Uncertainty, Invulnerability and Survival Strategies
Simple pointers to empower you to be in alignment with your commitments – making a difference in people’s lives.
Every so often I have a run of issues that tie into one fundamental human impasse. I have one of those “Ah-HA!” moments, than share it with Todd and my trainees saying “This is THE fundamental human issue, that if we listen for and speak to it in transformational coaching will create effortless shifts. If we get this you’ll have this coaching thing down!” Here’s what’s seems to be the essential issue of late.
First; every single one of us stepping into a new day or a new situation faces uncertainty. For instance, with the economic shifts as they are, it facilitates the opportunity to notice how we be with uncertainty. Do we ignore, distract, deny, control, allow, be open to, intellectualize, emotionalize, spiritualize? There are all kinds of ways of being with those circumstances that are fraught with uncertainty. Rarely do we consider all of the possibilities and ramifications of those possibilities.
Second; uncertainty creates a sense of vulnerability. No one likes the feeling of being vulnerable. The quality of being vulnerable can feel tense, tight, anxious, squishy, weak, helpless, powerless, incapable, incompetent, immobilized. Who wants to experience these qualities of being?
Third; over years perhaps decades each of us has perfected our particular survival strategies, as best we can, to eliminate vulnerability and avoid uncertainty.
In walks your client: Anyone seeking coaching is wanting something that they can’t seem to make happen under their own volition. Something is in their way. Generally, what is in the way is how they are being with the uncertainty of having what they say they want; more to the point, it’s the fear of having to be with relinquishing old ways of being and doing, for new or different ways of being. It could be the uncertainty of just wanting what they want. There is a lot of vulnerability in allowing yourself to want. There is a large degree of uncertainty as to whether you’ll get what you want. . . . There is the uncertainty of success, uncertainty of how you will be with success, uncertainty of how you will be if you fail. It’s all unknown.
The question is how do you be with uncertainty?
How most of us be is invulnerable. We create strategies that support being invulnerable. We avoid and distract ourselves from feelings and thoughts that manifest the angst and anxiety that arise with uncertainty. We avoid that void that perhaps feels like death. We create strategies to survive those feelings – keeping them at bay so as not to feel the element of danger. Or we create “what if’s” that actually bring up feelings of uncertainty – “what if I make a mistake or fail?” Isn’t it fascinating that so many of us actually create scenarios in our heads that creates the uncertainty that we are wanting to avoid. Actually, this particular strategy keeps us stuck in possibilities that we can only imagine and stops us from stepping into the unknown or into uncertainty that we can’t imagine.
My client Ruth is courageously creating a new life for herself at sixty years old. She’s been married twice, has grown children and has had various careers. But what she realized in our last session is that throughout her life she has been avoiding the uncertainty of following her own path. For the sake of security and certainty she’s followed a path laid out by those who’ve gone before her.
We explored what kept her from taking the path less traveled and the concept of uncertainty came up. “What does uncertainty mean to you?” Ruth was able to trace back to a moment when she was three years old and holding her youngest brother. Being the oldest sibling and the only girl she had a thought in that instance that if she dropped this baby it would be a catastrophe. In that moment she sealed herself off from even the thought of what might happen and began to learn how to control circumstances in such a way as to avoid uncertainty and inevitable dangers may that arise – especially in the mind of a three year old. She laughs in that moment as she reveals how she developed her controlling, perfectionistic personality. If uncertainty could potentially lead to catastrophe what strategies would any child develop?
You gotta know that most of us develop our relationships with the main concepts of humanity before we are six. We are trying to create a how-to manual to ensure we are worthy, valued and lovable. We decide what’s true and how to be in relation to what’s true. If what’s true for Ruth is that uncertainty will lead to catastrophe, she’s going to develop strategies for being and being with uncertainty that could only lead to certainty.
As a coach, if we can keep in mind that each of our clients is avoiding uncertainty and vulnerability, we can begin to distinguish specific strategies that may limit them in having what they say they want. We then empower them to be clear about the choices they make and to perhaps choose differently in service to their intended results. As a practice, they can begin to cultivate awareness around how they be with uncertainty and to exercise different muscles that will give them more flexibility in their choice-making ability.
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