14 Tell-Tale Signs of Insecurity in Yourself and Others

Recognizing the signs of insecurity can help you become more self-aware, as well as more compassionate and understanding with others. Here are 14 of the main ones.

The American Psychological Association defines insecurity as:

“A feeling of inadequacy, lack of self-confidence, and inability to cope, accompanied by general uncertainty and anxiety about one’s goals, abilities, or relationships with others.”

This pervasive human experience can manifest in various ways, and recognizing its signs can be surprisingly valuable.

By identifying them in yourself, you can develop a deeper self-awareness of your emotional state. And it can also give you more empathy and compassion towards others. Instead of being annoyed by someone’s behavior, you might realize their actions stem from a place of inner struggle.

With these benefits in mind, here are 14 tell-tale signs of insecurity.

1. Self-Deprecation

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Insecure people tend to have a low opinion of themselves. They might be incredibly self-critical. It’s as if they’re looking for evidence they’re not worthy.

Minor mistakes or perceived imperfections are a big deal – they’re interpreted as proof of their inadequacy. Whether internally or aloud, they beat themselves up and tell themselves they’re not good enough, even if there’s no objective reason they should think it.

2. Perfectionism

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Perfection represents the ultimate protective shield for insecure people. After all, if something is perfect, there’s nothing to critique—no risk of rejection. As a result, they strive for it, setting exceptionally high standards and using achievements/results to gauge their self-worth.

Of course, it’s an unrealistic pursuit that often backfires. Perfectionists can experience shame, frustration, and disappointment when they make mistakes or receive the criticism they were desperately trying to avoid.

3. Being Overly Apologetic

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Insecure people feel unworthy. They might see themselves as a waste of space. To them, whatever they say or do can feel deplorable. At the same time, they can be terrified of rejection and criticism.

This tough combination can make them overly apologetic. They apologize for anything and everything, even when they’ve got nothing to be sorry for.

4. Seeking Reassurance

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When anything less than perfection is perceived as a sign of worthlessness and incompetence, it’s natural to seek reassurance from others.

Whether it’s at work or in relationships, an insecure person’s own opinion doesn’t feel like enough. They want someone else to say they’re doing okay, that they’re loved, that they look nice, and so on. They rely on that external validation for guidance and peace of mind.

5. Self-Comparisons

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Everyone compares themselves to others sometimes, but the habit can be crippling for someone who is insecure. Negative comparisons come thick and fast. Other people seem ahead in every domain – from wealth and attractiveness to intelligence and success.

You might hear them say things like, “I could never be as good as them,” or “They have it all together, unlike me.” Comparison is the thief of joy, so these judgments can exacerbate low self-esteem.

6. Judgmental

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An insecure person can be quick to judge others. Whether they voice their thoughts or not, they’re often critical of traits they deem undesirable.

This is usually a reflection of their inner world and personal insecurities. It’s a defense mechanism. Instead of focusing on their own real or perceived flaws, they deflect attention onto others. It’s easier that way. And, by bringing people around them down, they get a false sense of superiority.

7. Risk Aversion

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When anything less than perfection is deemed a failure, the easiest way to protect your self-esteem is to avoid trying. That’s why stepping up to bat becomes a challenge for someone who’s insecure – especially in situations where they risk being judged by others.

Unfortunately, this can become a vicious spiral. The more they avoid something, the more their confidence dips, which makes them even less likely to try, and so on.

8. Social Withdrawal

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For similar reasons, it’s common for insecure people to become quite isolated. After all, socializing comes with the risk of rejection and judgment, so it’s easier to be alone.

Likewise, they might feel self-conscious, riddled with anxiety, and inundated with negative self-talk. Ultimately, withdrawing socially helps them stay in control of their environment, which feels safer and more comfortable.

9. Defensiveness

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Insecure people will often react impulsively to criticism (whether it’s real or imagined) with things like sarcasm, insults, anger, or the silent treatment. They might also make excuses, refute the feedback, and/or blame others.

In other words, instead of being gracious and reflective, they’re instantly defensive. This maladaptive response is an effort to protect their low self-esteem from a perceived attack. It happens automatically in an effort to stop themselves from feeling hurt or ashamed.

10. Overcompensating

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While some insecure people are shy and self-defeating, others overcompensate by becoming obnoxious, hyper-competitive, and over-confident. Fuelled by an underlying sense of inadequacy, those traits represent frenzied efforts to prove themselves to the world.

Can you see the connection to perfectionism? It’s like they’re in a never-ending battle to appear capable and feel worthy.

11. People-Pleasing

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Insecurity makes people eager to please. Their good deeds don’t necessarily come from the goodness of their hearts, though. In fact, you could argue it’s self-serving.

Their insecurity makes them hungry for external validation and approval. Equally, conforming to what other people want is an easy way to avoid displeasure (compared to asserting their own needs, which risks the opposite). Ultimately, they’re trying to be accepted and liked and to escape conflict and rejection.

12. Jealousy

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Jealousy can be roughly translated as the fear of losing something. Insecure people are susceptible to it in relationships because they’re scared that they’ll lose someone’s love and/or attention.

Remember, they feel inadequate and constantly compare themselves to others. They might worry their partner’s going to leave them for someone better, and jealousy ensues. Similarly, their low self-esteem can cause trust issues that make things like infidelity seem more likely.

13. Bragging

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Some insecure people are the opposite of self-deprecating. They brag incessantly about their achievements and abilities. It’s their way of proving their worth to others (and possibly themselves).

They want respect, attention, and admiration – all in an effort to feel better about themselves. Remember, someone with high self-esteem doesn’t need external validation to feel good about themselves.

14. Need For Control

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Insecure individuals often become controlling. From their environments and routines to their closest relationships, they try to control as much as possible, sometimes without realizing what they’re doing.

It’s a way to manage their anxiety – things that aren’t in control are unpredictable, which feels scary. By contrast, controlling situations and outcomes makes it easier to avoid threats to fragile self-esteem (such as mistakes and failure). Similarly, controlling friends and partners helps them avoid being let down – a big deal when you have trust issues.


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Author: Danny Newman

Title: Writer and Content Creator

Expertise: Travel, Digital Nomadry, Outdoors, Blogging

Danny Newman is a writer, content creator, and digital nomad from the UK. He founded the travel and lifestyle blog What’s Danny Doing, a popular resource for people seeking more adventure, self-discovery, and purpose. A nationally syndicated writer, Danny’s work features in dozens of online publications, including MSN.com and news sites across the US.