3 Layers of 'Why' - Getting to the Root of a Problem

Our bodies and emotions let us know when there’s something difficult or harmful happening in our life. Just as when we’re driving along a road and pass signs that indicate warnings such as ‘road works ahead’, ‘speed bump’ or ‘stop’, our emotions and bodies give out warnings when we need to make a change. If we speed ahead instead, ignoring the signs, we can become both physically and mentally sick, and our relationships can suffer as a result.

Feeling uptight, flat, constantly on the brink of crying, tired, or sick in the stomach are just some of the many signs we may see. Maybe we’ve started arguing with the people we love, or we just can’t stand to be around anyone right now. Maybe we can’t get to sleep, or the thought of eating anything makes us want to throw up. These are all indicators that something’s not quite right in our life.

When we drive past a warning sign, usually we adjust the way we’re driving to keep us and other drivers safe. We stop at stop signs. We slow down over speed humps and for road works. If we don’t, we risk damaging our cars, getting a fine, or having an accident.

In the same way, when we notice a warning sign within ourselves, we need to make a correction. The first thing is to get to the bottom of why we’re feeling a certain way, as that gives us the power to make a change. If someone walks across a paddock without knowing there are minefields there, or they realise and don’t know how to defuse them, they are suddenly in a lot of danger. In a similar way, if someone is stressing out and doesn’t know why, they aren’t empowered to deal with the problem before it blows up.

Of course, hopefully we have someone in our life (a good friend, family member or counselor) who are also paying attention to the signs, know when something’s wrong, and help us get to the bottom of it. Often we need an objective third person to help us get perspective and realise what we’re doing. But self-reflection can also help. One technique that can be useful in both cases is the ‘Three Layers of Why’.

Three Layers of Why

As a general rule, it usually takes asking ‘why’ three times before we get to the root of the problem. We may be asking a friend, or we may be asking ourselves. For example:

1)

‘I feel stressed today.’

‘Why?’

‘I tried to call my boyfriend last night and he didn’t answer or return my messages.’

‘Why is that stressing you out?’

‘I guess I’m afraid we’re drifting apart.’

‘Why are you afraid of that?’

‘Because it would mean he doesn’t really love me.’

2)

‘I feel really flat today.’

‘Why?’

‘I feel like I’m the only one who cares about doing the job properly.’

‘Why’s that?’

‘Because everyone gives me their stuff to do, and I work late fixing their mistakes.’

‘Why does that make you feel flat?’

‘Because no one appreciates me.’

3)

‘I’m really upset.’

‘Why?’

‘I made an appointment with my brother and he cancelled at the last minute because he was "too busy".’

‘Why does that upset you?’

‘I was really looking forward to it. He knew it was important to me, but he let me down.’

‘Why do you feel let down?’

‘Because something else was more important to him. He doesn’t care about me as much as I thought he did.’

Fear

Usually fear is at the root of a stress or depression-related problem. In the above examples, the fears could be simplified to:

  1. ‘I’m afraid he doesn’t love me.’
  2. ‘No one appreciates what I do.’
  3. 'He doesn’t care about me’.

And if we simplify them further, we can see that, as with most fears, they all relate to self-worth:

  1. ‘I’m not loved.’
  2. ‘I’m not valued.’
  3. ‘I’m not cared about.’

(For more about fears and self-worth, check out my earlier article: Fear & Anxiety (Part 1): 5 Fears Rooted in Low Self-Worth).

Of course, some things are more tangible: you may know you’re stressed because of an assignment that’s due tomorrow, or because your mother’s going to hospital for an important procedure, or your friend said something that was hurtful. But when you’re experiencing ongoing tension, feel uptight or angry without an obvious reason or are simply ‘battle weary’, then going through the ‘three why’ process can help.

The Next Step

Once you’ve gotten to the root of the problem, you can plan steps to become mentally, emotionally and physically healthier. It may mean communicating with other people involved and finding out if our fears are real (often they’re only perceived!). It may mean some personal work on self-esteem. It may mean changes to our schedule, saying no to things that are overloading us, or realising that the fear is the result of a past hurt. It could be that we need to stop looking to others to give us a sense of worth or making them responsible for our happiness. At the end of the day, we can’t change the way people are – we can only change how we respond to them.

So the next time you realise you’re feeling sick in the stomach or constantly worrying about a particular thing, listen to the warnings, ask yourself why you’re feeling that way, and take steps to reduce the stress.

