Do you ever open a browser and stare at the search box and just wonder what you could type in to get an answer? And you don’t even know the question, you just know you need the answer. Something. Somewhere.
Like for instance, this. I randomly came across this phrase in some article the other day: “certainty-seeking behavior”. And I thought, “Oh, I see. That makes sense.”
I looked into it and it’s this idea that rather than assume everything is OK in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we think the opposite – that everything is probably falling part unless we can see otherwise. Not everyone operates in the world this way — the everything is falling apart way. And who knew that?
The three most common ways this behavior manifests is with OCD, hypochondria, and generalized anxiety disorder. I guess “test me for every disease because unless I get a negative test result I think I have everything”, “I’d better check the stove one more time because possibly it turned itself on since last time I checked”, and “I know my friends used to like me, but maybe they don’t anymore and just haven’t told me yet” are all variations on the same theme.
Which is useful information, right? The next time I’m sure no one ever wants to be around me again and I’m going to lose all my money and have to live under a bridge and so on, I can just remind myself that I am not having a meltdown thinking that the stove must be on even though I can’t see the stove right at this very second. And that will calm me down. Or make me go check the stove. It really could go either way.
Anyway, one of the articles I read noted that giving in to certainty-seeking behavior (you know, “but do you still like me? how about now? Also, now still?”) is perhaps ironically the quickest way to trigger the opposite.
It also is the quickest way to reinforce MORE annoying certainty-seeking behavior. You’re anxious in a world of uncertainty. You seek validation. You get validation and certainty. You feel better. Then the cycle starts again. Like a heroin hit. Only more addictive.
Presumably the way to break yourself of the driving need to OMG just find out for sure right now and never be anxious and unsure again until ten minutes from now is to, well, make yourself stay in uncertainty.
Don’t seek certainty and validation. Be anxious. Live with the uncertainty. The theory being that you’ll discover that you’ll live after all. And maybe start to be less anxious even without reassurance. Or something like that. I don’t really know because the more I thought about that, the more I needed to take a Xanax.
So that’s not an answer to anything, really. But I’m trying it out. Feeling uncertain. And just when I’ve imagined the worst my brain can conjure, I find out otherwise. And it’s OK after all.