22 July 2024

Addressing their insecurities

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By: Prof Dr. Nor Adinar Baharuddin

Insecurity has become a common issue among the younger generations, as can be seen in various aspects of their lives. The constant exposure to selected and idealised examples of success, beauty, and happiness on social media platforms has contributed to a sense of insecurity and inadequacy.

A 2020 survey by Forbes found that more than half of Gen Z teens feel less safe about their or their children’s school, and a majority of adults polled say either they themselves or someone close to them are very or somewhat likely to experience self-harm, or contract COVID-19 or another communicable disease.

A study on the millennial generation by Wellesley College in the USA found that their present life stage – existing between adolescence and adulthood – and upbringing within the fluid context of modernity have led to anxieties, concerns, and fears regarding the uncertainty of their future, which are exacerbated by the constant presence of social media, which leads to comparison and thus fostering insecurity, competition, and envy.

A report by the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) found that nearly half of young people today live precariously, facing challenges of low pay, high costs, and overall precarity in the face of a system which was not designed to support independence or a transition to adulthood, leading to atomisation: the breaking of societal bonds that should support young people, leaving them isolated and vulnerable.

The culture of relentless comparison to others, driven by the constant search for perfection, has left many young individuals questioning their own worth and abilities. In addition, pressures of academics, uncertainties in career paths, and societal expectations further give rise to feelings of insecurity, fostering a fear of failure and rejection.

The need for validation through compliments, ‘likes’ and ‘views’ on social media has led to a fragile sense of self-esteem, hindering personal growth and overall well-being.

As young people navigate the challenges in a rapidly changing world, addressing these insecurities has become crucial for cultivating a resilient, self-assured generation capable of embracing the challenges that lie ahead.

A specific illustration of this pervasive is the preoccupation with skin complexion among the younger generation. The cosmetic industry capitalises on societal standard of beauty, often favouring a lighter and flawless skin tone, leading to feelings of inadequacy among individuals with darker skin tones.

The widespread influence of media, advertising, and beauty standards can further spread the notion that lighter skin is more desirable. This societal pressure prompts many young people to resort to various methods, such as using excessive makeup or online filters, to conform to these standards. Regular exposure to these enhanced presentations may lead to their appearance as perceived norms.

This cyclical nature of these insecurities can lead to the development of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Persistent insecurity can erode self-esteem, making it challenging for individuals to appreciate their own worth, leading to a negative self-image and diminished confidence in their abilities.

Insecurity can profoundly impact the way individuals form and maintain relationships. Fear of rejection or judgment may hinder the development of meaningful connections, and constant comparison with others may lead to jealousy or strained relationships. In academic and professional settings, insecurity may influence performance, with a fear of failure manifesting as procrastination, avoidance of challenges, or self-sabotage.

Effectively addressing long-term insecurity requires a comprehensive approach, encompassing self-reflection, support from friends and family, and the possibility of seeking professional assistance through therapy or counseling. Developing a positive self-image, building resilience, and adopting healthy coping mechanisms are crucial steps towards mitigating the negative impacts of long-term insecurity.

Over time, the collective impact of these measures can contribute to a cultural shift that values authenticity, diversity, and individual well-being. This may create a more supportive and empathetic society for future generations. While it may take time to observe the full extent of these impacts, implementing these proactive steps may pave for a supportive and empathetic society for future generations.


The author is a Professor in Periodontics and the Deputy Dean of Research, Faculty of Dentistry Universiti Malaya, and may be reached at noradinar@um.edu.my