For further reading:

10 Ways to Tell if You’re Stressed

10 Ways to Reduce Stress

Do You Have Low Self-Esteem?

Accepting Yourself as a Work in Progress

Validation - Responding Well to Hurting People

The way we respond to a person who is sharing something close to their heart is really important – if we respond in a good way, we can develop trust and self-confidence, but if our response is negative, we risk not only hurting them, but shutting them down so they don’t share again in the future, or even feel ashamed about what they have shared.

In any relationship, it’s important that we help our friends and family feel safe to be open and honest about what’s going on for them, even if we don’t necessarily agree with their side of the story or we think they could be handling it better. Most people don’t want advice straightaway – they want validation.

Validation is simply what happens when you share something that you’ve been going through, and someone says, ‘I totally get what you’re saying’,  or ‘Yeah, that’s really unfair’. It’s telling the person that 'yes, what you went through was wrong' (or disappointing, or tragic). 'Yes, of course you’re hurt – I would be too.' 'I know I haven’t been through what you have exactly, but I can imagine how upset you must be.' 'Yeah, she was totally out of line when she said that to you – that’s really rude.' In short, we acknowledge the person’s right the be hurt. We visit that dark place with them. But, we don’t camp there – we help them out one step at a time.

Generally, people just want to know that someone understands why they are upset. This helps them to not feel so alone, or like they’re going insane. Sometimes if they’re being treated badly by someone, that person may be purposefully making them feel like they’re at fault, so getting another person’s validation – a confirmation that they're not going insane or that it’s not just in their heads – can be a great relief. This doesn’t mean the listener doesn’t give advice if that is ultimately what the person is seeking and we feel qualified to give it, but empathy should always be the first port of call. The truth is, most people can work out what they need to do on their own, so long as they have the opportunity to talk about it. 

As mentioned, negative responses can shut people down instead. Some examples of this include:

  • Pointing out what they are doing wrong (‘You aggravated the situation by getting so upset.’)

  • Getting aggressive (‘I don’t understand you!’)

  • Psycho-analysing the situation straightaway/justifying the other person (‘Well, maybe the other person has serious issues and that’s why they hit you/rejected you’). This may be helpful later, but not straight after an incident. It indicates that the listener is more interested in solving the problem than in really understanding how the speaker is feeling.

  • Being critical or judgmental (‘I wouldn’t have said that…’ ‘What were you thinking?’)

  • Mocking their emotions (‘Why are you crying over it?’)

  • Inappropriate laughing.

  • Being silent, or changing the subject.

Intended or not, being silent (having no response at all) tells the person you don’t really care what’s happening with them and/or don’t value their vulnerability. It can also embarrass them, and add to their stress as they try to interpret the silence (‘Do they think I’m an idiot?’ ‘Why did I say that …?’ ‘I must sound stupid!’ ‘Obviously they don’t care as much as I thought they did.’). In some cases, no response can be the most hurtful response. The person hasn’t been heard or validated. Why do some people fail to respond to an upset friend? Maybe they just don’t know what to say. Maybe they’ve got their own problems. Maybe they haven’t seen their friend like this before, and they don’t know how to take it. Maybe they just don’t care, or don’t value the problem. All of these can be overcome by the listener choosing to value the speaker more than their own concerns.  

People usually let us know when they’re open to advice by their language: ‘I really don’t know what to do.’ ‘George said I should …’ ‘Maybe I could try this … but I’m not sure.’ Or something more obvious: ‘What do you think?’ Advice should be empathetic, remembering that unless their decision will impact our life directly, we can’t demand them to do what we think they should. Sometimes it is even helpful to say things like, ‘this is what I think, but that’s just my opinion. At the end of the day, it’s your decision and you have to do what’s right for you’. 

In terms of validation, mostly we’re talking about people who have genuinely gone through a difficult time. Other situations are more clear-cut. If a person is agonising about doing something that is clearly wrong (criminal activity, for example), then it is more than appropriate to discourage them in blunt terms. Sometimes the person sharing is actually the one at fault, and may need some home truths before they see it, stop playing the victim and correct their behaviour. Thirdly, if you find yourself having the same conversation about the same issue over and over and the person isn’t making any effort to improve their situation, there may come a time when advice needs to be more direct. It is unhealthy when talking becomes whinging – that is, when the motivation isn’t to process what’s happened and to find a way forward, but to get attention or sympathy.

