Let's be up front: Everyone is insecure to a certain degree. Even the guys who seem like they've got it all figured out—the ones with six-pack abs and a great head of hair—take the occasional hit to their ego. They have fears and trepidations and occasional crippling anxiety, even if they don't show it. But this story isn't about appearing confident. It's about addressing your uncertainties and finding solutions to the insecurities keeping you from succeeding to your full potential in your job and relationships.
Here, Todd Byrd, a counselor focused on helping men deal with life’s struggles and difficulties unique to them, like relationship concerns, men’s issues, depression, and anxiety, has outlined eight of the most common concerns clients come to him with—and ways to combat them.
THE PROBLEM: In a past relationship, if you've cheated on your girlfriend or been cheated on by your girlfriend, you can feel helpless (yes, even if you're the one that cheated). "If there’s been a violation of trust by emotional or physical infidelity and one’s cover has been blown, there's often an insecurity driven by a sense of loss of control: How am I going to make up for the damage I’ve done? How can I get her to trust me again? Or, Can I ever really forgive her? Those are the questions I hear from clients," Byrd says.
THE SOLUTION: You'll never move forward or have a sense of stability in your relationship if you keep harping on an issue, rather than tackling it head on or moving past it. "Sometimes it takes a while to allow your brain to re-wire to adapt to a new manner of thinking," Byrd says. But if you both want the relationship to work, vocalize and identify why the infidelity happened in the first place, and make a plan going forward to address each other's needs, wants, and desires, you should be on a path that makes you both feel respected so one person isn't commandeering the other.
THE PROBLEM: "In western culture, so much of a man’s identity is tied to what he does for a living," Byrd says. At every party or social gathering where you meet new people, notice one of the primary questions you’ll be asked is "What do you do for a living?" "Fear of failing to live up to an employer’s expectations, suddenly being without employment, and distress about your job security in the future are all ways in which this insecurity manifests itself," Byrd says.
THE SOLUTION: "It's important to carefully identify all of the contributing factors that are driving your insecurity, determine to what extent the insecurity is rooted in rational and reasonable thinking versus irrationality, and set about reframing the conversation so you can look at the situation from a different, healthier, broader perspective," he recommends. If you're in a field you don't love, take the steps to pursue something else—even if it doesn't have the same perceived level of status or compensation.
THE PROBLEM: What do the next five, 10, or 20 years look like? What does your future hold? Well, in your family life, these questions can be incredibly daunting. "Change in relationship status—going from dating to engaged or engaged to being married, and the addition of children, are all times when a man’s level of emotional security is subject to threat," Byrd says. Being a provider to a wife and family is incredibly stressful.
THE SOLUTION: Develop coping strategies to help balance planning for the future and living in the present so the uncertainty isn't overwhelming. "Mindfulness meditation is my preferred technique to help clients notice or acknowledge intrusive negative thoughts and then return to connect with the present moment without having their thought process hijacked by insecurity," Byrd says. Try it out yourself with our guide: An Athlete's Guide to Mindful Meditation.
THE PROBLEM: You're unhappy with your height, physique, or appearance. "These concerns are most often connected to a perceived inferiority," Byrd says. The root of the issue can stem from a cultural preference or societal norm that fosters negative thinking about your attractiveness.
THE SOLUTION: "I talk with clients about what I call the 'Compare and Contrast Game' where we pitt ourselves against others, sometimes finding ourselves in a superior, winning position, or, most often, finding ourselves in an inferior, losing position," Byrd says. The goal is self-acceptance. You can't change your face or your height; but you can work out to sculpt a leaner physique. Just make sure you're making decisions because they make you happy and healthy, not because you feel pressure to look like a fitness model.
THE PROBLEM: Are you a serial dater who breaks things off with every woman who could potentially be a serious life-long partner? Being honest and vulnerable in a relationship is very common issue for guys. "Sometimes it's connected to a secretive, shameful behavior or past, and sometimes it's connected to family of origin patterns when a man grew up in a place where emotions were not acknowledged or expressed," Byrd says. When she asks you to share your feelings or even what you're thinking about the relationship or a particular experience, it can feel like a threat to your security and emotional well-being.
THE SOLUTION: "With these clients, I talk about the significance of emotional intimacy and how we are designed and built for connection—to know and be known by others," Byrd says. It's going to take practice, trust, and time; but everyone is capable of this type of connectedness.
THE PROBLEM: "When injury or illness have an impact on your physical function, impairing work, relationships, or hobbies, emotional insecurity will often arise," Byrd says. If you blow out your knee during a sprint session or injure your shoulder in the gym, remember these setbacks aren't permanent; it's not the end of your world.
THE SOLUTION: "Reframe your present experience to identify the things you DO have control over," Byrd recommends. "A pursuit of a 'new normal,' if you will, is often helpful for men." If your injury means you have to refrain from arduous physical activity for a few months, pick up a new discipline, like yoga or transcendental meditation.
THE PROBLEM: "Unmet expectations can be poisonous," Byrd says. Demands you place on yourself and those that are set by your superiors can make you feel like you're constantly in a race to perform. But more often than not, these high standards are only met by disappointment, resentment, and feeling that you aren't capable—which isn't the case.
THE SOLUTION: If you're on the receiving end of someone else’s resentment, or even anger, then you'll start to harbor some insecurities, Byrd says. Own your own expectations of yourself, because that's all you can control in this scenario. "Focus on attending to your part, and your part only," Byrd recommends. If you're setting the bar too high in the office or in the gym, working around the clock to meet some unrealistic goal for yourself, relax, be realistic, and take a healthier approach to keep a balance in all aspects of your life.
THE PROBLEM: "This is a broader, more general form of emotional insecurity that's not triggered by any bad experience in close, interpersonal relationships," Byrd says. Some guys are just really uncomfortable exhibiting emotion or receiving another person’s display of affection with their family (their mother, father, etc). You might have a hard time empathizing with friends or making true friendships and connections with people.
THE SOLUTION: "Usually this is connected to negative experiences with the show of emotion or unhelpful messages about emotions in your own family," Byrd explains. So the fix is breaking the cycle and slowly opening up—becoming less resistant to stereotypically vulnerable emotions like sadness, love, and sympathy. In society, men are more inclined to harp on negative emotions—ones that are seemingly more masculine—like anger and pride. Let people in, slowly break down those walls, and begin to understand your aversion to being emotional.