they'll not only curb the comments, but reconsider their doubts.

  2. I have these two friends who are really skinny, and they eat a ton, but they never get fat. I'm the kind of person who is always just a few pounds to heavy, just a teensy bit wobbly, so it can be very hard to be around them, and watch them eat non stop, but have to monitor everything you eat in an attempt to lose a few pounds. I also have a friend who is over weight, so it balances out a bit.

  3. Thanks for the well-wishes about graduation hun!

    I do have friends that do a crap load of self-loathing but I'm totally guilty about complaining about myself at times too; I think it's great that you're pointing out the importance of being optimistic.

    I've definitely learned to accept myself and my flaws more over the years but it's definitely challenging at times. When I was in Vancouver two weeks ago and walking around Metrotown, I couldn't help but feel a little big in comparison to some of the very very tiny girls walking around! But then hey, I'm not a teenager anymore and shouldn't be looking like one either!

    Excellent post Lisa!

    ps. sorry! I accidentally deleted my blog list when I was updating it that day. I've re-added you :-) Thank you for the add!

  4. I'm lucky that I don't seem to have any seriously insecure friends at the moment. I guess our course makes us too busy to complain about our physical attributes. I have a friend though, who always tries to diet, and I just keep explaining that isn't it better to eat what you want and be happy rather than cutting back etc, though it falls on deaf ears. I think it's better to not go against your natural body shape, (though I probably wouldn't say this if I were bigger) and some people take longer to accept this than others. There's lots of super skinny bloggers out there, who should be making me seriously insecure, but I just have to distance myself and concentrate on my good points.

  5. Wow!

    I think it's how you take it. I am not targeting anyone here: Some people just like to better their best. Their sole intention is to find ways to improve no matter how perfect they are. And that's how they become perfect.

    I'd take the weight issues of these beautiful women as an inspiration to strive to achieve the best rather than consider it self-deprecation and get demotivated about oneself. I like to look at the brighter side when I hear my friends be frank enough to express their concerns about themselves. I would consider that they are being their own biggest critic which is actually an extremely hard thing for some people to do: accepts one's own faults.

    Again, not targeting anyone. Just my take on this. :)

  6. I find this difficult too because I am also happy with my body but it seems like most women I've known are not. It makes me very uncomfortable when they talk about it. I don't feel less about myself when they speak about it but it does make me uncomfortable because I don't know how to approach it.

    I've tried being very supportive, i.e. saying they look great (which they do) and complimenting them but that only seems to bring out more and more complaints/insecurities.

    Honestly, the women in my life who have been like that I've lost touch with over the years. Not just because of body image reasons, but because they also tended to be negative people in other areas. At some point I realized there was nothing I could do to make them happier and I didn't want my feelings to be dragged down by them. One of women's strengths is our ability to empathize/sympathize; however used negatively by others over a long period of time it can be very destructive.

    I'm happy to hear that you're comfortable with yourself. Never let anyone make you feel otherwise! You owe it to yourself to remain that way.

  7. Food Fanatic, you make a great point. I'm not against people who set out to better themselves, people who are unhappy or out of shape and decide to do something about it. I think it's a lot more positive to say to oneself "Okay, I don't like this about myself...what can I do to change it?" than it is to self-criticize constantly. And I acknowledge that Friend A and Friend B are taking the former path, and mad props to them for doing it--it takes a lot of determination; it's their forays down the latter path that make things extremely uncomfortable for me.

  8. Not sure...if you call them your friends, you wouldn't distance them for a reason like that.

    Plus, if someone is sharing their lacking with you (or their presumed lacking), it means they confide in you. I would appreciate that!

    Sometimes it's way easier (and makes more sense) to change your own perspective on what someone said than to cut yourself off from someone who was/is so close.

    A lot of times we tend to read too much in between the lines. I would try to understand these 'friends' and maintain a contact rather than isolating them from yourself for such a reason.

    On the other hand, if these people are just people and not your friends, then what they say shouldn't affect you anyways!

  9. I have to say that I'm guilty of being super critical of myself-- and I know it's not very attractive at all, so I'm trying my best to rein in the "woe is me-- I'm pudgy" act when I know very well that most people would kill to be my size. Part of it is learning to accept compliments and not being so critical about what I see in the mirror. I've definitely learned to love myself, love handles (imaginary or not) and all!

  10. Anonymous #2, you make some excellent, thought-provoking, and pragmatic points. Maybe it's not a question of cutting myself off from these people entirely (because they're awesome and I'm proud to call them my friends), but more a question of limiting the effects of contagious insecurity.

  11. It's odd how much others being insecure about themselves can affect us. I suppose we all have to be mindful that of our own negativity in a way. But then again nobody really means to bring others down, and it is a self insecurity after all. Definitely an eye opening post :)

  12. Congrats on the being the Blogger Spotlight this week! <3

  13. This is something I think almost everyone experiences to some extent.

    All of my closest friends I've grown up with have svelte figures and weigh under 110 pounds. I have a more athletic but petite build. It's easy to compare myself to them but I try not to because you truly cannot help what build you were born with.

