Feelings of insecurity are the worst, and they can come from just about anywhere. Having a strong tribe of girlfriends who lift you up can serve as an amazing support system to make you feel happy, confident, and secure. But have you ever left a gathering with other women and felt like hiding out of insecurity?
While your partner can accidentally say something that makes you insecure, sometimes other women can be even worse. It’s hard to face down the judgment and opinions of other women sometimes. What do women say that make other women the most insecure? I went to the experts to find out.
Have you gained weight?
Hopefully your friends know enough not to suggest you’ve gained weight, because it’s one of the most insecurity-provoking statements one woman can say to another. Unfortunately, many women find their self-worth in their attractiveness, and asking another woman if she’s gained weight is one of the quickest ways to make her feel insecure.
Reverend Sheri Heller, licensed clinical social worker, told me, "It’s challenging enough for women to acculturate to having one’s worth linked to one’s appearance. For other women to scrutinize one’s physicality is even more daunting, as it carries an oppositional competitive energy." In other words, another woman may be commenting on your weight because she feels insecure about her own appearance. Instead of celebrating each of your unique beauty, she may be trying to compete with you.
Heller added that talking about another woman’s weight can make her feel like she’s less desirable, which makes this topic of discussion even more of a no-no. If you have a friend that feels the need to comment on your weight on a regular basis, realize that she probably has insecurities about her own weight. Be compassionate, but firmly tell her that your weight is not up for discussion.
Are you sure he’s the right guy for you?
When you choose a romantic partner, you’re putting your heart on the line and letting yourself be vulnerable. Hearing another woman criticize your choice makes you question your chosen partner and even feel insecure in yourself.
Heller told me, "Women turn to other women for advice and support when it comes to men and dating. To be questioned if the guy you are enamored with is the ‘right guy’ plants a seed of doubt not only about his character, but about the ability to judge and discern what is relationally right for her."
If you don’t like a friend’s partner, instead of saying something about it to her, trust that she’s capable of choosing someone who is right for her. Conversely, if a friend questions your choice of partner, realize that she may have good intentions, but that no one knows more about what’s best for you than you do.
You’re so sensitive
Women are typically thought of as more sensitive than men. That’s a good thing. It means that you can easily attune to another’s emotions and intuitively pick up on important things. Often, however, women accuse each other of being too sensitive in order to incriminate each other. Instead of apologizing for hurting each other, they pull the "sensitivity card," thereby discrediting each other’s emotions. For this reason, it’s easy to feel insecure about your emotions.
Heller told me, "Emotionally perceptive women are vulnerable to being characterized as ‘delicate,’ even unstable. To hear from a female friend or colleague that you are ‘so sensitive’ can cause one to misconstrue their intuitive capabilities as a sign of weakness." Instead of taking a statement about your sensitivity to heart, celebrate your sensitivity and see this statement for what it is — a way for the other woman to avoid taking responsibility for her own emotions and actions.
Kimberly Hershenson, New York based therapist, added, "This statement invalidates one’s emotions and makes another woman feel they are wrong or there is something wrong with them for feeling the way they do." She added that all emotions are valid, and it’s unhelpful to make another woman feel like her sensitivity is a problem. If another woman tries to pass your very real emotions off as sensitivity, let her know that while she is entitled to her opinion, you are entitled to your feelings as well.
My other friend doesn’t do that
Unfortunately, it’s all too common for women to compare themselves to other women and see how well they stack up. That’s why it can be so hurtful when another woman tells you that her other friends act differently than you do. It’s important to remember that we’re all unique individuals and acting differently from others can actually be a good thing, and not a reason for insecurity!
Hershenson told me, "Comparing one friend to another may lead to feelings of inferiority or spark competition among friends. This statement may make someone feel bad about their behavior and lead to a lack of self confidence." If your friends do things differently, celebrate that about them. And if you find a friend comparing you to her other friends, nicely tell her that you do things differently, and that you like it that way.
I’m too busy
Have you ever had a friend who constantly seems too busy to hang out with you? Feeling like your friend doesn’t have time to hang out with you can lead to self-doubt and make you feel insecure about the friendship as well. While it is important to set healthy boundaries and make time for all of the important things in your life, make sure that you set aside time for your friends and show them how important they are to you.
Hershenson told me, "Not having time for someone is a surefire way to make them feel unimportant. It’s understandable to be busy, but if you are consistently saying this to someone when they need you it will send the signal that this person is not a priority ever."
