Tips  on spiritual growth, emotional health, and relational healing.


Overcoming Insecurity: How to Find a Healthier Identity

Feb 6, 2018

My son is currently obsessed with the soundtrack to The Greatest Showman.

My wife recently informed me that he has nearly every word of every song memorized.

And I’m grateful. Because we needed something else to listen to other than our current list of musicals. I couldn’t take anymore Moana, Joseph, Newsies, or Beauty and the Beast!

One of the central themes of the movie (it’s a must-see if you haven’t gotten to the theater yet) is the insecurity plaguing the characters. From the PT Barnum (played by Hugh Jackman) to the cast of his circus, they’re all trying to figure out who they are – and if their true selves can be known, loved, and accepted by others.

Insecurity isn’t a battle limited to the big screen; it’s a struggle many of us know all too well.

My Battle with Insecurity

I can first remember feeling insecure in my church youth group. One day, I became aware that my clothes were out of style. My haircut felt lame and I knew I wasn’t as cool or good looking as other guys. And I won’t even get into how I felt around girls!

In high school, I tried my best to morph who I was based upon where I was.

I was a smart kid in class, available to help other kids with their work. I wanted to be liked so much I let other kids cheat off me.

On the baseball field, I tried to be the passionate tough guy, screaming, cursing, whatever it took to play the part.

At church, I was a spiritual leader, the one who knew all the answers.

By the time I got to college, I become accustomed to wearing masks and fashioning who I was to find acceptance in a new environment.

The problem? I didn’t know who I was anymore.

I began a journey that is now deep in its second decade – a pursuit to claim and develop my God-given identity.

Not who other people want me to be. Not who I think I should be. But who God says I am.

I’ve spent the last ten years standing on stages and speaking in front of hundreds and thousands. I’ve written articles which have been read by tens of thousands. Despite that success, I’ve struggled with defining myself by what I do, what other people think about what I do, how I compare to others who do I do, and how I’m not yet where I want to be.

From personal experience and 15 years of mentoring and pastoring people, I’ve learned many of the dangerous places to locate our identities.

Insecurity Identity Facebook log in social media

The Danger Zone for Our Identities

We tend to locate our identity in several dangerous places.

We define ourselves by what we do.

The second question anyone asks upon meeting us is “what do you do?” Our jobs become a key identity marker, along with our performance or achievement in them. Yet, it only takes a bad decision, tragedy, injury, retirement or industry shift to shatter this identity. Having pastored two churches with sizable groups of attendees in retirement, I’ve seen the aftermath of defining oneself by where you go each Monday morning.

We define ourselves by our talent and abilities.

Talent is a beautiful thing. It’s incredible to discover you do something well and improving that ability over time. Whether it’s marveling at a painting, standing in a new building, using a smartphone, or watching an athlete compete, we all benefit from the talents of others. But those people are bigger than their gifts. An injury, the aging process, a shift in technology or preference in the market can turn admiration into “eh.”

We define ourselves by who we know.

I love my friends. During each season of life, I’ve appreciated the people around me. But, like many of you, I’ve seen seasons of abundant relationships transition into seasons of scarcity. And I’ve seen people who I trusted deeply wound me and betray me even more deeply. Death, fights, transition, or conflict – they can all destroy our identities if we’re only as valuable as who we know.

We define ourselves by what they think of us.

Popularity is a finicky thing. Just ask any one-hit wonder or professional athlete. One day, everyone wants to talk to you and the next, they’ve moved on. When we’re only as good as what “they” think of us, we’re skating on thin ice. I’ve learned what “they” think of me is often just one or a few names. And, as the artist LeCrae once said, “If you live for their approval, you’ll die from their rejection.”

We define ourselves by how well we’re doing.

You’re not going to kill it, every time. None of us will nail hit a home run every day. Some seasons will feel like strikeout after strikeout, and not just in the beginning. We live in a world where, in many ways, we’re only as good as our last at-bat. There is always someone better than you or always someone coming for you. Performing for your identity is exhausting!

