Uncertainty and Control

I am in my early 30’s right now. I am unquestionably an adult, at least biologically speaking. Yet I have somehow managed to make it this far with next to zero ability to deal with uncertainty.

It’s been coming up lately in my life. There are things going on that are just full of uncertainty and unknowns and grays. And they aren’t bad things either, they’re just uncertain things. But holy wow am I having a hard time with them. Uncertainty is just so hard for me to deal with.

I’m not entirely sure why this is. I suspect there are a number of things coming into play here. Things like how it’s hard for me to be vulnerable. Things like how I don’t generally trust people – people aren’t safe; people are dangerous. Things like how I want the world to be an absolute, black-and-white place with no in-betweens.

I’ve written before about vulnerability and how it’s important for making connections with people and being able to be close to people. It’s something I’m still working on, and I’m making some progress. I’m learning to be vulnerable, however difficult it is for me.

In a TED talk, Amanda Palmer talks about the art of asking. She talks about how it’s about vulnerability, but it’s also about trust. She gave a lot of examples of putting herself out there and asking people for what she needed, and how they came through for her and validated her trust. It’s a nice video and a nice talk, but for a couple of reasons I’m not sure it’s applicable to my own life.

For one, I don’t do much with the trusting. When I am vulnerable, when I put myself out there and ask or share something of myself, I don’t do it with trust. I do it with fear. It hurts to do that, every single time. It hurts to write this right now, and I’m sure it will hurt to post it. Having confidence that I won’t wind up hurt is something that I develop slowly and haltingly and painfully, one person at a time. And I have learned that I have to stop closing myself off before I can gain that confidence. Significantly before. I don’t much like that, but I do it because I care about being able to connect with at least a few people; having at least some people in my life who I am close to.

I also noticed that Palmer did not spend any time talking about asking, being vulnerable, trusting, and having it fall through. It was a very positive talk and it seemed to carry the implication that if you ask, you will receive. Except I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work that way. Ask and you might receive, but it is by no means a guarantee. Sometimes you’ll fall and no one will catch you. Which is one of the reasons I don’t much like to ask for things.

If I want something and I can only get it by asking, I face two simple options.

1. Ask. I might get what I want, but I might not, and in the meantime things are uncertain and I am vulnerable.

2. Don’t ask. I will definitely not get what I want, and I know the answer right from the start.

It often seems like asking is the obvious correct choice. It’s something I’ve heard often enough, anyway. It’s the rational I used when I submitted a short story of mine for publishing (which, by the way, worked! Shameless self promotion – I’m published in LUMINA journal. Check it out!). I could submit my story and face the possibility of rejection, or not submit it and never even have a chance of getting published. I submitted, faced the possibility of rejection, and it worked out. Yay for me!

Only with me, I don’t think it’s the possibility of rejection, specifically, that puts me off of asking. It’s the uncertainty in the meantime. It’s the not knowing what will happen, and not being able to control the outcome. There are times when the certainty of not getting what I want is easier for me to deal with than the uncertainty of asking. When knowing the outcome – even if the outcome is bad – is better than not knowing the outcome – even if it might be better.

Because uncertainty is really hard to deal with. Like whoa.

I have been told, growing up, that I am a control freak. It offended me at the time, but you know what? I kinda am. I want to control everything around me, and I’m pretty sure this is also about that horribleness of uncertainty. I will cling to a bad answer rather than not know the answer. I will choose a bad outcome rather than have the outcome be out of my control. Much of how much I do this comes down to how well I feel I can handle uncertainty at any given time. If I’m feeling strong and stable, I am far more likely to be willing to let go and take a chance. If I’m not, though. If I’m feeling weak or I’m already hurt, then uncertainty can be simply too much to bear. It can be easier for me to embrace a solution that hurts me but I was able to choose, than be vulnerable and uncertain and let someone else choose. I will do this with an absolute ferocity at times, if I deem that being uncertain is Just Not Ok.

Only I think that this is not a good thing. I’m not going to demonize myself for it – I know that if I just can’t handle uncertainty, forcing myself to do so is not going to help anyone. It’s just that I think I take it too far sometimes. Sometimes my need to be in control of everything that has an impact on me can mean infringing on other people’s freedom of choice. It can mean, at times, imposing my answer (my hurtful-to-me answer) onto other people. This is not an ok thing for me to do.

Long term, the answer is obvious. I need to learn to handle being uncertain. I need to learn how to cope with it when something that impacts me is in someone else’s hands, and I need to stop trying to grab back control by whatever means I have available (which is usually by picking the option that will hurt me and imposing that choice onto other people, which kinda means I’m forcing other people to hurt me, which is seriously uncool).

Shorter term, the answer is trickier. The only way to get there is to be uncertain and flail around until I find my balance. I can get help with that through therapy and maybe through the kindness and patience of friends, but I won’t get there until I start doing it. But in the meantime, I have to balance when I am pushing myself, and when pushing myself might cause me harm. I have to find my edge and push myself to that edge, and keep pushing it to force the edge further and further out, and I have to do it hopefully without falling off that edge. I don’t want to fall. The prospect of managing all this is really quite terrifying. Especially since I don’t really want to deal with uncertainty. I want uncertainty to not be a thing. It’s just that it is a thing, and I want to be better able to deal with the world and with people and with interpersonal relationships, and that means handling uncertainty.

Whether I like it or not.

Wish me luck?

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Uncertainty and Control

  1. Oh it’s terrifying, so terrifying, I want to be able to do more than just wish you luck.

    You left one thing unsaid. And I think it’s a very valid and realistic fear. The possibility that if you ask for help, you not only get rejected, but get ridiculed or punished for even asking. And I think that’s more common than most people think. Ischemgeek wrote a comment on one of my posts that described that exact same thing as well.

    Me: So how would you say C without implying B?
    NT: *eyeroll* I’d say _____.
    Me: Thank you.
    NT: If you spent more effort thinking about what you say before you say it, you wouldn’t need to ask.

    *headdesk*

    Just can’t win. No wonder so many of us are traumatised about asking for help. It’s not just being a control freak.

    I think you’re incredibly courageous for trying to tackle this. And not only that, but writing about it.

    Thank you.

    • That’s a really good point. I’ve certainly had my share of being punished or derided for asking questions, and that makes it a lot harder to keep asking questions in the future.

  2. Ruth

    I do wish you luck and encouragement. I think ‘living with the not knowing’ is hard for everyone. Unfortunately my aspie BF recently decided to call off our relationship because of too much fear and uncertainty around the prospect of being in a permanent/live-in relationship with me. Very sad and such a waste, I think.

  3. snail

    I can completely relate to this blog… uncertainty is the reason I have never been in a relationship with someone I actually liked, I would scare them away trying to get answers too soon because not knowing drives me CRAZY.