Getting Real about Rona
As a trauma therapist, I have an incorrigible habit of assessing in conversation -- the side of the brain I am actually engaging. Whether in a bar at a party or in bed; I'm often deducing am I dealing sparring with the logical, sequential left side or am I dealing with the primal impulses of fight-flight-freeze.
What has once been deemed as an occupational hazard has been surprisingly valuable in helping me navigate the landmine conversations of politics and the pandemic. After sitting in many "difficult conversations" between friends and family, this has been my observations. Reptilian brain-responses are surprisingly well disguised. Oftentimes they look like evidence-based research, the best COVID practices and which president to "obviously vote for". In group discussions the refrain I often hear is "THE LOGICAL CHOICE IS...." at which, I take a breath and brace myself for the silent, sure sound of relational rupture.
Inevitably I hear the equally loud resounding lament from the other side " YOU ARE NOT MAKING ANY SENSE..."
But as I take a breath and really listen to what's underneath I hear the horror, betrayal and estrangement.
And I hear about it, in every session I'm in "I can't believe my father believes/thinks...." " I can't believe this is my sister..." " I can't believe this is my family.... " And as the voices get louder, as they each try to get the other to see their side whether it be politics, masks, death-rates or vaccinations - I grieve because what I suspect become painfully clear. We are now talking from the same side of the brain -- the fight-flight-freeze.
To be fair, the reptilian brain has been the single guiding force of momentous research and is spurring vaccination development right now. I often tell my clients that when we are in survival mode, we can pretty much walk on fire and through glass. There is nothing like survival that garnishes and harnesses adrenaline and metabolizes it into courage, invention and change. Herculean efforts have emerged out of fear. But survival is not typically not relational. And fear shuts down relationships. And during this time when the imminent danger of isolation is more certain than contracting the virus --it cuts off the very lifeline we need to survive.
So here's what we can do instead:
CALLING IT WHAT IT IS
Instead of disguising your fears with your logical left brain -- call it what it is. Fear is universal and immediately identifiable. It's something even animals can relate to. It makes us all the same. Embrace the fact that research, facts and information is a concrete ( and sometimes not always helpful ) way of you trying to address your fear. Accept the fact that we all have different ways of coping with our fears. The ways we cope/address our fears become less important and more understandable when we talking about what we are trying to address. When I reframe illogical, disproportionate behavior from the lens of fear -- compassion wells up in me. Fear is by nature "illogical" but perfectly understandable. Arguing about how logical it is is divisive. Ironically releasing it from it's need "to make sense" gives us all a common landing place to stand.
FEAR OF NOT KNOWING
Nothing trips the left brain into overdrive than depriving it of knowable, indisputable facts. The universal fear of not knowing fuels most of the DSM. Every mental illness is the brain's way of dealing with this existential anxiety. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is the mind's way of fixating on things it can control in face of the things it cannot. control. Addiction is a decision to bond with an object instead of a relationship because ultimately objects and substances are reliable and consistent. The fear of not knowing is powerful and ancient and deep in our bones. What if we talked about that.
FEAR OF POWERLESSNESS
Nothing makes us more bereft than the inability to keep ourselves safe. Add to it, the fear of not being able to keep our loved ones safe. Personally, I think this drives the obsession with masks. The mandate is wear your mask so that you can have the solid knowledge of keeping yourself and the world safe. Would it be better to just call it - " I don't know a lot, I have no power over a lot. But what I do have everyday is the choice to wear a mask. I will exercise one of the few choices I have everyday. "
Sitting in the grief of what we cannot control, helps us be more responsive to the things we can control. Some people knit, others make lists, others wear their masks.
Here are some talking points that connect instead of divide us during this difficult time.