Part 2: How The Need for Certainty Hurts Us

In case you’re not coming from Part 1, in this series we’re looking at our desire/attachment to certainty, and whether perhaps instead of searching for certainty, we should be getting comfortable with uncertainty.

Part 1 looked at why certainty is so alluring – how certainty from spiritual leaders make them seem so… enlightened;

How certainty from marketers make us confident to buy (or, afraid of missing out);

How we think certainty is going to help us feel better, if we could just find it and keep it.

Now that we’ve discussed why we desire certainty, here in Part 2 we’re examining how that desire or yearning for certainty can lead us to some pretty unsafe places – mentally or physically.

In other words, we’ll be looking at the harm this desire and attachment to certainty can cause.

(Then, Part 3 makes the case for why I think the next step is for us to embrace uncertainty and the benefits uncertainty brings to us as humans…)

So, let’s get into it:

Certainty sounds great - so what's the problem?

As we talked about in Part 1, a feeling of certainty usually equates to feeling like we know what’s going to happen, feeling in control, and thus feeling safe.

If it provides us all these things, why wouldn’t we want it?

The problem happens when a) we believe that any uncertainty we feel about our current selves or our future means we’re not spiritual or enlightened enough – aka is a flaw, and b) when we finally think we are certain and it doesn’t turn out the way we planned.

Then there’s the risk that when we prioritise certainty we close ourselves off to new information, expansion of our awareness, and development of our selves.

When we believe uncertainty = a flaw in our selves

If we see people around us who feel totally certain that everything is going to work out for them, that everything is happening for their highest good, what happens when we don’t feel that?

Most of the time, at least from the conversations I’ve had behind the scenes, we either:

  • Think there’s something wrong with us because we’re NOT feeling that enlightened certainty we see modeled on Instagram
  • Work really hard to make ourselves reconnect with or experience that certainty – which often means pushing down our real feelings or gaslighting ourselves.
  • Look for answers outside of ourselves, to people who claim THEY have the answers, who seem absolutely certain

Cults & Certainty

Last year I went down a rabbithole/hyperfixation on cults.

I watched the two NXIVM (pronounced ‘nexium’) documentaries and listened to multiple podcast episodes.

I dove into ‘A Little Bit Culty’ podcast for wide-ranging stories about high control groups.

I followed people who drew parallels between cults/high control groups and common practices in spiritual & online business/marketing communities.

This is all to say, I learned A LOT about high control groups.

One of the most common refrains from ex-cult members is that they were ‘seekers’ – they felt lost and lacked certainty about their life path or purpose.

The leader of the group they joined had answers.

AKA: certainty.

Those seekers felt that their lack of certainty, their lack of clarity and confidence about their future, meant there was something wrong with them.

They sought out people who were CERTAIN. Who KNEW the answers… and offered a promise that if they just had followed the rules they could get that certainty.

Because if that seeker couldn’t have that certainty on their own, at least they could follow someone who did.

Someone who told them to push their questions down, because the leader was infallible and all-knowing (and sometimes connected to God, or psychic), and pointed to those people with doubts as people who ‘didn’t really believe’ because they weren’t as bought-in. Or certain.

When certainty is held up as the way things are ‘supposed to be’ – that once you’re together, healed,  enlightened, on the right path, or successful then you’re completely certain, then of course those who are uncertain look to those who are for guidance/direction.

What would happen if we embraced uncertainty as the sign of a questioning mind?

A mind that leaves open possibilities?

A mind that recognised its own limitations, in the face of the vastness of the universe, and instead saw feeling comfortable in uncertainty as the goal?

When our certainty is wrong

What happens when you *finally* arrive at a place of certainty, come to believe in and rely on that certainty, attach meaning to our ability to *know* certain things will happen, and you’re wrong?

You’re 100% certain that something is going to go a specific way for you…

You KNOW it.

Your intuition, your higher self, your guides, everything seems to be saying ‘this is exactly how it’s going to go.’

Or

‘If you do this, then THIS will definitely happen.’

And then… it doesn’t.

Have you ever had an experience like this?

You felt like you 100% knew that you were going to sell out a launch, get a specific job, have a particular relationship, and then… it didn’t happen.

The launch falls flat, the job falls through, the relationship just… fails.

How did you feel?

I’ve seen this happen with many, many friends and acquaintances (including in facebook groups) and it can be devastating.

If the person still believes that the ultimate goal is all certainty all the time, it’s dealt with one of three ways.

They restart as if nothing happens

First, they talk about how 100% certain they are that a specific situation is going to go a specific way. 

They’ll have a sold out launch, or THIS person is definitely their twin flame / soul mate / who they’re meant to be with, or they’ll DEFINITELY get this job. 

Then, the thing doesn’t happen.

Their launch bombs, the partner ends up not being the right match, they don’t get the job. 

What do they do?

They don’t acknowledge they were wrong about their last ‘sure thing’ – in fact, they don’t say anything. 

They just start again about the next thing they ‘know’ is going to happen.

The problem with this is it becomes apparent to anyone around this person is that they aren’t a trustworthy source. 

