Why Do We Fear Uncertainty and Losing Control?
When we are faced with uncertainty, we may feel anxiety and helplessness
People have different levels of tolerance when it comes to losing control and coping with uncertainty – therapist Gita Aussia explores why this is
Our therapists and counsellors can help you manage difficult feelings – find yours here
Future events are uncertain, and it is this uncertainty and unpredictability that leads to a lot of distress. Fear of uncertainty is related to fear of losing control. When we feel like we are not able to control the outcome of future events, we anticipate disaster. This can be very anxiety-provoking, especially for those who find any uncertainty intolerable. You might start to worry excessively and try to take control of the situation by doing anything you can to get away or avoid the unknown. This will lead to even more anxiety and exhaustion.
What are the root causes of fear of uncertainty?
This fear is rooted in children’s early anxieties and their need for safety, which forms at the very beginning of life and continues into adulthood. These primitive anxieties are linked to infantile hunger and fear of dying, combined with anxiety about abandonment and separation from the carer. These survival anxieties are manifested in infants’ crying, screaming and muscle tension, and these anxieties can be reduced or eliminated when carers attend to the needs of the infant.
If these anxieties are not contained or modified by the mother/carer because of her own psychological difficulties, these primitive emotions turn into panic/panic attacks.
These anxieties, which often continue into adulthood, give rise to feelings of insecurity and helplessness. When adults find themselves in anxiety-provoking situations, the fear they experience and feelings of helplessness and powerlessness can replicate feelings experienced during early childhood. Therefore, when we are faced with an event that is uncertain, the fear can become so unbearable that we try to deny it, repress it or do anything we can to eliminate it. It can be extremely difficult to bear such feelings and acknowledge our sense of helplessness instead of trying to avoid these feelings.
Although early experiences influence the intensity of fear associated with losing control and the fear of death, it is crucial to bear in mind that this fear seems to be part of human experience regardless of the circumstances.
What is this fear of losing control about?
Fear of losing control is a feeling that indicates that something is getting out of hand. It feels like holding our breath in case we drown. It is the fear of facing extremely difficult feelings, such as hopelessness, powerlessness, despair, rage, grief and loneliness. It is the fear of feeling our feelings. These feelings are so hard to bear that we try our best to deny them, avoid them and project them into other people so that we don’t have to feel them.
In childhood, we build defences to protect us against vulnerability and the difficult feelings that are induced by our surroundings. Changes and uncertain events in life shake our defences and provoke anxiety, panic attacks, fear of losing control and, ultimately, fear of death.
An example of this can be seen in the current pandemic situation, which has provoked all these fears. These fears represent both the insecurities and vulnerabilities that we have denied in our current life and primitive anxieties about death and powerlessness from our early life.
In order to be able to deal with our fears and feel grounded, we need to let our guard down and allow ourselves to get in touch with the insecurities and vulnerable feelings that may exist somewhere at the back of our unconscious, waiting to be felt. We need to ‘name’ them, own them and tolerate them. Only then will we find a way to feel grounded and secure.
How can therapy help?
In simple words, the fear of uncertainty and the need to be in control is because we don’t feel safe and secure within our skin. If as children, we have been emotionally and perhaps physically abandoned and neglected by our carers, we are not able to trust our environment to provide for our needs.
The relationship with the therapist is very important in constructing trust. As therapy progresses, the more we get to know our therapist and allow ourselves to rely on them, the more we begin to shape the secure self within us. In the meantime, we begin to trust our surroundings as well. We will become more confident that we’ll find a way to be okay no matter what happens and we don’t need to be in control of everything.