But you say, “Yes, that’s true, but what if I am the ONE?”
The inability to tolerate uncertainty has been found by researchers to be a core feature of worry. Some worriers say that they would rather know for sure that the outcome will be bad than left in suspense not knowing for sure!
This post explores the relationship between the intolerance of uncertainty and worry, and how they interact with Anxiety Disorders. It also offers a list of topics for you to think about that will help reduce your intolerance of uncertainty and worry.
Intolerance of uncertainty has been extensively researched
Negative beliefs about an uncertain future
The connection between intolerance of uncertainty and worry has been extensively researched, especially by Michel Dugas and Robert Ladouceur. But what exactly is an intolerance of uncertainty? Nicolina Ratto, one of their associates, says that:
Intolerance of uncertainty can be defined as the extensive tendency of an individual to find the possibility that a negative event might occur to be unacceptable, irrespective of its probability of occurrence.
Some characteristics of the intolerance of uncertainty have been found to be:
- Negative beliefs about an uncertain future
- Uncertainty as disruptive and unacceptable
- Uncertainty in life is unfair and must be avoided
- Uncertainty prevents optimal functioning
Connections between Anxiety Disorders and intolerance of uncertainty
Generalized Anxiety Disorder has the strongest connections
The intolerance of uncertainty has been associated with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, panic attacks and Panic Disorder. However, according to Ratto, it has the closest ties to Generalized Anxiety Disorder:
Intolerance of uncertainty has been identified as a key cognitive variable contributing to the development and maintenance of excessive worry, the cardinal feature of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Intolerance of uncertainty can predict worry
How emotional problems are handled
The researchers also have found that how people handle their emotional problems when combined with uncertainty can actually predict whether that person is a worrier or not. Dugas says of one of his studies:
The results indicate that intolerance of uncertainty and emotional problem orientation are strong predictors of trait worry. … The findings also show that intolerance of uncertainty and emotional problem orientation both make common as well as a unique contributions to the prediction of worry.
Are you intolerant of uncertainty?
We all would like certainty
We would all like certainty in our lives, especially when the stakes are high. Most of us know that certainty is something that is rare, but that doesn’t keep us from wishing for it. However, some go beyond the simple wish and demand certainty that is not attainable. This intolerance of uncertainty can paralyze a person’s life while waiting for something that will never come.
How can you tell if you are intolerant of uncertainty? Ask yourself these questions — do you:
- Reject the evidence that the chances of something negative happening are very, very low?
- Continually look for perfect solutions that have to work without fail?
- Seek out reassurance and then say, “Well, you can’t tell me for sure?”
- Believe that if you simply think about a problem — “Is it possible I could have cancer?” — that it means that you absolutely must find out for certain that you don’t?
What can you do?
Some things to think about
Overcoming the intolerance of uncertainty is not something you can do overnight. People who are intolerant of uncertainty usually have practiced for a number of years! However, here are some things to think about to help you on your way:
- Ask yourself the advantages in accepting some reasonable uncertainty. Would you be less anxious, less worried, and more able to enjoy the present moment?
- Consider the disadvantages in accepting uncertainty. Does it mean that you are now irresponsible, in danger, letting your guard down? Are these really rational evaluations? Or are you exaggerating?
- What uncertainty do you already accept? For example, when you drive, take a plane, eat in a restaurant, interact with someone new, go to a new city, start a new project at work — aren’t you already accepting uncertainty?
- Do you know anyone who has absolute certainty? Anyone? How do they live with themselves? Are they irresponsible or in danger?
- What is the advantage of uncertainty? Does uncertainty create novelty, pleasant surprises, new and exciting challenges? How would your life be a dreadful bore if you had absolute certainty?
- Think about how you can actually solve real problems that really exist, rather than thinking of uncertainty. People who fear uncertainty underestimate their ability to solve real problems in the real world. What are some real problems that you have solved? Have some of these problems been events that you didn’t anticipate? Perhaps you are good at solving problems—if they really exist.
All are intolerant of uncertainty to some degree
I think that all of us are intolerant of uncertainty to some degree. When we have to make a big decision, when we hear bad news, or when life throws a wrench in the works, we want to be absolutely sure where we stand. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. We often have to make decisions with half the information we want. We have to tolerate the odds when the doctor gives us an unsettling diagnosis. The vicissitudes of life make us feel that sometimes we are swimming in a shark-infested, fog-covered sea. However, most of us can move on and accept that we can never know for sure.
For those that can’t, you don’t have to go it alone. Seek out friends and family to talk about your uncertainties with to get some perspective. Therapists excel in helping you through chronic uncertainty and worry.
The main thing to remember is that uncontrolled worry and intolerance of uncertainty can lead to Anxiety Disorders, which can make your life an intolerable prison. Start today working on your condition. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
What do you think?
- Do you think we can gain certainty about anything in life? Why? How?
- Are you intolerant of uncertainty? How has it affected your life?
- Could you add some things to the “What can you do” list?
As always, your comments are welcome!
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Resources used in this post:
Dugas, M.; Freeston, M.; Ladouceur, R. (1997). Intolerance of Uncertainty and Problem Orientation in Worry. Retrieved October 9, 2008 from IngentaConnect Web site: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/klu/cotr/1997/00000021/00000006/00413015?crawler=true
Dugas, M.; Gosselin, P.; Ladouceur, R. (2001, October). Intolerance of Uncertainty and Worry: Investigating Specificity in a Nonclinical Sample. Retrieved October 8, 2008 from SpringerLink Web site: http://www.springerlink.com/content/ku052650374h2112/
Ladouceur, R.; Talbot, F.; Dugas, M. (1997). Behavioral Expressions of Intolerance of Uncertainty in Worry. Retrieved October 9, 2008 from Sage Journals Online Web site: http://bmo.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/21/3/355
Leahy, Robert L. (2008, May 14). “But what if I’m THE ONE?” How Intolerance of Uncertainty Makes You Anxious. Retrieved June 27, 2008 from Psychology Today Web site: http://blogs.psychologytoday.com/blog/anxiety-free/200805/what-if-im-the-one-how-intolerance-uncertainty-makes-you-anxious
Ratto, N.; Sexton, K.; Robichaud, M.; Dugas, M. (2005, June 9). Intolerance of Uncertainty and Worry: Are They Distinct Constructs?” Retrieved October 8, 2008 from Concordia University Web site (PDF): http://psychology.concordia.ca/fac/dugas/PDF%20files/NR_CPA_HANDOUT_2005_D.pdf