Overcoming insecurity

Khaled El-Ghamri, Tuesday 10 Jan 2023

Individual and collective feelings of insecurity can have important social and economic repercussions



Some people look at safety from a superficial perspective, believing it means feeling secure against crimes or having to do with the security of the state. However, US psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs may explain the feeling of safety best, saying that it comes right after physiological needs like the need for food, drink, warmth, and air.

Needless to say, the feeling of safety differs from one person to another based on their social, intellectual, and psychological make up. It has also been shown that feeling unsafe can result in psychological disturbances such as depression, frustration, or violent tendencies. 

Mohamed Al-Banna, a mental health specialist in Cairo, said that the need to feel safe is an integral psychological component of the human being. Safety, he added, may be felt in the form of safe housing, financial security, medical insurance, and other things and is a natural human need.

Heba Adel, a consultant psychiatrist and addiction management specialist, concurred. Safety falls into the second tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, she said, and as much as it may differ from one person to another, some people can tolerate more pressure and change in life than others before their feelings of safety are challenged.

Al-Banna also mentioned psychological flexibility and steadfastness, which, like the feeling of safety, can vary from one person to another. A human being’s ability, or lack of ability, to adapt to feelings of insecurity may lead to psychological problems and hormonal disturbances in the brain, he said. This is when psychological illnesses come to the surface, with psychological and biological illnesses then being the two sides of the same coin.

Flexibility refers to an individual’s ability to adapt to or deal with changes in a positive manner, such as changes in financial, social, or medical status without falling apart or constantly worrying, he said. Steadfastness, meanwhile, depends on a person’s ability to fight the urge to break or be in denial, such as when losing a loved one.

The real problem, in the absence of a sense of security, is that some people may end up suffering from depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, or phobias. But they can work on themselves to increase their sense of safety.

The feeling of insecurity also affects individual and collective behaviour in society. Al-Banna explained that individual behaviour describes how an individual thinks, what he prefers, and how he behaves and deals with others. Collective behaviour, on the other hand, descibes the characteristics a group of people share. Some communities are known for their generosity, their sense of humour, or orderly way of doing things, for example.

In the absence of a sense of security, chaotic forms of individual behaviour may take over, such as people racing to obtain what is not theirs or the dissemination of selfishness, hypocrisy, dishonesty, and the lack of belonging. Societies that do not feel safe are prone to violence, crime, and other ills, Al-Banna said.

On a social level, a lack of safety leads to low rates of marriage and the prevalence of divorce. Economically, it can affect people’s ability to work and be productive.

Another threat posed by the lack of security is the feeling of not belonging, which can manifest itself in the feeling of not belonging to a family or homeland. Al-Banna said that some people may choose to emigrate because they do not feel safe at home, perhaps due to the absence of a good education or medical insurance. In short, the lack of safety generates feelings of a lack of love and belonging.

A SPECTRUM:  Adel said that otherwise normal people may also suffer from frustration as a result of a feeling of insecurity, often a result of a sense of injustice and the inability to meet their needs. 

Some individuals do not have the ability to control themselves, and they may deal with frustration in a way that harms others, leading them to act violently, whether physically or verbally, with those around them.

Some mental and psychological problems can also lead to mistaken feelings of insecurity, Adel said. This is the result of an increase in the secretion of the neurotransmitter dopamine in certain areas of the brain that then leads to a disturbance in brain chemistry and can result in delusions or aggression and violence towards oneself and others.

Among illnesses of this sort is schizophrenia, in which an individual may feel that conspiracies are being plotted against him, that he is constantly being watched and threatened by others, and that he is even threatened with death. He may exaggerate normal acts by others, seeing them instead as part of plots orchestrated against him and making him feel more unsafe.

Anxiety and tension can also lead to insecurity, Adel said. In such cases, individuals will be pessimistic, will always expect the worst, and will believe that they are not able to carry out their normal tasks and responsibilities, whether on the material or the moral level. This will then exacerbate feelings of insecurity.

Al-Banna said that it is difficult to treat individuals who cannot feel safe, and if security is absent in the wider society and the community faces many societal, economic, and moral problems, individuals may also not be able to meet their needs and perform their duties.

The state has a major role to play in encouraging the collective feeling of security. Besides its role in maintaining security on the domestic front, it also has social responsibilities to perform, such as delivering good quality education, making available health insurance, maintaining people’s rights, and fighting against discrimination, Al-Banna said.

When divorce rates in Malaysia grew, the state intervened even though divorce is considered to be a form of individual behaviour specific to a husband and a wife, for example. The Malaysian government added marriage counselling and relationships education in schools. After the initiative was launched, divorce rates decreased significantly in the country.

Al-Banna added that government initiatives of this sort can help to provide people with a sense of security and that the Egyptian government has launched initiatives to reduce drug use and help people with special needs. These can help people to feel that they belong and are a part of society, increasing their sense of security.

Adel said that feelings of insecurity can lead to mental illness. She said that individuals should work on disposing of their negative emotions by developing themselves in areas where they may feel insecure. Medical treatment can be recommended when feelings of insecurity lead to psychological illness under the supervision of psychiatrists.

A version of this article appears in print in the 12 January, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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