Often though, people who have experienced difficult situations do need to talk several times before they can really get their head around it. We may find this annoying and become intolerant, but sometimes by just listening we are helping them to process challenging events. ‘Baggage’ can be thought of as a bag full of small rocks that people carry around with them. Each time they talk about what happened, it’s the equivalent of giving one of the rocks away. Eventually, they will have no more ‘rocks’ left, and will come to peace about the event they were struggling with. This may take a day. It may take years. It depends on the situation. But eventually, if they do talk about it again, it will most likely be to support someone else. 

We can hinder the process by giving negative responses and stop them from talking at all, resulting in them hanging onto their baggage alone and for a long time. Or, we can value a person and the honour they show us in sharing their story by responding in a way that is helpful, caring, and validating.

For more on specific active listening techniques, check out Are You an Active Listener? 

Anxiety, Stress & the Five Senses

Memories are made and recalled through the five senses – if we have a memory of having fun that involved the smell of a particular flower or the sound of a special song, the positive feelings from those memories can be brought back by revisiting those smells and sounds. The same came be said for negative memories: seeing a violent scene on TV can upset an adult who witnessed abusive behaviour as a child, for example.

When we are stressed or anxious, something that can help us to calm down is indulging the five senses with things that will invite positive, calming feelings. If you ever feel overwhelmed with stress and anxiety, it can be helpful to have a list of items relating to each of the five senses – things you can turn to when your heart’s racing, your chest is tight, and/or you’re struggling to get your breath back.

Here are some ideas:

1. Sight

  • Waves lapping at the ocean
  • Running water, such as a creek, river or fountain
  • A fire place or campfire – flickering flames
  • Clouds
  • Gardens
  • Captivating artworks
  • A favourite movie or TV show
  • A starry night
  • A good book
  • Other natural views (e.g. mountains, lakes, fields, forests etc)
  • Friends and family
  • Cheerfully coloured things, including flowers

 2. Smell

  • A favourite flower or herb (e.g. jasmine, roses, wattle, lavender, coriander,  freesias, gardenias etc)
  • Spices and seasoning
  • Candles
  • Scented oils
  • Fruit (e.g. mandarins, oranges, mangoes etc)
  • Hot bread
  • Your favourite food
  • The ocean
  • Country air
  • A new book
  • Perfume
  • Rain
  • Freshly cut grass
  • Animals, such as horses
  • The bush

3. Sounds

  • Music
  • A particular instrument (e.g. guitar, flute, piano)
  • Bird songs
  • Water lapping (whether that be a lake, river or the ocean)
  • Laughter
  • Poetry
  • City sounds
  • Crickets, a cat purring and/or other animal sounds
  • A fire crackling
  • Rain/storms
  • Wind chimes

4. Taste

Without making unhealthy food your answer to every stressful event, there are some tastes that can help you relax:

  • Tea, including herbal teas such as peppermint, camomile, apple and cinnamon etc
  • Your favourite meal
  • A mint
  • Lemon/lime water
  • Chewing gum
  • Fruits and nuts
  • Dark chocolate

 5. Touch

  • Hugs
  • Massage
  • Warm sheets/blankets
  • Fluffy pillows
  • Soft toys
  • Pets, such as a cat or dog
  • Hot baths or showers
  • Sunshine
  • A gentle breeze
  • Misty rain
  • Grass
  • Sand
  • Moisturising cream
  • A stress ball
  • Being immersed in water (i.e. swimming)

Overall, there are many things people find comforting, so try and come up with your own list of things you can turn to in moments of stress and anxiety. Often it will be things you can relate to existing positive memories (e.g. the sound of rain on a tent may remind you of camping with your family), and that’s more than okay. Treating yourself to at least one in each category is a way of looking after yourself, giving yourself a chance to rejuvenate, and creating a calm space in a noisy world.

It is also good to know what sensations cause anxiety and stress in your life and to limit them where possible, or to have a strategy of how to work through them if and when they enter your life. While focusing on the negative is not the aim, it may be helpful to create a list of sights, sounds, smells, touches and tastes that you need less of in your life (e.g. traffic sounds, the smell of fumes, the sight of a mess, etc).

Of course, there are other long-term resolutions that should be sought if stress and anxiety is something that continually reappears in your life – if this is the case for you, here is some further suggested reading:

10 Ways to Reduce Stress

Fear & Anxiety (Part 3) - Overcoming Anxiety

When the Right People Suffer and the Wrong People Prosper...

