Our Need for Control and Certainty

Photo taken by Kristy Johnsson

For many of us, the climate crisis hits us at the level of some of our deepest trauma. That's not to say that our emotions in response to it aren't valid. It means that we're responding to information not just about the climate crisis, but the unresolved trauma in our nervous systems that it activates, too.

It's easy to miss this. We live in a culture built almost entirely out of coping responses to our trauma, and the need for control and certainty is one of the most pervasive coping strategies. We think our grasping for total control and demanding complete certainty are just natural or characteristics of "human nature." Most of us can't see this pattern in ourselves and our culture, it's so thoroughly woven throughout everything in our lives. It becomes the water in which we swim. We don't realize that the pervasiveness of control-freakiness is a reflection of the pervasiveness of trauma, and how deep it runs. The climate crisis fundamentally challenges our attempts to maintain a sense of control and certainty, and in denying them, we find ourselves thrown into all sorts of chaotic or collapsed emotional and mental states.

But it's this needing total control and complete certainty that landed us in the middle of the climate crisis in the first place, among other socioeconomic and political crises. Our control of nature and of other peoples for the sake of our own desires and egos has led to immense destruction and suffering. To continue to blindly act from this place guarantees things get worse, not better, however well-intentioned we are.

Here are a few ways this need for control and certainty can show up on the individual level in response to the climate crisis:

1. Denying the severity of the situation or that it's a problem at all. 2. Conversely, concluding all hope is lost. 3. Clinging to a story about how things will play out. 4. Intellectualizing the problem and denying our emotional response. 5. Advocating technological/engineering solutions while denying underlying the sociopolitical, cultural, and psychological roots and realities. 6. Jumping into action mode without proper insight and clarity beforehand. 7. Mentally bouncing from one solution to another, or being willing to cling to any solution presented (this makes us especially vulnerable to political and economic predators). 8. Blaming just about anyone (and this one is tricky because certain groups do hold greater responsibility than others). 9. _____(fill in the blank)_________________________

So why do we do this?

It's uncomfortable, often hugely overwhelming, to stay in uncertainty, to relinquish control because the unfelt emotions, perhaps terror or powerlessness, will begin to rise to the surface as the trauma is activated in us. Our utter lack of access to safety is what traumatized us, so wanting control and certainty in order to feel safe makes sense. The problem is that these responses served a purpose at one point, but are an obstacle to seeing the reality of our current situation and taking appropriate action now, both individually and collectively.

So I know I just said this is a problem, but life is a paradox if nothing else, no? In a way, it isn't a problem. If we can acknowledge that the roots of the climate crisis run much deeper than a few bad oil execs or an oversight in our energy systems, this pattern arising so pronounced in ourselves is a gift. It's an opportunity to bring this pattern that underlies our entire culture and what has brought us to the brink in the first place into our conscious awareness. What once ran our lives in the background without our knowing now gets to be monitored and explored with patience, curiosity, and compassion. My personal and professional experience is that's where the transformation happens and we can reconnect with trust in life and a sense of interdependence.

Wanting control and certainty aren't problems in themselves. As we all know, they can be hugely useful in navigating the world. But when they become unconscious and take over our behavior without us knowing it, when they get in the way of being able to see reality and act accordingly, that's when things go a bit haywire.

If we're wanting to address the climate crisis as fully as possible, and if we want to show up as fully as possible, we need to meet the issue at its roots: in our own consciousness, in our own nervous systems.

The world is full of tools and approaches and support in doing this. We have everything we need to do things differently this time and bring about a world of peace and sanity, a world that's prosperous and safe for all of us.

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