We are now, as a result of COVID-19 and social distancing, in the process of living and surviving in a society with new rules and new norms, and due to these new norms we have the opportunity to revisit how our society handles and responds to stressors, look at how we define success, and question what we want to produce.
Each of us individually and collectively have experienced many traumas: wars, natural disasters, oppression, genocide, racism, childhood abuse, sexual trauma, medical trauma, antisemitism, neglect, emotional abuse, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia. The list could be endless; the list is endless.
We all come to this time in history carrying with us our individual responses to these numerous stressors and traumas. We also, as a society, carry with us societal messages on how to cope and survive. We live in a society that has stressed the importance of product over process; we have been ruled by external expectations and definitions of success; we have exalted the extrovert; we have encouraged people to put a smile on their face and ignore their sadness and despair on the inside; we have congratulated speed over depth; we have stressed moving forward instead of pausing.
As a therapist I work with many clients on how to create a dialogue with themselves, how to quiet the messages they learned from their family of origin, and from society as a whole, and, instead, pause and listen to themselves. I encourage them to ask themselves what they are feeling, who they want to interact with, what relationships cause them pain, and what boundaries they want to set.
I recently thought that social isolation would encourage society to universally do the same thing, to look at its views on what it means to pause, to be alone, and to get energy from reflection and time with self. Instead, as people try to stay connected, there seems to not only be an emphasis on communication, but also a return, and maybe even an increase, in the pressure to always be communicating with another person. It is important to remember that for some this is creating a new stressor; being able to distance themselves from others was, and still is, essential for their psychological well being. For some, it has taken years to be able to set boundaries with friends and relatives and explain that needing to be alone does not mean they are disinterested and do not care.
During this time of social isolation, as we all do the essential work of keeping each other safe, we also have the opportunity to connect with ourselves and others, with more sensitivity than we had before social distancing. We can remember to ask what people need in terms of communication and not assume we know, to respect boundaries of when and how people want/need to communicate, and not to become angry if someone does not communicate with us instantly. We also have the opportunity during this time to pause, sit, and reflect with ourselves; we can begin to explore a dialogue with self, with the hope that when social isolation is lifted we have grown, changed, and evolved for the better. As I sit to write this, pausing from my work as a therapist, I am reminded of one of my favorite children’s books. I read this book during a dark period of my adult life. It was a time where, as a result of illness, I was unable to go out, unable to move with ease, and I questioned if I ever would again.
The book is entitled Daydreamers (by Eloise Greenfield).
Thinking up new ways,
Looking toward new days,
Planning new tries
Asking new whys
Hands will start to move again
Eyes turn outward
Bodies shift for action
But for this moment they are still
They are the daydreamers.
Letting the world dizzy itself without them[…]
They will not be the same after this growing time, this dreaming
In their stillness they have moved forward.”
Maybe during this time of social distancing we can move away from the societal norms of product over process, external over internal, and speed over depth. We can instead find stillness, and in our stillness eventually move forward anew.