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Living with Uncertainty

Monday, June 13th, 2022

by Douglas L. Anderson, PsyD

It is human nature to fear the unknown.  

I recall a song from my youth that included the line, “You don’t know which way the wind blows, so how can you plan tomorrow?”  A fitting set of lyrics for South Dakota where the wind constantly blows and constantly changes directions. 

We do not know what tomorrow will bring, and unfortunately we do know what recent yesterdays have sent our way.  Frankly, I don’t think any of us like much about the past two or three years.  The recent past knowns don’t exactly excite us about tomorrow’s unknowns.

Our human predicament often leads to a degree of anticipatory anxiety and grief.  It is human nature to fear the unknown and to struggle with the discomfort of an uncertain future.  We want answers, and we don’t want to wait for them.  Nor do we want the answers to be accompanied by pain or discomfort.

However, the best way to develop resilience and to be prepared for whatever tomorrow sends our way is to deal honestly with our yesterdays, to feel whatever emotions may be present in us, emotions that are connected to the experiences and relationships we have had.  

Interestingly, we are often as anxious about the emotions we have tucked away and avoided as we are about what tomorrow will bring.  We may think that if we actually look “down and in” we will become overwhelmed and unable to function.

In reality, when we do the work of addressing and feeling our painful emotions from past painful experiences, then we begin to reduce the power of those emotions over our lives, and over our behavioral and relational ways of being in the world.  Sitting with the uncertainty of what we may have tucked away emotionally is challenging.  We would rather forget any negative emotions like fear, anger, worry, or sadness.  But ignoring those feelings actually gives them power over us.  Working through those feelings reduces their power over us.

An article I read recently noted that “Psychologists [like me] remind us that the only way to get past emotions is to feel them, as if we are practicing the Marie Kondo method of tidying up.”

Marie says we need to hold an item in front of us, name it, thank it for what it has taught us, and let it go.  In the same way we need to hold our feeling in front of us, name it, thank it for what it has taught us, and let it pass.

I sometimes describe this process as looking into a dark abyss and being unable to see the bottom.  That can be terrifying!  But the only way to know what is in there is to step in.  And what you will discover when you do that is that over time the uncertainty of our past emotions will lead to a healthier sense of self, a stronger and more resilient character, and the ability to face an uncertain future with courage and hope.

If you want someone to walk with you as you work through past hurts and face future uncertainty,  consider a therapist at River Counseling Services and Sioux Falls Psychological Services where we meet you where you are, offering hope.  You may schedule an appointment with the Platte office at 605-337-3444, or meet with one of our Sioux Falls Psychological Services therapists from your own computer or smartphone.  To schedule an appointment please call 605-334-2696.