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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

15 Secret Signs You’re Actually Really Insecure

You know the person who never stops boasting about the size of their bank account, the depth of their partner's love, or their killer career? They may act like they have it all, but that person may actually be the least secure one in the room. Maybe it's someone you know, or maybe (admit it), it's you. Here are the secret signs you're actually insecure.

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You act like Mary Poppins

She boasted about being “practically perfect in every way,” and so do you. The difference is you’re a real human being, insecurities and all. “Insecurity can present in many ways and is often dependent on the underlying cause, and the person’s personality type. For example, people with narcissistic personality disorder tend to be insecure individuals, who present a ‘false self,'” neuropsychologist Rhonda Q. Freeman, PhD tells Reader’s Digest. “People with this disorder also have a hypersensitivity to any criticism, even if it’s benign,” she adds. This doesn’t mean that everyone who brags a bit is a narcissist, but it does mean that your need to show off is hiding an insecurity that may be holding you back.

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You lead with your sexuality

Your desire to sleep with someone shortly after meeting them may have more to do with insecurity than libido. “Some insecure people trade on their sexuality. They feel that offering sex, or sexual favors will make people want them. By creating that desire, they feel favored, and accepted, which offsets their insecurity,” says relationship advice expert April Masini. Having sex with someone before you get to know them may eliminate the opportunity to communicate honestly (or at all). For someone who is insecure, this can be a form of hiding out. If you don’t spend time talking or sharing experiences outside of the bedroom, you don’t have to worry about being rejected for who you really are.

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You’re a disagreement machine

Someone who is insecure may constantly try to show they are smart by pointing out flaws in other people’s opinions. If someone says the sky is blue, the insecure person will not only state that it is green but will reference scientific data to prove they are right and everyone else is wrong. “An insecure person may have the inability to accept another person’s point of view,” says Remi Alli, JD, MS, a legal scholar, who is certified in alternative dispute management. This desire to always be right diminishes others, making them feel insignificant and stupid. The insecure person can only feel safe if they put others down, elevating themselves, in contrast.

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You become a shrinking violet

Someone who is insecure may literally shrink down a size if they are in a social situation they are uncomfortable in or can’t control. “People who are insecure get small. Under stress and tension, people go into ‘freeze, flight, fall, or faint’ response. In the freeze response, people who lack confidence are more likely to ‘get small,’ keeping their legs, and feet closer together, and their arms close to their sides, with their palms hidden. They get tense, so you may see their hands or arms stiffen and tense up, as well as become tightly close to the body,” says body language expert Patti Wood, MA.

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You’re an unrelenting people pleaser

Do you always put yourself last and never advocate for your own interests? If you always let someone else decide where to eat and what movie to see, it’s a sign that you’re insecure—and it may not seem like a big deal until it comes to life decisions, such as which house to buy, whose career you’ll relocate for, and whether or not to have kids.

“Someone who is anxious, or who might have a history of psychological trauma, can present their insecurity via people pleasing,” says Dr. Freeman. People pleasers may also wind up making bad decisions because they won’t stand up for themselves even in dicey or dangerous situations. “Insecure people go along with the crowd instead of standing their ground because they don’t feel strong enough to say what they think or to weather pushback,” says Masini. Do you think you’re a people pleaser? If so, these 12 tips you need for setting healthy boundaries might help you.

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You’re an arrogant you-know-what

You’re haughty, put on airs, and act like you’re superior to everyone else in the room (or company, or campus). You’re also panicking deep down inside because you fear that someone will find you out and blow your cover. According to PsychMechanics, your arrogant behavior is a cover designed to protect your ego and feelings of self-worth. In other words, you’re insecure and doing everything in your power to hide it from the world.

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You can’t maintain eye contact

Eye contact is a form of nonverbal communication, which enables people to connect and understand each other intuitively. Insecure people sometimes have trouble making and maintaining eye contact because they fear the transparency this type of closeness may bring. “Research indicates that in another person’s eyes, we can read not only basic emotions, such as happiness, or sadness, but also, over 50 different mental states, such as excitement, or boredom,” says Wood.