So, if these are all dangerous places, then what’s the answer? I learned one way forward recently, in an unexpected conversation.

identity insecurity businessman blank business card who are you what do you do

The Gap Between Believing It and Living It

I began meeting with a counselor this year. After years of recommending this step to others and some recent bouts with anxiety, I decided it was time to practice what I preach.

I was talking with my counselor and the issue of identity came up.

I talked about an identity statement I wrote in seminary, books I’ve read over the last ten years and what I believe about myself.

My counselor asked me a question when I was done with “my speech.” He said something to the effect of, “Do you believe that? I mean, you can recite it all very well, but do you really believe it? Do live from that? Do you create from that?”

I paused, long enough to really take in the question and not answer without some reflection.

The answer which came up wasn’t what I was expecting.

The truth is I don’t.

I can say it. I can recite it and teach it to others. But the words I told my counselor about who I am did not match the place I live from every day and the place I create from.

It was a jagged pill to swallow, as an old friend of mine once said.

The First Step I Took to Start Overcoming Insecurity

In addition to meeting with a counselor, I had a conversation with a friend. This friend had noticed what the same counselor had – this gap between what I could easily say and where I was truly coming from.

This friend shared a step they took which proved very helpful. I followed this friend’s advice.

I followed this friends advice, which led to me writing a new identity statement, not much different in content than the I wrote 11 years ago in seminary. But it came out much different in spirit and confidence.

I also took a step I never took back then. While I wrote the statement years ago and then put it away, I began revisiting this statement each morning. Some days, I come back to the words I’ve written throughout the day. A couple days ago, I read this statement three or four separate times.

On some days, I come back to the words I’ve written throughout the day. A couple days ago, I read this statement three or four separate times!

In some ways, I’m working to reprogram my mind with a new sense of identity. An identity which is not rooted in what I do, how I do it, the skills I have, the people I know or the opinions of others about me.

And for the very first time, I’m feeling the gap narrowing – between what I say with ease and the place I create from.

You Can Take This Step Too!

If you battle insecurity, you’ve got so much company. You’re not alone. And there’s nothing wrong with you.

I believe the process which is transforming me could be helpful for you too.

Today, I want to encourage you to write down a few statements about who you are, apart from your job, roles, skills, performance, relationships or other people’s assessment of any of the above.

Why do you have worth and value? Who are you if all that was stripped away?

Maybe the answer to those prompts and questions is a series of bullet points. Or maybe it’s a couple long paragraphs like mine ended up.

But I want to encourage you to put those truths into words.

As a follower of Jesus, my process took me back to key Scripture passages like Romans 8, Ephesians 1, and Ephesians 2:1-10. I went back to books like The Ragamuffin Gospel and Life of the Beloved. Your process might lead you back to favorite Scriptures, influential books, or life-altering messages.

Once you get your statement(s) into words, I want you to begin each day by reading those words to yourself. Repeat this process each morning. You might even find it helpful to come back to these words 3 or 4 times per day for the first few weeks.

Be Patient with The Process

Many of us have spent years trying to achieve an identity.

We’ve built our identities in unstable places and the crashing of these may be difficult, painful, or slow. Be patient with this process of writing and meditating on your true identity. I believe the major difference for me hasn’t been that I wrote different words but that I’m keeping those words in front of me and meditating on them.

Despite frustration, impatience, or disillusionment, don’t give up. The work you’re doing matters and with time, I believe you’ll find an increasing sense of clarity and confidence, peace and rest.

This work is important and essential.

None of us experience the world as the world is. We experience the world as we are. What we see out there is a reflection of what’s going on in here.

Identity is everything and not because an advertisement tells us so. Everything we do comes from our sense of who we are.

Claiming and developing our God-given identities is our most important work. As we claim and develop who God has declared us to be as men and women made in His image, we begin to overcome insecurity and need likes, retweets, comments or invitations to make us feel worthy of love and belonging less and less.

We find the freedom to be the people God created and intended us to be.

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