[The wicked] have more than heart could wish ... These are the ungodly, who are always at ease; they increase in riches ... When I thought how to understand this, it was too painful for me.
— Asaph (Ps. 73:7, 12, 16)

Everyone goes through tough times. It may be about lack of money, or relationship breakdowns, the loss of a loved one, or working really hard for something that just never seems to happen. This seems even more unfair when the people suffering are gold-hearted individuals who treat others well, work hard and have good faith and values. Being a good person in a bad situation also makes it difficult to watch other’s get whatever they want without any apparent effort, even if they’re corrupt and hurtful. How are we supposed to cope with this added insult?

It can present itself in a number of ways: coming up with great ideas that someone else takes the credit for, putting lots of effort into a relationship only to get rejected for someone else, working hard and with integrity while someone else gets paid twice as much to do very little, being single and childless while the most difficult person you know is married and having their third child, or even watching someone you love die of cancer while another is healed without faith.  

What do we do in such situations? First of all, no matter how much we might want to, it is not our place to judge another. Sometimes we don’t know exactly what someone went through to achieve a particular thing. Their horrible behaviour may also be coming from a place of pain. Wounded people pass on their pain, often without realising it. Sometimes what they need is our compassion, not our resentment. 

We also have to be self-aware enough to monitor our resentment and bitterness – how much space is it taking up in our hearts? What good is it doing? Has it changed the other person? Made them behave better? If not, holding onto such damaging emotions will only affect ourselves. Besides, if someone is corrupt, badly behaved or vindictively smug, then they are certainly not worth sacrificing our happiness for!

Those who don’t treat people well or act with integrity will eventually pay the price. It may be within a matter of days, or years, or even after they leave this world. They are like the seeds that fell on the rocks – they may prosper for a while, but they will whither away and fade. We may not see it happen and it’s not our business to rejoice when it does, but we can trust that all will be righted in the end.

We have to have faith that our hard work will also pay off in a way that is lasting and ever-fruitful. We have been promised that everything we put our hands too will prosper, in the right time. Nothing we do with the right heart is ever wasted.  

Our role is to be the better person, even if it doesn’t seem fair, even if it’s hard, even if it benefits the person who doesn’t deserve it. The moment we stoop to their level or start harbouring negative feelings towards them is the moment they win. We cheat ourselves out of our own blessings – how can we prosper if we’re hoping for someone else’s downfall? Wishing others ill luck only serves to corrupt our own happiness. This doesn’t mean we don’t confront things when we need to, just that we don’t start treating people with malice. At the end of the day, we are only accountable for our actions and our treatment of other people.

‘Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.’ Luke 6:28.

Further reading: Psalm 37.

Fear & Anxiety (Part 3) - Overcoming Anxiety

Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression,
But a good word makes it glad.
— King Solomon (Prov. 12:25)

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of fear that doesn't always have a particular or obvious cause. Whereas fear is usually a result of a known concern or enemy, anxiety is more difficult to get to the bottom of. It can be mild - a general feeling of tension - to serious: a completely debilitative disorder that complicates living a healthy and wholesome life.

Anxiety is also about perceived fears: the 'what ifs'. What if this doesn't work out? What if I can't do this? Why is she taking so long to answer me? Is it because she doesn't like me anymore? All in all, anxiety is worrying about things we can't control.

What Causes Anxiety?  

Understanding where a problem comes from is a major step in conquering it. Anxiety is usually a result of:

  1. Fear or any form of mistreatment in the home as a child (or otherwise).
  2. Lack of confidence and trust in one's true worth (i.e. low self-esteem).
  3. Lack of love.

Until these issues and their results are worked through, anxiety will continue to maintain its hold. 

What Problems Does Anxiety Cause?

Both fear and anxiety are a poison against joy. Because it's related to a lack of trust of oneself and/or others, it can cause significant problems in relationships, even with those we love. It can also stop people from doing things involved in a normal, healthy life (e.g. spending time with friends, going outside, trying new activities). It can waste today in fear of what tomorrow might bring. Like stress, it can also cause physical health problems. The ongoing tension can create a feeling of perpetual tiredness and irritability. 

As the opening verse suggests, anxiety can also lead to depression and an overall sense of hopelessness about life.

What is the Antidote?

