Anxiety, Control, and Uncertainty

Anxiety, Control, and Uncertainty

I wanted to talk about the idea of embracing uncertainty. It sounds like something that you wouldn't want to do, but I want to assure you that being able to embrace uncertainty is key in being able to not only understand your anxiety panic, but to actually be able to let go. When I always talk about letting go, one of the things that comes up is people are wanting to hold on. And why do we want to hold on? We want to hold down because we think we are in control if we hold on.

I ran across an article by Christine Carter last month and I will put her link in the show notes, and I wanted to share some bits and pieces of it with you, because she outlined some interesting ideas about ... She wasn't talking specifically about anxiety, but it is definitely what is going on here. One of the things she brought up in the beginning was the feeling of having that inner turbulence, she called it and looking for outer control. She said here, “The more turbulent I am inside, the more I try to control what's happening outside.”

Some people look away when chaos reigns. I dig in, I boss people around. I am aggressive about what I think is right. Feeling like I am right, like I know what to do delivers a hit of certainty in a world of unending and catastrophic natural disasters. I just want you to take a moment here and reflect on the times when you are dealing with people in your life, your relationships, and the times that you may be bossing people around, the times that you might be insisting on having your way. And I want to reassure you that what's happening is not that you are out of control or trying, just desperately trying to have your way, you are looking for control, you are looking for a place to be safe.

Christine goes onto say later in the article, “Every time I tried to control anything other than my own thoughts, the weather, my husband, my children, I'm sending a message to the world and to the people around me that they are not good enough. This absolutely is perfectionism and indeed, it is a particular form of unhappiness, one that spreads like wildfire.” Yes, that's what happens and we're all … we can all fall there at some point in our lives, but when we are anxious, we are really grasping. Many people use the term proudly that they are a perfectionist and that's why they do things this way or that way, but the reality is we are looking for control when we are doing that.

The article goes on to say that a new study published in psychological bulletin demonstrates that perfectionism is increasing over time. Today's youth are more demanding of others and they are more demanding of themselves. They also feel like other people such as their parents are more demanding of them. Yes, this is definitely happening and it is reflected in the numbers of people who are identifying themselves as having anxiety, and the younger and younger ages that it is happening.

I think that we need to pay attention when we are noticing this in ourselves. We here are dealing with ourselves. We can worry about other people another time, whether they're anxious and trying to make things perfect so they can feel control, but today, let's concentrate on ourselves and what it is that we're doing, and how we can do it differently for our own wellbeing. The article goes on to say like its close cousins, self-orientation, perfectionism, and socially prescribed perfectionism. Other oriented perfectionism leads to nothing good.

Although we often that perfectionism is a cause of success, like people always say, I'm a bit of a perfectionist, is a socially acceptable humble brag. Research clearly demonstrates that perfectionism is often debilitating, a well-studied phenomena, perfectionism is clearly associated with serious depression, chronic anxiety, and a myriad of health problems. Christine goes onto say, “And other oriented perfectionism comes with additional drawbacks. In intimate relationships, it is linked with greater conflict and lower sexual satisfaction.”

“When I get bossy,” she says, “and controlling, the people around me feel defensive or they feel wrong, or they feel a lack of control and nothing anyone ever wants to feel.” As she goes on further into the article, she talks about the answer and what we need to do to get out of this because as she says, being controlling is like a sugar rush, it might bring me a quick hit of tense certainty, but never lasting peace. This is because all control is false. It is temporary at best. Life is inherently uncertain.

We might hate that, but it's true. We can be sure of only one thing. We will die and we usually are not even in control of that. These are very important points. I hope that you can hear that, that being in control is like a hit, like we get a little rush from it, a little dopamine rush and it brings it a quick sense of certainty. And here she calls it a quick hit of tense certainty, that it's really there, we're certain but very short period of time. It is never lasting and it doesn't bring peace. And like she said, this is because all control is false.

When we come to the point where we can actually look at life as being inherently uncertain through our journey here with anxiety and panic, it seems like something you wouldn't want to think about or that you would avoid confronting, but it brings great peace. And this was a big part of my journey to be able to see that I could not take care of everything, of everyone and every possible thing that could happen. When I could let go and see that not only was I having to live in a life of uncertainty, everyone does, this is part of our common humanity. None of us knows what the next day will bring.

