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Why Everyone Is Insecure (and Why That’s Okay)

Why Everyone Is Insecure (and Why That's Okay) by Ellen Hendriksen (Scientific American Blog Network)
A healthy dose of self-doubt spurs us to monitor ourselves and our interactions and helps us identify how to get along better with our fellow humans

It turns out insecurity isn’t an oversight of evolution. In fact, it’s necessary: a healthy dose of self-doubt spurs us to monitor ourselves and our interactions. It prompts introspection and helps us identify how to get along better with our fellow humans. In short, we doubt ourselves in order to check ourselves. And those doubts buy us at least three traceable benefits.

First, the biggie: propagation. In 1984, developmental psychologist Cynthia Garcia Coll named the inborn tendency to withdraw from unfamiliar situations, people and environments behavioral inhibition. This is our degree of caution when faced with new people, places or events. And it’s not just found in toddlers clinging to mom’s leg or cats hiding under the bed when company arrives. In any organism, from bacteria to fish to modern Americans, behavioral inhibition wires us to look before we leap. It’s designed to keep us safe and, ultimately, alive, which helps ensure our genes will make it to the next generation.

Therefore, in addition to the evolutionary jackpot of reproduction, the second thing insecurity buys us is group harmony. A little insecurity in each of us maintains social cohesion rather than letting rampant psychopaths drag down the whole group. A group that maintains harmony avoids burning its finite time and energy on internal conflict. Over time, a harmonious group will outcompete those weighed down by infighting and power grabs. Indeed, playing well with others is a smarter evolutionary strategy for the group, not to mention all the individuals within it.

So the third thing insecurity buys us is actual security. Even if online grocery delivery has supplanted our reliance on the group to hunt and gather food, we still need a group for community, belonging and plain old love. A healthy dose of insecurity allows us to get along and stay safely in the fold.