Trying too hard to impress others makes you insecure

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Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Everyone wants to feel accepted by the people closest to them. Nothing hurts more than thinking family and friends don’t like who you are, or what you do. But fear of rejection can make you try too hard to impress others. If this sounds like you, learn to be yourself. Otherwise your efforts to look good may backfire, and make you feel more insecure than ever.

If you worry others won’t like or approve of you, upcoming social events can be a nightmare. Your brain goes into overdrive imagining scenarios in which you’re always the odd one out. You’re wearing the wrong outfit, you’ve brought too much food, or you’re not on the same wavelength as everyone else.

If you’re an introvert, you force yourself to be sociable, so that all the extroverts won’t write you off as dull. You still suspect that somehow, you’re going to look stupid again. So you try extra hard to prove you’ve got everything under control.

But when you’re already strung up with nerves, keeping yourself on a tight leash can make you act out of character.

And that can be self-defeating. Although you’re desperate to be accepted, your behaviour may work against you.

Let’s look at a few ways this can happen.

1 Acting cool or uninterested

You don’t want others to see that you’re fearful of not being accepted. So you go to the other extreme, and pretend you don’t care. You act supercool, and are even a little dismissive or sarcastic.

Perhaps you even dress unusually to emphasise your independence (and end up with a pile of clothes that don’t suit you). You turn up late to events, and don’t respond to friendly advances made by others.

Of course you know that, deep down, your behaviour is driven by anxiety. In fact, you’d happily mix with everyone, if only you knew how. But your manner stops anyone else understanding how you feel. You may even be seen as arrogant and judgmental.

Ironic, when you worry about being judged negatively yourself.

Sadly, pretending not to care can isolate you, both socially and at work. If others think you’re not interested in them, they’ll avoid you. They don’t want to be rejected either.

So you may miss out on social events or training opportunities. Others avoid including you, as they perceive that you are difficult or uncooperative. And that’s the very last thing you wanted to happen.

2 Rejecting others first

Sometimes your behaviour may go beyond pretending you don’t care. You may take it a step further, and reject others before they reject you. 

You may have grown up in an environment in which you were criticised, blamed or ridiculed. Even as an adult, you now expect most people will be cruel in some way. However you also believe that they disguise their negative feelings towards you.

So you’re often suspicious of others, even when they seem friendly. You constantly look for signs that you’re not accepted. But you don’t realise that your brain is primed to interpret others’ behaviour negatively.

Unfortunately, that means you may perceive malice where there is none intended. And this can add to your feelings of insecurity with others. 

Leaping to the wrong conclusion

For instance, at a party, you interpret someone’s odd facial expression and speech as making fun of you. And because this idea is so convincing, you don’t look at the situation more carefully. You can’t imagine any other explanation.

So you retaliate with an angry or sarcastic comment of your own.

However, in reality, this person hasn’t even noticed you. You’ve completely misread the whole situation.

In fact, they’re trying to disguise the fact that they have a terrible stomach ache. The pain is making them tense and stopping them from breathing properly. Hence their odd behaviour.

All they want to do is leave without others noticing. But you’ve leaped to the conclusion that their behaviour has something to do with you, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Reactions of others

Now try to imagine the situation from this person’s point of view. To them, your sarcastic comment was completely unprovoked. They probably were confused and offended themselves.

They and others who saw this exchange will probably be wary of you in future. They’ll be watching out for your seemingly unpredictable emotions.

So once again, your behaviour has been self-defeating. Although you wanted to connect with others, you’ve ended up with the exact opposite result.

3 Placating others too much

Constantly placating others is another way of trying too hard to make a good impression. You try hard to make others happy in the hope that they won’t even think of criticising or rejecting you. And you worry endlessly that you’ll be blamed when something goes wrong. 

So you wear yourself out running around anticipating everyone’s needs. You bury your true opinions or wishes, and agree with others no matter what they say. You daren’t let others know who you are, because you fear they’ll dislike you.

Your fear of rejection is so great that you daren’t stand up to people who are rude or dismissive.

High price to pay

Of course, the price of being a people-pleaser is that no-one worries about what you want or like. And sometimes your resentment at being taken for granted can get out of control. So you have an angry outburst. But this shocks others, because it’s so out of character. Then your fear of disapproval kicks in again, and you return to appeasing everyone as soon as possible.

And cancelling your true self to make others like you can backfire in other ways. Trying to be everyone’s friend can end up with you not being friends with anyone. 

By concealing your true thoughts, you may be seen as someone without any opinions or goals. Those looking for a genuine friendship may sense that you’re not authentic.

And devious or domineering people will take advantage of your lack of self-assertion.

In addition, nervousness can make you over-friendly, especially with people you’ve just met. Because you’re desperate to make a good impression, you smile and talk too much. You show too much interest in your new acquaintances. And they may be misled by the false signals you give out. They may assume you want a more intimate relationship than you do in reality. Extricating yourself from these misunderstandings can be tricky.

So trying too hard to impress others by placating them can lead to misunderstandings. Often you don’t show yourself in the best light. And unfortunately, it may not stop others disapproving of you. 

4 Trying to be perfect

Another way of proving you’re beyond criticism is to show how competent you are. By being perfect, you’ll stop anyone from finding even the tiniest flaw in what you do.

So your hair and makeup is always picture perfect. You wear fashionable outfits with matching accessories – even at the football. Your house looks like a show home inside and out.

Within your family, you’re the perfect child, parent, or sibling. You help everyone else sort out their problems, and act as the mediator in family arguments.

At work, you work faster, longer and harder than anyone else. You prove your dedication by taking on more and more tasks, no matter how time-consuming. You believe that worrying makes you look responsible and caring to others. 

When organising gatherings, you chronically over-cater or try to be the perfect gourmet cook. And you arrive at parties loaded with food, drinks, and the most expensive present you can find.

The price of perfectionism

But holding it all together and trying to be a super person takes its toll.

The first thing that goes is your health. Putting so much pressure on yourself isn’t sustainable. Sooner or later, you’ll find yourself trying harder and harder, and achieving less and less. Your body and brain are rebelling.

You’ll be anxious, exhausted, irritable, forgetful, and resentful. All you do is rush from one mindless task to another. You lose all enjoyment or sense of accomplishment.

And lurking underneath is the unpleasant suspicion that you’re not fooling anyone. And that can trigger even more insecurity about how others see you.

In fact, others may well be impressed by your efforts. The problem is that they may also feel intimidated and embarrassed, or even irritated by your competence. They may think you go over the top in an effort to show them up as being less capable than you. And so they may feel lacking, inadequate, and not able to live up to your standards. They’d feel much more comfortable if you made a few mistakes like the next person. 

Trying too hard to impress others is self-defeating

Of course, this is the last thing you wanted. You were trying to prove you were beyond reproach. But trying too hard to impress others has again had the exact opposite result.

So in each of the above examples, your need for approval is so strong that it drives you to act in self-defeating ways. You hope to impress others by your strenuous efforts. But it seems that this isn’t a particularly helpful strategy. All it does is bring about the very outcome you were hoping to avoid, and increases your sense of insecurity with others. 

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