It’s been a strange time for all of us over the last several months. As we “stay at home” or “shelter in place (no matter our political background or accompanying belief system) we all feel the impact of what is occurring around us. Differing views exist regarding balancing our nations health needs with economic and civil liberty needs. But, it doesn’t appear to matter which place one resides in this debate, when it comes to matters of emotional health. The simple truth is, we are all worried and unsure at varying levels and for the many reasons that accompany our views. When we (anyone of us) live under the stress of our current experiences we are prone to feel strong emotions. Further, it is normative to reach for coping that brings immediate relief. This will be true whether we are more prone to have strong feelings related to our own or other’s safety, economic worries for our family and larger society, or feelings of suppression. All (and many others) are plausible responses to the many unknowns around us.
We don’t know exactly what will happen, and as our leaders grapple with best approaches in managing the multi-layered impact of the virus, these unknowns are highlighted for us to see. When those in charge are unsure (whether this be a parent, teacher, minister, or leaders of the world) our trust and hope can be challenged. We have to work consciously (with awareness) to navigate the many emotions that come with this. This is much harder than it sounds.
It’s easy to react and subsequently respond by reaching for quick resolve to what is unwanted. This might occur in a number of ways. Some more harmful than others. There are many examples to choose from both positive and negative and each as individual as we are. These will be tied to what we feel and think, what our past experiences have been, the level of our distress, our ability to manage emotions, and our ability to stay aware. For the purpose of this writing, staying aware means taking that needed step back. Reflecting on what we are doing and why. Thinking about how we are impacting self and other. Thinking through our desired outcome. And, making a (conscious) choice in navigating the need to immediately feel better.
I’m reluctant to give examples because the possibilities are so varied and endless. But, will provide a few noting that they are over simplified. One example might include, one who has the tendency to overthink. A difficulty in letting his or her thoughts settle. There might be colliding thoughts around personal safety and financial fears. This might cause feelings of anxiety manifesting in difficulty with sleep. Lack of sleep can cause many problems. (Too many to list). This person might rationalize, a drink at night might help. Out of (what seems like) a need to sleep a possible solution might be having a drink “just to take the edge off and get a little sleep”. Maybe this becomes a nightly habit, increasing from one to two, to three drinks by the time quarantine has ended. Maybe it doesn’t, but the potential for issues exist. In reality, the need was to feel less anxious. To work with what lies beneath the overthinking. Another (over simplified) example might revolve around someone who works very hard and has always identified with his or her professional self. Maybe this person gains a high sense of esteem through work. This is now threatened. It is unknown when work can resume and what it will look like when it does. Feelings of depression and anger set in. This person finds himself or herself lashing out at others. This isn’t wanted, but somewhere inside it brings a release. It feels better for a split second. Depending on this person’s psychological make-up and their ability to own mistakes, both self and relationships can suffer. Everyone, connected to this person, is now left coping with the outcome of anger. This can grow in many directions. In reality, working with the core emotions (possibly, anger, fear, grief) and the underlying issue (regarding identity) conscious choices can be made. Of course more extreme examples exist. These come in the form of direct self and other abuse.
It’s hard work to look at underlying issues. And, even harder work to remain conscious enough to take that reflective step back. After all, most have spent a lifetime (whether 78, 14, of 5 years) trying to avoid the feelings attached to any initial pains. (Those pains that possibly began in one’s early years). This pandemic and our leader’s responses are felt and interpreted differently by each one of us. It’s imaginable that emotional pain is boundless at this time. It’s important (paramount really) that we stay aware of this. As noted above, a formula for doing so exist. But, in reality it means looking within, sometimes struggling with what is there, and making choices (not just reacting) in response.
