Tolerance is essential in life, not only relating to the others but also with ourselves. If we are inflexible people, that intolerance will manifest itself as a rigidity towards the attitudes and behaviors of the others, but it can also become an extremely severe attitude with which we punish ourselves for our mistakes and weaknesses.
A study published on the Asian Journal of Psychiatry revealed that there is a correlation between intolerance to uncertainty and increased anxiety. Another research conducted at Laval University showed that, the less intolerance to uncertainty, the more worries and recurring negative thoughts we will experience.
Intolerance locks us in the loop of our thoughts and way of seeing life, a loop that can become extremely unhealthy. Being tolerant, on the contrary, can help us adapt better to the conditions of the world, accept the different and be more benevolent and understanding with the others and with ourselves. Therefore, tolerance is not a quality that we “owe” to the others, but to ourselves.
Intolerance “turns off” our thinking
A study conducted at the University of California confirmed that the most intolerant people towards different beliefs tend to have a lower intellectual and educational level, as well as a narrow view of everything that goes against their beliefs and ideals. These people also experience greater restlessness and discomfort in social situations and are more likely to see themselves as victims and exploited, as well as to complain about dissatisfaction, difficulties and inconvenience.
The problem is that intolerance is an attitude that feeds on itself, degenerating more and more, to the point of preventing us from thinking rationally. Pichon-Rivière thought that the origin of intolerance lies in a conflictual situation – of any kind and at any level.
Tolerance would therefore be a requirement of the conflictual situation that threatens to break the internal harmony of the system. However, to resolve this conflict we need to face two major obstacles, anxieties or basic fears of the human being that prevent us from accepting differences. Those two great basal resistances are, according to Pichon-Rivière:
1. Fear of loss
When winds of change blow or we face radically different ideas from ours, we are forced to abandon – even momentarily – the known. That moving away from what we know and presume as safe generates great anxiety that immediately activates the fear of loss.
We are terrified of letting go and leaving behind what we consider to be our own and even distinctive. This feeling is even stronger and change will be perceived as more threatening when we feel instrumentalized or believe that we do not have the necessary tools to deal with it. In those cases, fear is installed in our inner world, generating profound resistance. And that resistance is what makes us cling to our beliefs, radicalizing us even more, becoming more intolerant.
2. Fear of attack
When we experience the fear of attack, we believe that we need to flee or protect ourselves from something, so a polarized and aggressive response is usually activated. In that case, the enemy is anyone who thinks differently or carries with him the seed of the dreaded change. Anger and fear are prevalent feelings when we fall into this state and determine our thinking.
That fear causes an affective overflow that obstructs our intellectual processes. There is a full-fledged emotional hijacking that prevents us from thinking clearly. We put into practice a less sophisticated, reductionist, binary and intolerant thinking process of differences. That dichotomous thinking prevents us from getting out from the narrow limits of good and evil.
If we fail to overcome both fears, we will fall victims of persecutory fantasies and a gradual loss of contact with reality. In fact, the resistance to change that is generated can lead to paralysis, so that we remain stuck in certain stereotyped attitudes, behaviors and social roles.
That means that we cling even more to our ideas, convictions and ways of doing, denying with greater firmness everything that moves away from them. The problem is that the more helpless we feel to handle our role, the more our tolerance threshold for the different will decrease and the more polarized and extremist our ideas and behaviors will be. It is a vicious circle.
How to develop a more tolerant thinking?
“The subject will be healthy to the extent that he apprehends reality, in an integrative perspective and that shows his ability to transform it and transform himself”, wrote Pichon-Rivière. We must bear in mind that both the fear of loss and the fear of attack are an invitation to maintain the same level of functioning and perpetuate the state of things. It would be to perpetuate the retrograde drive, as Freud would say, which condemns us to immobility and, in the long run, even leads us to manifest maladaptive behaviors that end up causing harm – to the others and/or to ourselves.
Tolerance is, therefore, the possibility of exceeding the primary levels of fear of loss and attack to establish a more harmonious and balanced functioning. It means crossing that “zone of helplessness and fear” in which we have fallen to begin to see the situation from a perspective of cooperation, not competition; of production, and not destruction, developing our self-analysis processes. And that is a worthwhile change, not only to live in a more tolerant society, but also to live in peace with ourselves.
Dar, K. A. et. Al. (2017) Intolerance of uncertainty, depression, and anxiety: Examining the indirect and moderating effects of worry. Asian J Psychiatry; 29: 129-133.
Ladouceur, R. et. Al. (2000) Experimental manipulation of intolerance of uncertainty: a study of a theoretical model of worry. Behaviour Research and Therapy; 38(9): 933-941.
Gough, H. C. (1951) Studies of social intolerance: I. Some psychological and sociological correlates of anti-Semitism. The Journal of Social Psychology, 33, 237–246.