'Perfect love casts out fear.' (1 John 4:18)

The above verse as well as the opening verse gives us the first two keys to overcoming the 'poison' of anxiety: a 'good word' and love. Encouragement, certainty of worth, and surrounding ourselves with people who help us be the best we can are all antidotes to overcoming anxiety. It may mean removing ourselves from people who foster anxiety within us. It may mean trying new things despite the fear we feel. It may mean speaking good words about ourselves and our situations - out loud if necessary. We often speak negative things out loud when we're anxious: 'This isn't going to work.' 'I can't do this.' 'I've tried and tried but nothing ever changes.' This reinforces the thoughts we had in the first place, which then makes them grow in our mind until they becomes a part of our identity. Challenging anxiety means challenging the negative images we have of ourselves, and uprooting the 'weeds' we let take hold in our minds.

Like light chases away darkness, so too does kindness and love quell fear. This means we must also be kind and loving towards ourselves. As I explored in an earlier post, many of our fears come down to our self-worth or lack of it, so it is really important that, if we wish to be conquerors of anxiety, we first realise we have what it takes to do it! Everyone has value, and everyone deserves a life free of debilitating fears. 


Fear & Anxiety (Part 2) - Fear of Other People

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
— Psalm 118:6

How Does Fearing Others Affect You?

Other people can be a major source of anxiety. It's usually something to do with the fact that they have repeatedly treated us badly, used their power against us or simply grate against our personality. The result of this varies between two extremes: feeling a vague tension whenever near them or thinking about them, to full-on physical reactions such as vomiting and dizziness. 

It can mean avoiding places so you don't have to go near them (e.g. the young person who skips school because of a bully; the employee who 'chucks a sicky' to avoid seeing a colleague; the family member who makes an excuse to not attend the next birthday party). It can mean not wanting to talk to them. Or, turning to other things to cope with the fear-related stress: eating too much chocolate, drinking too much, biting nails down to the stubs (or one of many other habits).

The constant tension is draining. It wears us out physically and emotionally. It also wears out our nerves - the longer the fear continues, the more even little things feel overwhelming. It steals our joy and our peace. Even when we're not around that person, we may still feel a vague tension because deep down we are not relaxed about the situation. This means we may find it hard to sleep, to concentrate, or even to maintain healthy relationships - when we're stressed, even dealing with our loved ones can be a challenge.

The fear of others means we can also stop living for ourselves and live for them instead. This includes going out of our way to keep them happy, fearing their disapproval, or just trying to manage the volcano before it explodes again. Whatever the reason, our lives start to revolve around their needs at the expense of our own.

Finding Freedom 

Last week I wrote about how 5 major fears are rooted in our self worth. One of these was the fear of disapproval, which is strongly linked to the fear of other people. This means that the fear of other people also links back to our self worth. If we were totally secure within ourselves, then we wouldn't live in fear of what others may or may not do to us. Of course, if there are significant threats to our mental and physical heath, these need to be dealt with appropriately and not tolerated. But fear is often about the 'what ifs' - 'What if she doesn't like me?' 'What if he says this about me?' 'What if she's in a bad mood again?' 'What if he yells at me when I tell him?'

What if they are? What if they do? What's the worst case scenario? Can you develop a plan to deal with that? Do you have to stay there and put up with it? If so, how can you build resilience so whatever they say doesn't affect your sense of worth?

It's like the story of the three little pigs - the first two built their houses out of straw and sticks, but the wolf came and blew them down. The third built his house out of bricks, and it was the only one that withstood the pressure of the enemy. He was safe inside, and the wolf eventually wore himself out and left him alone.

The Bible tells us that God is our fortress (Psalm 91:2). A fortress was a structure within which people could live, even entire towns. Those who lived there didn't have to worry about the enemy - the fortress was equipped to deal with anything that tried to attack it. In the same way, when we dwell in God, we dwell within a refuge that protects us. We don't have to fear the enemy.

The fear of the thing is often worse than the thing itself. Fear is like a cloud in our mind that covers our perspective and rationality. But we don't have to let it. If fear is stopping you from enjoying life, from going where you want to go, from sleeping well, then it's time to move into the fortress - to build your house out of bricks so no 'wolf' can blow it down. 

Your worth is not defined by how other people treat you. The more you believe that, the less people will be able to inject fear into your life.