It’s worth mentioning that trauma statistics (prior to the pandemic) indicated 2/3 of America’s children had experienced at least one traumatic event during childhood. This is a statistic from The American Psychological Association and implies a high degree of trauma has and does occur. This (as is true of any statistic) is only gathered using reported data. It is anticipated, due to non-reports around childhood trauma that there is a much higher rate of traumatic exposure. Further, traumatic incidents that involve victimization of children are most often perpetrated by someone the child knows and trust. This can leave a feeling of distrust or fear of those in charge (those who were to protect). This of course leaves many unresolved feelings. Feelings that are similar to those the pandemic motivates in all of us. (Fear, distrust, loss, grief, longing, anger, hopelessness, and many more). When there is an early link to these feelings, through earlier experiences, current day happenings trigger (or resurface) those old feelings. When one is not aware of its foundation, reaching for coping (that is less healthy in nature) is much more likely.
In the example above, the second individual experiences anger, fear, and grief due to fear of losing his or her livelihood. This is a normal fear in this pandemic. Emotions are literally endless and free floating at this time. For the sake of example (note this is not based on a real individual) lets provide a name and gender. Let’s say John has worked hard his entire life. He is 56 years old and owns his own business. He is sheltering in place as advised. He is doing everything he has been asked to do. His business is losing revenue with each passing day and his overhead still has to be paid. He is worried. He is angry. He is scared. There is no answer in sight. He has to rely on our state and federal leadership to tell him what to do. To look out for him and his family. He is frustrated daily and begins to take his anger out on his wife and son. He doesn’t mean to. He swore he would “never act like my (his) old man”. But, he finds himself saying things he would never have said. Doing things he would never have done. His son is only 12. He doesn’t understand. This is coupled with his experience of placing trust in those in charge. His wife is hurt and begins to pull away. John grew up in a home with a dad who expected hard work and perfection. John wasn’t allowed to make mistakes. The only place his dad ever expressed pride was in John’s hard work. He could easily recall the things his dad had said and done, but he” just didn’t think of them all that often”. The truth is, while it is normal for John (or any of us) to feel unsettled by the occurrences of our world his own history escalates normative feelings-linking them to long ago. He acts without conscious thought. He reacts to feelings with a foundational meaning for him. Feelings that echo the voice of his youth. “You are a failure”. You are weak”. There is nothing to be proud of. His wife and son are unaware of this, as is he. In reality, if John can identify the link to his past and his identity (the pain caused by his own unaware father) he can make better choices currently. This again, is not easy. But the longer-term consequences -could be detrimental for him and those who love him.
John’ story isn’t an uncommon one. As noted, there have been many who have been exposed to child hood traumatization. Further, it is not uncommon to push away and try to avoid these feelings. There may have been no one to help or no one who understood. Because these feelings couldn’t live on the surface, they had to be pushed down, to become a backdrop until they were no longer in conscious awareness.
This pandemic is unknown (unchartered) territory for our country’s leaders and for us. The feelings we are experiencing are normal. It is important that we make our emotional wellbeing as important as every other aspect of our health. Not every person needs to seek counseling but every person would benefit from aware coping. This doesn’t imply hidden pain for everyone, but it does imply a need to take care of oneself and (for those with historical pain) it implies a deeper look.
The pandemic is traumatizing and depending on one’s particular circumstances, and supports, it can have far reaching impact.
As always, I am adding a list of resources.
Following are local and national crisis support services. Local Supports: The Spokane County Regional Crisis Line 1-(877) 288-1818. End Harm (Child Abuse and Neglect Report Line) 1 (800) 562-5624 The YWCA Domestic Violence Program (509) 326-1190. The Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Counsel (509) 922-8383 Lutheran Community Services Sexual Assault Crisis Line (509) 624-7273 Dial 211″ for additional resources.
National Supports: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-(800) 273-8255. The National Children’s Advocacy Center 1 (800) 422-4453 The SAMSHA Treatment Locator (for treatment of alcohol or substance addiction) 1 (800) 662-4357. The National Domestic Violence Hotline 1 (800) 787-3224. The National Sexual Assault Hotline 1 (800) 565-4673 TalkSpace https://lp.talkspace.com or Betterhelp https://www.betterhelp.com
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Professional Disclaimer: It is important to recognize that all information contained in the Perspective on Trauma Blog is informational, and is not intended as a substitute for clinical care. It is not possible to provide informed care through web content, as an informed treatment relationship cannot be formed. If you or a loved one is in need of care, it is important that you access this care from your own care provider.
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