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You use everyday objects as armor

Do you head for the nearest couch at a party, clutching a throw pillow to your middle? If so, you may be closing your “windows” to hide insecurity about your body, brain, or all of the above, according to Wood. “People who lack confidence may feel more comfortable when they close their body windows. We all have ‘windows’ all over our bodies—including our eyes, mouth, throat, upper chest, and the palms of our hands. People who lack confidence may close their windows by zipping up a jacket or putting on a pair of sunglasses. Women may hold a purse in front of their bodies, kids may place their school books in front of their chests, and men may hold a drink at chest level, she explains. There is a reason this made our list of the 14 things confident people don’t do.

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You avoid contact

Some insecure people can trace their feelings back to childhood and the relationship they had with distant parents. According to Psych Alive, this is known as insecure-avoidant attachment. “Insecure people with avoidant insecure traits try to be self-reliant, living alone, eating alone, and hesitating to go out. They watch a lot of TV or [spend a lot of time on the] Internet, says Bill Eddy LCSW, a therapist, mediator, and co-founder of The High Conflict Institute. “They may steer clear of interacting with others, and avoid contact when they see someone they know in a crowd,” he adds.

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You’re a bobble-head doll

“One trait of insecure people is that they tend to nod, and agree even when it’s not how they feel. This is because they’d rather not make waves by speaking their truth,” says Masini. This inability to rock the boat is often based on a deep desire to be liked, no matter what the cost. “Insecure people have trouble saying no. They tend to say “yes” because they think you’ll like them better if they do. Instead of staying true to themselves, they take on more than they can handle or things they don’t want to do to manipulate your perception of them. This approval makes them feel more secure. Insecure people would rather be liked than be genuine,” she adds.

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You are defensive

You can’t stand losing an argument and refuse to—especially if it’s about something integral to your sense of self. “Insecure people may display unnecessary defensive responses to comments that threaten their core beliefs,” says Alli. According to Mental Help, emotionally-defensive behaviors are meant to eliminate feeling like a failure or seeing yourself negatively—two outcomes insecure people simply can’t risk in front of others.

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You’re a clinging vine

Some insecure people display a cluster of behaviors that Eddy calls “clinging vine” insecure traits. These include seeking reassurance constantly with excessive phone calls and emails to make sure they are secure in their relationship. The insecure clinging vine is also jealous of the positive connections other people have and feels threatened if their romantic partner interacts with anyone else. They may feel diminished by genuine affection between others and are jealous of their partner’s friendships with anyone else. The insecure clinging vine is afraid to lose control, so they try to control everyone else around them, especially their partner.

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You talk too much, except for when you don’t

Maybe it shows up as an ability to handle the silences between words, or maybe you just can’t stop talking about yourself: Many insecure people are incessant talkers—except for when they’re not. “Talking too much, or not talking at all, is a telltale sign of insecurity,” says Wood. “Insecure people are self-focused rather than connection-focused, so they don’t pick on normal conversational cues. This means they don’t recognize basic interaction rituals, such as how to say hello, and goodbye, or when it’s their turn to talk or listen,” she adds. Here are eight signs you’re a conversational narcissist.

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You’re the first one to hang up—always

Conversations and honest interactions make you anxious, so you always terminate phone calls and in-person conversations as quickly as possible. “When in a conversation, insecure people look for excuses to end it and get away,” says Eddy. Insecure people have less interest in others and may monopolize the conversation and then end it abruptly, once the topic turns to anything, other than themselves.

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Your “tells” would make you a lousy poker player

We all have nervous tics, but insecure people will have more than usual, which Wood calls comfort cues. One is guarding the mouth: “The mouth is the window to the truth, so covering our mouths is quite symbolic. We can cover our mouth when we do not want someone to know we’re upset, lying, or if we’re suppressing a negative thought. We put our hands over our mouths so the truth won’t come out,” she says. Insecure people may also make many rubbing motions, to give themselves self-assurance. They also may have holding or body-hugging motions. “When we were little, and anxious, or scared, our parents held onto us, and the holding motion assured us that everything would be OK. As adults, when we are anxious, or afraid, we repeat these motions, to reassure ourselves that everything is going to be all right,” she adds. Insecurity is incredibly common. The good news? Confidence is overrated.

Corey Whelan
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer and reproductive health professional who has worked with infertility patients and adopting parents for over 25 years. Her work has been featured in multiple media outlets, including Reader’s Digest, The Healthy, Healthline, CBS Local, and Berxi. Follow her on Twitter @coreygale.