    I've been trying to channel any negative thoughts about weight and body image and turn them into self-confidence.

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  15. Great post Lisa! Way to highlight the ISSUES that come up in fashion and real life. I completely agree with you that it's important to distance yourself from them. It's not like they aren't good friends or good people.

    When a close friend falls into these insecurity traps, there's actually nothing you can do for them but to listen. And no matter how much you try to help it's ultimately up to them to choose to see their body in a positive light.

    And until they can see that, they'll probably think you're not helping either way :/

  16. I know exactly what you mean! I live with five other girls and insecurities are thrown around more than borrowed clothes.

    I find the key is to take some time away from the inciting incidents - if you find they bring it up more when shopping/trying on clothes, shop solo for awhile. If it's when eating out, try brownbagging it and cooking at home. I agree with Sal - you should let them know that their insecurities are affecting everyone and putting a cloud over your time together.

  17. It's easy to start feeling this way. I think I remember reading a quote somewhere and it made me smile, and whenever I start feeling insecure I remember it. It went something like this: "You will always find people you that are smarter, more beautiful, or more talented than you are, but a hundred other people will be thinking the same thing about you."

    Never take your blessings for granted! No one's perfect.

  18. good post, Lisa! You are right, obsessing about your flaws is self indulgent and affects those around you negatively. There's nothing wrong with wanting to better yourself, but there's no point whining about it to anyone who will listen! No one will ever be perfect, no matter how hard we try or what standards we set for ourselves.

    You shouldn't let the insecurities of others affect your own self image. Just because they think they have a problem, it doesn't mean you do.

    If they are really affecting you that badly and you want to keep them as friends, try talking to them about it. They might have no idea how their negativity is affecting you. Try telling them that the next time they feel like griping, you want to talk about what they like about themselves instead. Turn the conversation into something positive and confidence building.

    If that doesn't work, think hard - do you really want to spend time with insecure people who make you feel bad about yourself? Maybe not.

  19. lisa, i love this post! confidence is really a beautiful thing and it's so sad when people don't appreciate all that they have. good for you for being the confident, smart, talented, beautiful one...and being fabulous enough to realize it. you should never ever let anyone tell you otherwise. xoxo

  20. I went to school with a bunch of gorgeous girls- people who's moms were flight attendants, models, miss singapores even... It was hard trying to remind myself that I was gorgeous every single day. The most important part is just to find looks that you think you look fantastic in and be like, this is how other people see you every day. I guess it takes a lot of energy to try and convince yourself that you're gorgeous, which you absolutely are, but just work on the self-esteem!

  21. ive dealt with people who are insecure and always putting people (or himself) down... and it affects how i see the world. so yeah, like u said, DISTANCING myself was the best decision made.

  22. Wow this is a great post. It's so good of you to bring it up because I'm pretty sure it's an issue we grapple with everyday, especially people even remotely interested in fashion/looking good. While it can bring out a healthy urge to look better and take better care of one's overall appearance, we often end up feeling insecure because there will always be that prettier/taller/slimmer/curvier girl.

    It's tough to not get affected. I agree with what Sal and Shay said about how it might be a good idea to talk to them about it and find out where they're coming from and if there's a way to help them see that there's no need for their whining/complaints. And it will probably also be easier to spend time with other friends who aren't so obsessed about their weight issues etc. I find myself gravitating to people who are confident about themselves and are NICE (not necessarily extremely pretty) because they somehow just make people feel comfortable and happy. It's great that you're happy with how you look and that you've been trying to throw yourself into other things... I admire you for being able to take care of yourself in that way. =)

  23. I'm too busy with my own insecurities to worry about anyone else's ;-)

  24. But we are humans, we are insatiable. There is always room for improvements not room for fatty cells to grow!

  25. anorexic. ballerina. 14 years.

    i know all too much about staring in the mirror looking at other girls thigh muscles.

    it's so much deeper than skipping breakfast lunch and dinner.

    positivity is the key. acceptance as well.

  26. I try to eat as little in a day as I can, and only when people are around so that it doesn't affect anyone else. I also don't open up about self doubt to those who are very close to me so they don't get worried or wonder about themselves.

    Trisch xo

  27. Thank you to everyone for their thoughtful comments on this subject! I've really enjoyed seeing all the viewpoints brought to the table. Anonymous #2 made some great points that I really took to heart--namely, that having friends who trust you enough to open up to you like this is a great thing.

    I commend Vegan Salad Party and Trisch for bringing eating disorders and serious self-image issues into the discussion, and I think some clarification should be made on my part. Friend A and Friend B are very healthy in their approach to diet and exercise, and the insecurities they express at times are the sorts of nitpicking at one's physical appearance that we all indulge in sometimes. If a friend came forward to me with an admission of something more serious than that, I'd be there for her, stat.


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