The problem with certainty

Certainty is a basic human need. Who doesn’t yearn to have certainty that their family will be happy and safe, their financial lives will be secure, and their spouse and friends will have their back?

But feeling too much certainty about other people can be warning sign. One of the first steps in my journey to a visible self, was the realization that I had a lot more ‘certainty’ about other people than I did about myself.  In many moments I could feel complete certainty that those closest to me deserved all my compassion and any help I could offer them. But in moments where I felt stressed, hurt or threatened, that certainty could turn in a very different direction. In those moments I could feel absolute certainty that the other person was wrong, and I ‘knew’ how and why they were wrong. I was certain that if they understood my point-of-view then they would see the error of their ways. And as you might guess, I spent a lot of time, energy and sadness before this certainty was disproved.

There were many lessons from those moments, among them “two people can be validly hurt at the same time” and “you can see things your way and someone else can still see things a different way… no matter how passionately you make a case to the contrary.” Even more importantly, you can’t presume to know for certain ‘how it is’ for anyone else.

But to go even deeper, I eventually realized that these lessons are particularly difficult to accept when you are invisible to yourself in these moments of conflict. When you are only focused on the other person in a disagreement, your reality and the validity of your perceptive gets abandoned…by you. This can blind us to the fact that even if other people don’t agree or validate how you feel, you can hold on to and appreciate that what you care about is valid to you. In this way you get to feel the certainty that matters most…certainty that you and your perspective matter regardless of others judgements.

The ability to hold on to this truth is life changing. It gives you the power to let go of a conflict and say “hey, let’s agree to disagree”, or recognize that you may need to go seek support somewhere else for a while.  And getting better about recognizing when you are feeling certainty about others’ ‘wrongness’ is a very good red flag that you may be so focused on ‘others’ that you are forgetting the ‘you’ in a moment.

So what’s the plan? Look out for your own feelings of certainty about “how” and “why” others are saying or doing something. We’re all doing the best we can. And we all have needs that are valid to us. It doesn’t have to be a competition. You can use those feelings of frustration as guideposts to make the decision or take the action that is most authentic and beneficial for you.