Fear & Anxiety (Part 1) - 5 Fears Rooted in Low Self Worth

Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are mine.
— Isaiah 43:1

 

Fear is something that almost everyone experiences at some point. In some senses, fear is a healthy, instinctive response to potentially dangerous situations – the woman who slams her brakes to avoid hitting a runaway child is responding to the fear of causing harm. Her heart may race for a while afterwards, but the rush of adrenaline and fear help her avert a potentially disastrous situation. But fear can also be something that we learn to live with, a vague tension that we feel on a day to day basis without even really knowing why

In many situations, the root fear of the tension we feel is related closely to our self-worth, such as:

Worrying what someone’s opinion will be on something we have worked hard to achieve

V

Fear of disapproval

V

Fear of being ‘found out’ as not good enough

V

Fear that we are, in fact, not good enough.

While this may not be true for everyone, many fears can be traced to a person’s doubt of their own worth and value:

The Birth of Low Self-Worth

We come into this world with a healthy sense of self, as seen in a confident and happy child. Self-worth is usually only damaged as a result of another person: an abusive parent, a hurtful friend, bullies at school – people who plant the seed of self-doubt and worthlessness. If this seed is allowed to grow, ongoing low self-esteem takes root. The challenge in life is to become so resilient that no one can plant the seed, and that the following five fears don’t result:

 

Fear of Intimacy

Intimacy is the ability to be vulnerable (in a healthy sense) with another person – letting them see you as you are, faults and all, and being comfortable with it. Many people fear intimacy and inadvertently push others and/or their love away. They may not even realise it, but this is often because they’re uncomfortable with the person’s love, particularly because it conflicts with their lack of self-love. If someone can’t be honest about the way they’re feeling or finds it difficult to share experiences, they may be fearing that if they do open up, their true self will be judged and rejected.

The fear is: If I let them in, what if they don’t like what they see?

The problem it causes is: Lack of meaningful relationships and emotional closeness.

The truth is: You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139).

Fear of Rejection

Similar to this is the fear of rejection. Sadly, this fear is often born out of actual experiences where rejection has been a very real thing. It can stop us from trusting others and forming stable relationships. It can mean living in a constant state of worry. Or, constantly evaluating other people’s actions, even to the point of irrationality: What if they took what I said the wrong way? Why haven’t they gotten back to me? Maybe they cancelled because they didn’t want to spend time with me? What did they mean when they said …?

The fear is: What if people don’t love me because there’s something wrong with me?

The problem it causes is: Lack of trust and peace in relationships.

The truth is: Your worth is not based on how other people treat you.

Fear of Disapproval

It’s very easy to get caught up in seeking other people’s approval. This means it is also very easy to be hurt and disappointed if we receive disapproval instead. It’s part of human nature to want to fit in, to be loved – that’s why we long to be accepted by those around us, particularly the ones we care about. But this becomes unhealthy if it extends to completely relying on others to feel good about ourselves. Sometimes we even get caught up in adjusting our personality to suit others or going out of our way to meet their needs at the expense of our own. Or, we become overachievers and place top value on our achievements and possessions – both of which can be used to impress others.

The fear is: If people don’t approve of me, what value and worth do I have as a person?

The problem it causes is: Inability to find peace and confidence in being yourself.     

The truth is: Your worth is not based on how others feel about you.

Fear of Failure

Sometimes people are bound by a fear of making a mistake, letting other people down, or failing to achieve their goals. This can be because they’re afraid of the judgement and disapproval that might come from others: What will they say when they realise I've stuffed up again? Or, they judge themselves. I'm such an idiot. Either way, their sense of worth is linked to their perceived success.

The fear is: If I don’t succeed in the things I'm putting my effort into, then I'm a failure as a person.

The problem it causes is: Fear of trying new things or of admitting mistakes, and constant pressure on self.

The truth is: Your worth is not based on how successful you are.

Fear of Making Decisions

Following on from this, people who struggle to make decisions often do so because they are trying to avoid failure, keep too many people happy, or they don’t have confidence in their own judgement. They may agonise over each option and worry about the potential consequences. Maybe they have made bad decisions in the past, or have been criticised for them. Either way, as James wrote, ‘a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways’ (1:8).

The fear is: If I stuff this up, what does that say about me as person?

The problem this causes is: Anxiety instead of confidence when making decisions.

The truth is: It’s often better to do something than nothing, even if it means learning from mistakes.

 'What ifs'

Almost all of these fears are based on what might happen. Maybe I’ll be rejected. Maybe they’ll think I'm a failure. Sometimes we even perceive the thing we fear as happening even when there’s no evidence. This is why fear can be so debilitating. However, the more confidence we have within ourselves and the more we come to know that we have already been redeemed (Isaiah 43:1), the less likely fear is to get a hold on our mindset.

