Daily Life

Four ways to spot an insecure person

No need to get too bothered if others appear to be putting us down, they are probably expressing their insecurity.

To try to get some perspective when someone is behaving like a brat, I remind myself that insecurity is often behind the bravado.

It helps me to have some empathy for people who act arrogantly because obtuse as their behaviour is, insecurity is not uncommon.

Flashing cash everywhere: it may be a sign of insecurity.
Flashing cash everywhere: it may be a sign of insecurity. Photo: Getty Images

Whether it's about our appearance or abilities or any number of other things, it is natural to feel insecure sometimes. Sometimes it's justified, sometimes it's not.

It just manifests differently; from inability to accept compliments to not wanting to wear your swimmers on the beach, from self-deprecation to hypersensitivity to criticism. Regardless, insecurity rarely makes us behave in a virtuous way.

But, it can be hard to detect the insecurity driving those who rip us down to raise themselves up or who simply have their song of spectacular self-praise on high repeat.

It's what psychoanalyst Alfred Adler called the "inferiority complex".


When someone feels inadequate or inferior they overcompensate by "striving for superiority", he said. 

The only way these inwardly insecure people can make themselves feel good and big is to make you feel bad and small. In fact, a 2015 study found that some people only gain confidence by having power over others and making them feel less confident.

Being able to spot when a person is acting out of insecurity can help to protect us from engaging in the power play and the sting of feeling put down. It can also, according to psychologist Susan Krauss Whitbourne "help you shake off the self-doubts that some people seem to enjoy fostering in you".

Here are four ways to spot them, according to Whitbourne:

The insecure person tries to make you feel insecure yourself

"When you start to question your own self-worth, is it typically around a specific person or type of person? Is that individual always broadcasting his or her strengths?," she asks. "If you don't feel insecure in general, but only around certain people, it's likely they're projecting their insecurities onto you."

The insecure person needs to showcase his or her accomplishments

"You don't necessarily have to feel insecure around someone to conclude that inferiority is at the heart of their behaviour," Whitbourne explains. "People who are constantly bragging about their great lifestyle, their elite education, or their fantastic children may very well be doing so to convince themselves that they really do have worth."

The insecure person drops the "humble brag" far too often

"The humble brag is a brag disguised as a self-derogatory statement," she says. "You've all seen these on Facebook, when an acquaintance complains about all the travel she has to take (due to the importance of her job), or all the time he has to spend watching his kids play (and, by the way, win) hockey games. (The 'Facebook gloat' is a bold-faced brag which is easier to spot but may very well have the same roots.)"

The insecure person frequently complains that things aren't good enough

"People high in inferiority like to show what high standards they have," Whitbourne explains. "You may label them as snobs, but as much as you realise they're putting on an act, it may be hard to shake the feeling that they really are better than you.

"What they're trying to do, you may rightly suspect, is to proclaim their high standards as a way of asserting that not only are they better than everyone else, but that they hold themselves to a more rigorous set of self-assessment criteria."