Introduction–A Picture of Insecurity
Insecurity is no fun. It’s that nagging feeling of angst and anxiety, of being unsettled and worried. You feel helpless and that you don’t measure up to a person or situation, lacking a sense direction or confidence in how to approach things. Like in the initial stages of dating, a single gay man’s insecurity might look like…”Does he like me?” “Why hasn’t he called me like he said he would?” “Will he still be around even after we’ve had sex?”
These are pretty normal reactions; it becomes insecurity when the person becomes preoccupied and ruminates about the outcome, personalizing it and putting himself through a slow-torture of doubt and “what-if” thinking that distracts him from being centered and relaxed.
Gay men in relationships can struggle with insecurity as well; having a partner is no shield against it. In a relationship, insecurity might look like…”Am I still attractive to my partner after all this time?” “Does he think I’m a good lover?” “Why is he spending so much time away from home?” “Is he cheating on me?” Again, there’s nothing abnormal with these thoughts–it has more to do with their extent and severity and how much they are interfering with one’s quality of life and relationship. This article will offer some suggestions for managing this harmful emotion so it doesn’t sabotage your relationship and cause undue stress for your well-being.
2 Culprits of The Madness
Insecurity can stem from many different sources and is highly individual. Maybe you were raised in a family who didn’t give enough positive strokes and you were made to feel “less than.” Maybe you have a history of abuse. Perhaps your experiences with men in the past have burned you and now you feel suspect and untrusting to let your guard down. Low self-esteem plays a big role. Maybe you have attachment difficulties, fears of abandonment, commitment phobia…the faces of insecurity are diverse. There are, however, two particularly strong forces that can befriend insecurity that you should be aware of and intervene before too much havoc occurs.
Mindreading is a cognitive distortion in which you assume you know what your partner is thinking or doing without having any evidence to back up it up. Even though you may have lots of experience with your partner and could likely predict how he would respond to a given situation, there are always exceptions, and you must be very careful to avoid making decisions on the conclusions you create. If your assumption is incorrect, you now have a whole host of other problems to contend with. Mindreading is a byproduct of insecurity and contributes to its madness. The solution is to always check things out with your partner to ensure you’re “on the same page.” Prioritize what’s most important and share your perception as an inquiry rather than a fact.
Projection is another causative factor to insecurity. This is a very complex defense mechanism, but basically is where you put out onto another person disowned aspects of yourself or unfinished business with other people or the past. For example, if you have fears of getting hurt by your partner, you could “project” onto him things that an ex-boyfriend did to you, particularly if both men exhibit similar characteristics or behaviors. Or maybe you feel guilty about something that you did, so you attack your partner for making a mistake about something. The solution here is to identify any emotional wounds from childhood, the past, or previous relationships and learn to grieve them so the issues don’t keep getting displaced into the relationship with your current partner. Take responsibility for “stuff” that’s really your own. Remember that your partner is not your “ex”, for example; they are both very different individuals with unique personalities, philosophies, and values. Learn how to cope with these triggers when they get activated and channel those feelings into more productive outlets.
Coping Strategies For Taming Insecurity
1. Keep a journal of your triggers. Anytime you find yourself getting anxious or insecure, write down the situation, the feelings you experienced, what you were thinking, and how you acted. This running log will help you discover patterns behind your projections so you can more readily short-circuit them in the future should they happen again. Try to write about where your insecurity originated, what your insecurity looks like, the types of beliefs that feed this feeling, the consequences you’ve suffered as a result of its existence, and create a vision for how you will look as a man with a secure base.
2. If you find that you project another person from your life (an “ex”, your father, etc.) onto your partner, make a list of all the reasons why your current lover is not like these individuals. Write down all his good qualities and why he’s a good partner choice for you thus far. This will help keep you centered in the here-and-now, not the past.
3. Changing these patterns takes time, so develop the art of patience and realize that these negative feelings you have may take a lot of time to diminish. Learn a variety of relaxation techniques that you can use to help de-stress yourself whenever the anxiety hits. Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization are good ones to start with. Become more attuned with your body and recognize the physical sensations you feel when anxiety strikes so you can utilize your coping skills before the feelings magnify and get acted-out.
4. Practice thought-stoppage techniques. Get skilled at tracking your thoughts and identifying which ones are helpful vs. hurtful for you. Negative anxiety-provoking thoughts can be stopped dead in their tracks by snapping your wrist with a rubber band and immediately redirecting your thoughts to more positive self-talk. Sounds weird, but it can help break you out of the trance that anxiety can create and gives you a split second to change the course of your thoughts.
5. Affirmations are positive/motivational quotes, sayings, or statements that can keep you centered on good things. Create your own affirmations and write them down on index cards. Anytime you get into a funk or find yourself unable to control the negative thinking, pull out your cards and read them aloud.
6. If you find yourself unable to control the whirlwind of emotions when you’re with your partner, delay your responses to him and leave the room until you’re able to calm down and get more focused with a positive perspective. Taking this “Time-Out” will help get you more grounded and avoid any potential conflicts that could harm the trust in your relationship. Schedule a time with your partner to discuss the matter when you’re both more composed and able to really hear each other.
7. Manage your worries by identifying things you can vs. cannot control. Channel your energies into the things you do have control over and learn to “let go” of those you don’t.
8. Get out of your own head! Anytime you have the swirling, negative thoughts, take the focus off of yourself by doing something behaviorally that will benefit or attend to your relationship in a positive way. Do something for your partner that you know he would enjoy. Surprise him, seduce him, anything to break out of the self-absorption so you can do something productive and affirming for your boyfriend and relationship. Be creative!
Those are just a few strategies to get you started. Keep these tips close whenever you feel triggered, as they just might help stop the chain reactions you feel so you can redirect yourself to a more healthy mindset and behavioral choices. To overcome insecurity, you must be willing to take the risk of being vulnerable, develop more humor and light-heartedness, and increase the communication between you and your partner to move in the direction of strengthened intimacy and connection. You can do it!