The psychic task which a person can and must
set for himself is not to feel secure,
but to be able to tolerate insecurity.
~ Erich Fromm
From the moment we are born, we need and seek a sense of safety and security in a world that is not reliably secure. A baby is completely helpless and has no choice but to trust it's caretaker for a sense of security,(available to greater or lesser degrees), since it's very life depends on it.
As we grow up we continue to seek a sense of safety and security, through our parents and family, our teachers, our friends, our signficant others, our jobs, our homes, our community, our country and our world. These are some of the things we come to rely on to feel safe. Many of us like the security of a regular routine, the safety of knowing what to expect. We feel safe within our comfort zone of the familiar and seemingly secure.
But are we, and is life ever truly secure? Or do we simply create this illusion to keep ourselves from feeling the existential angst of the often arbitrary and uncontrollable nature of life? Despite our most carefully constructed lives, so much is out of our control. How do we deal with this? Do we hang on for dear life and try harder to control things and feel secure? Do we avoid reading the news, not take risks, feel afraid of people who seem different from us?
Or can we learn to tolerate insecurity? Can we make space for it, can we learn to step, cautiously or boldly, outside our comfort zone? Can we be in that space between the two trapezes ( see previous blog post)?
Fromm is suggesting that a primary psychological task is for us to tolerate, to endure, you could almost say, to befriend insecurity. To be able to hold the tension of the opposites of longing for security while acknowledging the essential insecurity of life. To love another fully, knowing that there are ultimately no guarantees. To follow your heart's desire even when it takes you into shaky terrain.
Ultimately by learning to tolerate or even sometimes, embrace the essential insecurity of life, we live a life that is more present, more in the moment, more aware and awake. We give up the trance of security that can numb us into a very small life. When we can find a place within us that can withstand and tolerate the shifts and ups and down of life, that can surf the waves that life brings us with balance and at least attempts at grace, we have achieved a certain freedom that makes life more interesting and less threatening. Psychotherapy and mindfulness practices can facilitate and enhance this process.
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley