We all like to feel secure. It’s built into our evolved nature.
WHAT IS MENTAL SECURITY?
Mental security is the sense that we do not lack anything, that we have everything we need. We tend not to notice it until it is gone. For instance, when our accommodation is under threat, we suddenly feel uncomfortable, and realise how comfortable we have been when we didn’t have to worry about where to live.
Worry is the big symptom of mental insecurity. Uncertain of the future, we start to desperately cling to everything that can give us hope that things will be OK.
Conversely, happiness is the big symptom of mental security. We do not need to be certain of the future in order to be happy. But we do need to be able to be happy with uncertainty. Otherwise, we will always be reaching for comfort, in order to try to rid ourselves of the pain of uncertainty.
Uncertainty is built into our existence. We try to get rid of it, by making life predictable. This is why we like our particular habits, and arrange our surroundings exactly how we like them. It gives us a sense that no one else can control our lives, and that we know what is going to happen next.
In contrast, when life becomes unpredictable, we can become unstable. It is a key element of torture: experts in torture are often experts in leaving others uncertain as to what will happen to them next. The uncertainty is used as a weapon. In the same way, when our circumstances change, and things are uncertain, we feel tortured, up one minute and down the next.
WHY UNCERTAINTY IS DIFFICULT
Why should humans find uncertainty so difficult and painful?
To answer that, we can go back to evolution, and work out what kind of character you need to survive. You need two things, cognitively:
The first requirement is the ability to handle novelty, to search out new things. You can see it in babies and children – their eyes and bodies are always reaching out, making sure they touch, sense and learn new things. It is how our learning systems grow.
The second requirement is the ability to get familar, to make things habitual and comfortable. You see this more in older people. As we age, we get set in our ways, and become experts in keeping things just how we like them. This is how our learning systems become ordered and easy.
Thus, every human lives their life between two extremes: the extreme of novelty, and the extreme of familiarity. When life becomes too novel, new and uncertain for you, then you ‘freak out’ and want to run away and find calm. Equally, when life becomes too familiar, staid and boring for you, then you get irritated and want to run away and find excitement.Probably, without knowing it, you have built up a familiar life for yourself. This gives you enough security to live comfortably. However, when your life is threatened in some way, then you experience an extreme of uncertainty, and your mind and body panic. A bit of novelty is fine, but too much, and your head goes into a spin and you can’t think straight.
WHAT KINDS OF THING MAKE US INSECURE?
What kinds of things cause us to feel insecure?
They tend to be things which threaten the loss of one of these three things:
control over our lives
This is why our society so often idolises power, wealth and reputation. We believe that if we have these things, then we will be forever protected against insecurity and the pain and suffering it brings.
You will notice that sometimes an excess of one of the above three things, gives you insecurity about another one. Examples include:
You may win the lottery. This may give you security of resources, but may make life feel strange and out of control, and may give you several complexes and confusions about your social standing.
You may find a great relationship. This may give you a sense of social standing and comfort, but also a sudden sense of loss of control over your own life.
In this way, we can see that control, resources and respect are not in themselves causes of happiness. In fact, gaining them can cause a whole raft of new problems. Watching yourself and others, you may notice that individual context is everything. There are unhappy powerful people; unhappy rich people; unhappy people with high status. None of these things define happiness. It is more about how we manage ourselves in the situations we find ourselves in.
A WAY TO BE HAPPY
I suppose what we’re all after is a way to be happy despite everything. If only we could be happy however in control or powerless we are; however rich or poor we are; however much or little respect we receive. I’m sure you would agree, that would make us pretty secure.
We are only vulnerable to uncertainty if we fear loss.
If we fear loss of control, then every time someone interferes with our control, we will overreact, flying into anger, anxiety or depression
If we fear loss of resources, then every time someone takes something from us, we will overreact, flying into anger, anxiety or depression
If we fear loss of social standing, then every time someone disrespects us, we will overreact, flying into anger, anxiety or depression
This overreaction has the opposite effect to the one we want. Ultimately, it causes more loss.We only fear these things because we put ourselves at the centre of our lives. We secretly fear that without control, resources, or respect, we will become nothing.
The thing is, fear is not a very good motivator.
One way to be happy is to replace fear with kindness. You may not believe me. It may seem too simple. But you can try it and see.
Just for today, practice living with uncertainty. Drop the need to control what happens, and focus on acceptance.
Instead of seeking control over your life, enjoy the fact that it’s a new day.
Instead of seeking resources, trust the fact that you will have food to eat, and somewhere to be.
Instead of seeking respect and acceptance from others, accept that we are all essentially acceptable.
Say to yourself: ‘Today is a new day. I have enough food to eat. We are all acceptable.’ Just that.
Mental security is the sense that we do not lack anything, that we have everything we need.
Humans find uncertainty difficult. Even though we need new situations to live and learn, we can get overloaded if a situation is too new.
Faced with uncertainty, we start fearing loss.
Our biggest fears, at those times, are loss of control, resources, and respect. When these things are threatened, we react with anger, anxiety and depression. This is counterproductive, and often causes the losses we are trying to avoid.
If we remain insecure, we risk spending our whole lives in a manic fight for control, resources and respect. We will be unhappy.
Instead, perhaps try the easy way.
Remember, mental security is the sense that we have everything we need.
Therefore, say to yourself: ‘Today is a new day. I have enough food to eat. We are all acceptable.’