There is no such thing as perfect security, only varying levels of insecurity. — Salman Rushdie

Nothing begets criticism quite like criticism. Exposure to consistent levels of opprobrium during childhood tends to perpetuate criticism towards oneself and others in adulthood. As a result, the feedback loop of equal-opportunity disapproval becomes a default defense mechanism intended to provide immunity from the uncomfortableness of ambiguity.

When working with clients who suffer from impetuousness and insecurity, I often ask if social situations make them feel self-conscious or threatened. Sometimes these emotional dispositions are not mutually exclusive, but the most common response usually involves feelings of rejection. To paraphrase the neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran, when we say we’re “self-conscious,” what we really mean is that we’re conscious of other people being aware of us. Consequentially, having an unstable self-image invariably results in unstable behavior and subsequent interpersonal instability. In social atmospheres, the suspicion of personal criticism quickly transmogrifies into collective criticism as overwhelming anxiety ensues. In other words, if we respond to every public interaction as a potential source of repudiation, there is no end to the varieties of insecure experience (false positives are likely to occur when we fail to accept the null hypothesis). As mentioned previously in relation to the concept of loss aversion, compensatory efforts are made to avoid feelings of failure by redoubling one’s efforts to procure external validation.* Unfortunately, the impetus to avoid rejection ironically leads to intensified rejection as the compensatory behavior of the insecure becomes unhinged.

Whatever can be said about the mechanics of self-doubt, the liabilities of uncertainty are just as unsustainable as the bravado of unfounded confidence. Self-acceptance is much easier when acceptance of others doesn’t depend on the hypercritical parameters of malicious pedantry.

* Review Alfred Adler’s distinction between primary and secondary feelings of inferiority.