If a friend is constantly telling you she is too busy to see or talk to you, be brave and confront her about it. Tell her how important your friendship is and that you want to spend time with her. If she is a good friend, she will find time in her busy schedule to hang out with you.
You can’t have everything
If you’re an ambitious woman who also values family, you may be subject to other women judging your decisions. Often, women worry about their ability to have a successful career and get married and have kids, which is why they might tell you that you can’t do both. That can bring insecurities to the surface, as many working moms also battle guilt about focusing too much or too little on their families.
Heller told me that for women who feel their biological clock ticking, there are often worries about how to balance career goals and the desire for a family. She explained, "Women who express ‘you can’t have everything’ diminish the possibility of fulfilling these aspirations. This sentiment can be demoralizing for women who are deeply invested in manifesting divergent aspects of themselves."
If you are committed to having a thriving career and raising a loving family, you can do it. If another woman questions you about it, realize that she may be battling with those questions about her own life, and offer to have an open and non judgmental conversation about it.
You can’t do that
Just as women may tell each other it’s impossible to have a thriving career and a happy family, they also may spread messages about other things they think you can’t do. When a friend frequently tells you that you can’t do things, it may be a sign that she feels she can’t go after what she wants. But that doesn’t make it any less painful or frustrating.
Dr. Sona DeLurgio, a psychologist and marriage and family therapist told me, "Starting any statement this way can be a zinger to another woman’s own self-doubt. Where some women may feel fueled by this statement, many others will take it as a crumbling of their hopes."
Dr. DeLurgio recommended that women use "I can’t" messages as ways to better understand their own — or their friends’ — ideas about what a woman can and can’t do. She told me that if a woman finds herself saying something limiting about what she or another woman can do, it’s a sign to look inside and question her beliefs. This exploration can lead to greater openness and growth.
You should/shouldn’t stay home with your kids
Even though women have the ability to perform well in jobs that used to be off-limits to them and to design their lives in a way that works for them, the decision of whether to stay at home with your kids or go back to work can be fraught with fear and doubt. Many women have strong opinions about what motherhood should look like, and voicing those thoughts to moms can create insecurity and doubt.
Dr. DeLurgio told me, "As if women didn’t have enough pressure upon them to ‘do it all,’ these statements will only create insecurity in someone who may already be conflicted about their own decisions to either stay home with kids or be a working mom. Both of these choices often are loaded in our society and there are plenty of women out there ready to preach their beliefs to other women."
She recommended that instead of telling other moms what decisions are right for them, it’s better to focus on your own choices. Think deeply about what you want to do, and give your friends the chance to do what’s best for them and their kids, without judging them.
You need to try this diet
Even if a diet is working well for you, don’t expect other women to embrace your lifestyle choices. Doing so may make them feel insecure because they may feel that they aren’t as "good" at implementing those choices as you are, leading to feelings of shame.
In addition, you don’t want to become another the voice in the crowd of people telling women what they need to do to look more attractive. Dr. DeLurgio shared, "Women are continually bombarded with ways to make their bodies better, trimmer, healthier, sexier, etc. There’s always a push to become different than we are."
This constant barrage of information can have other detrimental effects, as well. Dr. DeLurgio said that the pattern of trying and failing at many diets often leaves women out of touch with their own bodies’ needs and wants. Jumping from diet to diet isn’t healthy, so don’t encourage your friends to jump on board with your diet if it’s not right for them. If you’ve found a diet that you love, great! You can share and celebrate it with other women, but also give them the space to make lifestyle choices that work for them.
Why women make other women feel insecure
If another woman is consistently making you feel insecure, you may be left wondering what’s going on with her. Why does she feel the need to say things that make you doubt yourself? It’s likely that she feels insecure and is judging you because of it. Psychologist Patricia O’Gorman came up with the phrase "girly thoughts" to describe the way women judge themselves and bring that judgment out on each other.
She told me, "Girly thoughts is an obnoxious but memorable name I’ve given to how a girl, a teen, a woman internalizes societal messages that tell her how she should act, should look, and what she should want, and turns these messages into a negative self-talk that misdirects her energies, frustrating her, causing her to doubt herself and begin to judge other women using these same harsh standards — reinforcing other women’s girly thoughts."
She thinks it’s important to name and become conscious of this process so that women can stop judging each other and start empowering each other, instead.