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Take an inventory. You don’t have claws like a tiger, an exoskeleton of armor like a lobster, or wings like a sparrow to carry you away from a wide-eyed cat; truth is you’re rather ill-equipped when it comes to handling dangerous situations. We have bodies that bleed, hurt, and otherwise become easily damaged. In a similar manner, we also have egos that can bleed, hurt, and otherwise become damaged. Humans are vulnerable creatures. From your first skinned knee to the first loss you felt growing up; vulnerability is part of everyone’s life. Someone told me the other day that when traumatized, the two most frequently uttered words are, “God” or “Mom.” I don’t know if this is true, but it sounds right to me. Vulnerability makes us feel childlike, alone, frightened with a primal need of protection.

Most people confuse vulnerability with insecurity. The difference is simple but crucial. For starters, vulnerability is a fact of life, insecurity isn’t. Protecting yourself from vulnerability makes sense, that’s why you buckle your seat belt, take vitamins, and learn to say no. The problem with insecurity isn’t the seat belt, the vitamin or the assertiveness, it’s the worrisome anticipation of a car accident, illness, or being victimized by others. It’s anticipating what can go wrong in life and then worrying about it. As with most things psychological, there’s always room for some confusion. Insecurity, by its very nature has the tendency to make you feel vulnerable when you’re safe and oftentimes to exaggerate vulnerability to the point of absurdity. A hypochondriac may feel convinced that a pulled muscle is the onset of terminal cancer, the pessimist may interpret his wife’s aloofness as an indication that she’s having an affair, and the worrywart may be tempted not to sign a permission slip allowing their daughter to go on the field trip because she remembers reading about a child abduction in the papers recently. Insecurity not only can exploit vulnerability, it can create one as well. The key is learning to separate facts from fictions. Once you begin to understand that feelings are not facts, you’ll be in a position to differentiate between real vulnerability and insecurity’s projections of vulnerability.

When it comes to insecurity, the operative word here is “feeling” out of control. Descartes got it right with his now famous perception, “Cogito, ergo sum,” I think, therefore I am. What we think, what we believe, is what we become. Often unnoticed, insecurity will mesmerize you with doubts, fears, and negatives while taking over your life and your relationship, leaving you its unwitting victim. There can be no solace or true optimism for an insecure person; they’ve been convinced there can be no ultimate safety, not with all their vulnerabilities.

The good news is that insecurity is a habit–you weren’t born insecure–and like any habit, it can be broken. By learning what feeds insecurity and what starves it, you can learn to liberate yourself from the nagging grip of the suffocating feelings that are holding you back from the life you deserve.

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