You may like: How You Can Develop High Self-Esteem (Part 1), and How You Can Develop High Self-Esteem (Part 2).


10 Signs of Insecurity

Some time ago I wrote an article about being more secure, but sometimes knowing the signs of insecurity (in others as well as ourselves) is equally important: if we don’t, we can leave ourselves open to making other people’s lives difficult, or to continuing in relationships that may actually be damaging to us.

Being secure is important primariliy because it gives us resilience. Castles, for example, were usually built with walls so when an enemy attacked they couldn’t threaten the castle itself. The walls still had gates so the right people could be let in, but when under siege, the gates were shut and the walls protected what was really important.

The story of the three pigs shares the same principle – their house of straw was blown down easily, but once they were secure in a house of bricks, the wolf couldn’t affect them. The same goes for people – the more secure we are, the less wavering we are when we come under attack. A secure person doesn’t let others throw doubt on their sense of self. They are less threatened and stressed when it comes to the inevitably difficulties of life, whether that be the thoughtless remark of a friend, or the deliberately malicious assault of a bully.

Insecurity, however, comes down to the need to prove one’s worth to others. But how does it show itself in every day life? Here are 10 examples.

1. The Under-Confident

Insecurity is traditionally identified in someone who has no faith in themselves.  Someone who is under-confident constantly questions what they’re doing and/or puts themselves down, often because someone else doubted/criticised them first (perhaps during childhood). The voice of doubt is planted in their mind and they echo the words themselves until they believe them. This then leaves them more vulnerable to the next attack on their identity and totally without confidence. 

This person may also find it difficult to say 'no' or to exert their own needs. Rather, they say yes to others' demands to try and earn their worth.

2. The Attention-Seeker

Someone who seeks attention, whether by loudly attracting notice or by being self-critical in hope of receiving a compliment, is also trying to meet a need – they are looking to others to get a sense of worth. People who sulk are also attempting to manipulate people with their moods, aimed at getting the attention they believe they need.

3. The Over-Confident

Other people are over-confident – they present their life as perfect and full of friends, success and fulfilled-dreams. Confidence in itself isn’t bad, of course, but when it’s over the top it can indicate the need to prove something. That need usually comes back to self-worth as well: ‘if everyone thinks I’m doing great, they will approve of me’. In reality people warm to genuineness, and the secure person doesn’t mind admitting when things aren’t perfect simply because their worth isn’t hinged on their success.

4. The Bully

People who deliberately hurt others are operating from a place of pain within themselves. A secure person doesn’t feel the need to put others down or hurt them, as they are not threatened by the thought of other people’s success. The bully, however, shows their insecurity by their need to keep everyone below them, lest they overtake them in power and/or success.

5. The Jealous

Bullying and jealousy are often interlinked, and both come back to the same insecurity. Someone who is jealous is again showing signs of insecurity: if they were secure, they wouldn’t be resentful of other people’s achievements. Instead, they would encourage and actively help others reach their dreams.

6. The Fake

People can usually sense when someone isn’t being real with them, but why would someone be fake to start with? It’s often because they’re not happy with who they really are, so they present a different person or a mask to the world in hope that will be more acceptable. Someone who is secure is willing and able to present their real self to the world, and is not threatened by other people’s criticisms.

7.  The Overly Needy

Like the attention seeker, the overly needy person looks to others for their sense of worth, but often to relationship-damaging proportions. They constantly require praise, declarations of love and promises of commitment to counterbalance their general lack of trust in others and in themselves. This can be exhausting for both parties and frequently places too much pressure on the one left trying to meet the needs. 

8.  The Arrogant

Arrogant people have an inflated view of their own self-importance and may be obsessed with their position, how much they make, what car they drive and how big their house is. In other words, they judge their self-worth by their success and other people’s opinions, and feel the need to continually declare how great they are in front of others. Alternatively, they may be too important to converse with others, or treat others patronisingly to ensure their importance is known wherever they go. Instead of judging themselves by what matters, they become conceited about the material things. Yet, behind the egotistical nature, there is often just another person feeling insecure about what they really have to offer.

9. The Selfish

Selfishness is a complicated issue that can have many causes, but it almost always results in an inability to offer help, praise or support to other people even when they need it most. Selfish people focus on themselves and their own achievements instead, all of which cleverly masks their need to prove themselves, i.e., their actual insecurity.

