Uncertainty can come in many forms
• Did I turn the stove off?
• Is my door locked?
• Do I really love my partner?
• Does my partner really love me?
• What if there is an accident?
• Will my loved one die?
• Did I hurt someone?
• Is this the right job?
• Will I get sick?
• What if I die?
It’s only natural for you to want to be certain about things you care about. But does this also sometimes get in the way of doing things that are also important to you?
• Do you ever avoid leaving your house to make sure everyone is kept safe?
• How many times have you avoided doing something because, “What if I am the 1 in a million to get sick/die?”
• Have you ever arrived late or missed an important event because you needed to go back home and check something (ex: door locked, stove off, etc)?
• Do you repeatedly ask loved ones for reassurance that they are safe or ask if they love you to the point that your relationship is affected?
• What about refusing to be around people you care about because you worry about harming them?
• Most importantly, do you spend extensive amounts of time doing prevention, precautions, or checks instead of something that you would rather spend your time on.
This need for certainty is called “intolerance of uncertainty” and everyone feels it to some degree or another. Your intolerance of uncertainty could be clinical OCD if you feel an overwhelming need to do things or avoid situations because of your uncertainty. Everyone has moments where they check things, avoid things, or take precautions because of uncertainty. But, how do you know when these precautions have gone beyond a reasonable amount?
Take a poll!
Have you ever wondered if your checking or precautions are unreasonable. Do you think they are reasonable, but they interfere with your life to a degree that you are curious how others manage their uncertainty? Ask some friends what they do in response to the same situations that you have uncertainty about. First, check in with yourself about what you would answer for this poll so you can compare your answers.
For example, what if you were worried about contracting a serious illness from another person. You might get frequent STD tests, use multiple toilet seats in the restroom, review the evidence for and against you having contracted an illness, or wash your hands whenever you shake hands with someone who is sick or appears ill.
To ask your friends about their habits related to these behaviors you can either
• Call them
• Text them
• Email them
• Ask in person
You can also post a poll online anonymously to get stranger’s feedback if you want more answers or are uncomfortable asking friends or family.
Questions you should ask are:
• How often do you go in for STD testing? What is the reason you are usually tested?
• How many toilet seats do you use in a public restroom? Why do you use a toilet seat?
• How often do you think about whether or not you are sick or going to get sick?
• How many times, and for how long, do you wash your hands after shaking hands with someone who is sick?
When you check in with yourself you note that you:
• Go for STD testing every time after you have sex. Usually tested by going in specifically for STD testing.
• Use three toilet seats. You use them hoping to prevent genital warts.
• Consider whether you have become contaminated or are ill 2-3 times a day
• Wash your hands for at least 1 minute, repeating this 3 times after shaking hands with someone who appears ill
Take notes of your friends’ answers and then compare them to your own. You may find that some of your behaviors are completely reasonable, some may be a little overboard, and others may be beyond what anyone else would do. If it seems like any of your behaviors in response to an intolerance of uncertainty are causing you to disengage from what truly matters to you, this may be an area that you could benefit from practicing tolerating that uncertainty. The next time you notice an urge that is driven by your intolerance of uncertainty, see if you can try challenging it by resisting the urge and then noticing what happened about your expectations. You might experience that even if the experience of uncertainty is hard to go through, living life searching for certainty can be an even longer, harder road.The next time you notice an urge that is driven by your intolerance of uncertainty, see if you can try challenging it by resisting the urge and then noticing what happened about your expectations. Click To Tweet
Learning to tolerate uncertainty can be especially difficult for some. Especially for those who tend towards anxiety. If you feel you need support in building this tolerance, contact a professional for support in learning to experience and tolerate the uncomfortable feeling of the unknown.