Christine goes on in the article to say how to surrender. She says, “Given this, why do I so consistently and diligently resist uncertainty by trying to get the world to do things my way? And what can I do instead of retreating back into perfectionism?” She says, “The opposite of perfectionism is acceptance, not resignation, but surrender to what is happening in the present moment.” “I know, I know,” she says, “that sounds terrible to my fellow control freaks. And I want to say to you, I know you have heard these very same words over and over again as we talk about acceptance, as we talk about surrender, but I think it's important that we keep in mind that acceptance and surrender are not resignation.”

Research shows in this article she is speaking about Kristin Neff's research. Her research shows that resistance increases our suffering and I want to point out that old saying that, and it was really quite true that what we resist persists. And with anxiety, we know that of what we resist fuels the fire of our anxiety panic. And Kristin Neff, her research is showing that resistance increases our suffering while acceptance, particularly self-acceptance is one of the lesser known secrets to happiness.

And I want to point out here that not only is self-acceptance and self-compassion a secret to happiness, it is also a way out of anxiety and panic. And so, I want you to pay particular attention to self-acceptance. Christine goes onto say in the article, “But this idea that we do better when we don't resist difficulty is very counterintuitive. How do we even begin to stop resisting what hurts or what scares us?” The article goes on to say, “Behavioral science and great wisdom traditions both point us toward acceptance. It is strangely effective to simply accept that which we cannot control, especially if we are in a difficult or painful situation. To do this, we accept the situation and also our emotions about the situation.”

Now, this is very important. One thing that it points to is the serenity prayer. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. And when we are in very difficult situations, we can actually do this, and we can also do it in the smaller situations. What happens when we are faced with something great and something very, very difficult that we have no way out of, we actually do surrender easier. We actually accept more easily than on the day to day basis where we still have choices and we have many different directions that we can go. We often do not accept, but dig in, resist and try to make things go our own way.

The article goes on to say, “I could have let myself accept reality rather than fight. We could at some point lose our home in a fire, that she was in the southern California fires, and then I could just let myself feel the fear and the anxiety I was actually already feeling.” What she's talking about here is that we not only accept the situation that we're in, but we also want to be accepting of our emotions about the situation. There's many layers here. We accept the situation and then we need to be compassionate and kind to ourselves, and accept our own emotions about the situation, except that we have grief, except that we are sad, except that we are in pain. But we don't deny it, we actually look at it, we see it clearly and we accept it.

“This approach,” Christine goes onto say, “requires trust. Trust that if I am still here, still breathing, everything is okay. Trust that even if I don't give specific instructions, if I back off from trying to control everyone and everything, life will continue to unfold just as it's meant to. Trust that even if all goes to hell, even if other people make mistakes or do things differently than I would do them, that I can deal with the outcome no matter what it is. Trust that I can handle all the difficult emotions that come up in response to what does or does not happen. Trust that I can handle loss and grief should it come.”

I thank Christine for that article and I want to point out that trust is another issue that we have often lost. When we have lost trust quite often, when we have been struggling with anxiety and panic for a while, we could have lost trust in our ability to make decisions. We can lose trust in our own body, in our own mind, and we can have lost trust that we would know what to do in any given situation. But, when we focus on who we are, how we have gotten to where we are, and all of the things that we have done, we can begin to rebuild that trust.

We can begin to embrace the uncertainty because we know that always in our past, when things were placed right in front of us, that we always did what we needed to do. We always took care of what was right in front of us. We don't need to figure all these things out ahead of time because the reality is we cannot. That is only our desire and our drive to control things and that doesn't take us anywhere that we want to be. I hope that this has been helpful to you and if you have any questions or you would like to give us an idea of what you would like to hear on the podcast, please send us an email;

That's it for today

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I do not at all understand the mystery of grace, only that it meets us where we are, but doesn't leave us where it found us. -Anne Lamott.

Be well and Aloha.!

Gina RyanComment