10. The Constant Talker & The Gossip

People who talk just to fill in the silence, talk constantly about themselves, or talk even when others are noticeably bored, are often desperate to be noticed.  A secure person is not threatened by silence and doesn’t mind actively listening to others instead.  

The gossip is also indicating insecurity: a secure person doesn’t feel the need to spread rumours for attention or to backstab someone, and would rather spend their energies on something positive and uplifting.

Insecurity shows itself in many ways, and being able to identify the signs can open the way to self-development and better relationships.

Related: 10 Ways to Feel More Secure

50 Signs of Maturity

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50 Signs of Maturity

1.     You don’t feel the need to constantly argue with everyone who has a different opinion to you.

2.     You value your relationships more than the need to always be right.

3.     You have control over your feelings so they don’t always dictate your actions.

4.     You can see the motivation of another person’s actions regardless of how they come across, and as such can recognise when they mean well.

5.     You don’t blame others for the things you don’t like in your life.

6.     You are comfortable not having all the answers, and can admit when you don’t know something.

7.     You have found a way to let go of past failures, missed opportunities or hurts, and don’t bring them up in conversation at every available opportunity.

8.     You accept that the things you want in life are things you will need to work for.

9.     You can say no to another’s unreasonable demands without feeling guilty.

10. You do the right thing, even when no one’s looking or has asked you too.

11. You don’t turn little things into a big drama, but value peace more than a scene.

12. You don’t pit people against each other but promote unity instead.

13. You don’t use Facebook or other social media sites to air your dirty laundry or to create drama for attention.

14. You don’t use Facebook or other social media sites to criticise, hurt or gang up against another.

15. You are not emotionally promiscuous – you know who to trust with your inner most feelings, and that there is a time and a place to air them.

16.  You can admit to your mistakes and accept the consequences without the need to lie about what happened.

17.  You are willing to learn new skills to become a better person.

18.  You contribute to society in a meaningful way and without resentment, and realise that people are only entitled to the things they work hard for.

19.  You can listen and be open to other views without necessarily risking your own beliefs.

20.  You don’t crumble as soon as things go wrong, but can take a deep breath, assess the situation and make plans to overcome it.

21.  You don’t expect others to fix everything for you.

22.  You can ask for help when you need it without feeling stupid.

23.  You can truly listen to others and draw them out instead of thinking they’re just there for you.

24. You don’t take yourself too seriously and can laugh even when you are the butt of the joke.

25.  You understand that you don’t have to continue in a bad mood, but that you can choose happiness daily.

26.  You take your health and education more seriously than popularity and aren’t embarrassed by putting on sunscreen or having a night in to study.

27.  You have fewer friends but better ones.

28.  You’re not as concerned about what others think of you.

29.  When others bully you, instead of getting defensive you realise it’s their issue and not worth letting it steal your happiness.

30.  You realise that forgiveness is a strength, and you can forgive both others and yourself.

31. Instead of constantly complaining about something, you find ways to improve the situation.

32. You are able to celebrate the successes of others without getting jealous or critical, and nor do you hold people back because you don’t want them to be better than you.

33.  You can keep long-term commitments, even when it gets hard or boring.

34. You do something you don’t want to do just to help another person out.

35. You can be humble about the great things you do, give credit to the people who helped and supported you, and refuse vanity.

36. You are conscious of showing appreciation to those in your life.

37. You don’t let your moods impact negatively on others.

38. You don’t feel the need to put someone down in order to feel good about yourself.

39. You can take advice from others and respect their knowledge and wisdom.

40. You respect the interests, property, rules and values of others and know that just because something may be meaningless to you doesn’t mean it is to them.

41. You don’t always take the things people do around you personally, and aren’t easily offended even when it is about you.

42. You can say sorry when you’ve hurt someone or let them down.

43.  You can recognise when you’re behaving badly and correct it.

44.  You can be honest even when it may get you in trouble.

45.  You recognise there is a great joy to be had in serving others rather than in living solely for oneself, and that the golden rule of treating others as you want to be treated truly is the golden rule.

46.  You know that to help others, you need to take care of yourself too and make sure your life stays in balance, and you do this without feeling guilty.

47. You know that while you can help others, you’re not responsible for anyone’s happiness but your own.

48. You have integrity – your behaviour reflects your values and you are trustworthy and consistent.

49.  You stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves or who need support.

50.  You realise that you can do whatever you’re passionate about, regardless of the people who may have told you that you couldn’t.