And, honestly, to deep down they realise it as well. 

People will learn to tune out this person’s pronouncements and see them for what they are – unreliable.

They change their story aft er the fact

We’ve all had conversations with people where they KNOW this product is going to be successful, they KNOW they’re going to get the job, they KNOW this one is their soulmate.

There’s nothing you can say that will shake their confidence/certainty.

And then, something changes. It’s clear the product wasn’t the right thing, the soulmate wasn’t the right person, the decision they knew was the right one is reversed. 

And their story changes too.

‘Oh, I always knew we weren’t actually meant to be together.’

‘Oh, I knew that this product wasn’t really the right one for me to launch.’

And you think ‘what about the three months where you dismissed every red flag from this person while saying ‘but I know we’re meant to be together?’ ‘

The problem here is two-fold – one, the person is basically changing history, their perception of reality, to preserve their certainty. 

Instead of acknowledging ‘okay, I was wrong, what I thought was true has proven not to be.’ 

They insist the history is different. 

Which, in my opinion, is essentially self-gaslighting – and potentially gaslighting the people who remember what they were actually saying.

In both the first and second example, this need for certainty to the point that a person will re-write history or ignore it demonstrates an individual lack of integrity – that they would rather be right than be honest. 

They miss out on the potential for growth to learn from these experiences they’re putting so much energy into denying or ignoring. 

Their faith in themselves is shaken... if not shattered.

The third example is the most devastating and in my experience the most common.

When someone achieves that certainty – they know  they’re getting a specific outcome or something is DEFINITELY going to happen, it doesn’t and they’re devastated.

Their faith in themselves is shaken if not completely shattered.

They question everything.

They question their competency.

They may blame themselves:

‘Maybe I’m not good enough and that’s why it didn’t work out. Maybe I’m not healed enough. Maybe nobody likes me and that’s why they didn’t buy.’

They feel shame and embarrassment.

This challenge to their belief in themselves can make people give up on their dreams altogether.

Which is so, so sad.

If we just acknowledged that uncertainty is inherent to humanity, that feeling certain doesn’t make you a more advanced or spiritual or accomplished human, maybe we could let go of that need for certainty.

And maybe it would be slightly less embarrassing or devastating when we don’t get an outcome we want – because we allowed for the unknown from day one.

Certainty Can Limit Our Growth

Let’s say that you achieve a sense of certainty – thus avoiding the ‘if I’m uncertain, there’s something wrong with me’ problem.

And let’s say things generally work out how you expect – so you don’t experience certainty-gone-wrong.

Maybe you start to believe you’re right all the time.

What happens when someone starts to believe that they’re 100% right all the time?

I’ve seen people believe so much in their own certainty that they shut out any information that goes against it.

They believe they’re divinely inspired, have access to some information via the spiritual world, their deity, or their ‘superior intellect’, and refuse to even consider information that contradicts them.

To be clear, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pay attention to our own intuition or gut feelings.

One of the central tenets of my work is helping people reconnect to their own intuition and guidance as they connect with their bodies, intuition and inner guidance.

That doesn’t mean we ignore the access we have to so much good, solid information that comes from other humans in the world.

There’s a way to integrate both your intuition and external knowledge.

There’s a wide world of information and knowledge – not just in the form of facts that have been tried & tested by the scientific method, but other lived experiences and people who’ve experienced things you haven’t.

One of the things I love(d) about being a massage therapist is hearing people’s stories – learning about their day to day life, listening to the jobs they did, getting a glimpes of the depth of information humans have access to.

This exposure made me realise how much I hadn’t seen or experienced because of who I am, where I come from, and the life I was born into.

The problem is, the deeper we get into certainty, into believing we have this divine connection that means we’re always right, the less curiosity and interest we have in seeking out other perspectives, other knowledge.

Even with the best intuition (or spirit guides) in the world, we are still limited in what we have access to, and we still have biases that we may or may not be aware of.

I’m sure we’ve all met someone who metaphorically clapped their hands over their ears and sang ‘lalala’ when we tried to tell them a truth that went against their own belief system, what their intuition or their ‘spiritual self’ told them.

Not being open to other experiences or realities being as valid as ours can be incredibly harmful.

Absolute certainty in our beliefs and thoughts and what we think is going to happen doesn’t leave much room for openness, learning, or connection.

One of the beautiful parts of being human is learning and growing, but if we’re so sure of ourselves all the time that there’s no room for new information, we don’t have that experience.

Ready for Part 3?

When I say that ‘certainty can be harmful’ – these are all the things I’m referring to.

Next, in Part 3, I share why I think uncertainty is intrinsically human and something we should embrace in our time on earth instead of constantly chasing certainty.

I can tell you from my personal experience, the moment I realised that, logically, uncertainty seemed intrinsic to our human experience and was okay with not feeling certain about things, I felt a lot freer.

I’d love to hear from you – have you seen or experienced these negative outcomes from chasing or being attached to certainty, either in your own life or from someone else?

Let me know in the comments, and I look forward to seeing you in Part 3 next week.

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