We need our internal structure to hold, especially when we can't see ahead.
We define ourselves by our personal values. We know who we are and live by our personal code. At least, that is what we convince ourselves.
But some of our values are what we wished we supported. Some of them are based on what we are told to support by respected others. And some of our values may be based on our fear of disapproval.
In a normal, ordinary day we live by these values. Our behavior is consistent with them. We seem to have integrity, i.e. our behavior and our values are integrated.
But these are not normal, balanced ordinary days. Every day is still a corona day.Every day we, or someone near us, is haunted by the effects of an invisible poison than can sicken anyone and kill anyone at an unknown time.
Our relationships, livelihoods, social lives and how we live at home changed when the pandemic began. These changes range from mild to catastrophic. The pressure does not stop. We do not know what the future holds. All we know is that our lives are, and will continue to be, different from what we have known.
How are we holding up?
Sustained and powerful pressure on an object will cause the object to crack and eventually break along its weakest points. Pressure shows us what those weaknesses are. Because we are human, we can become aware of those weaknesses. Once we are aware of a problem, certain paths to solutions become clearer.
Numbness and depression are responses. We cannot bear our feelings and have no vision of the future except pain.
Anxiety is another response, feeling frightened, nervous and without power.
Emergence of a past eating disorder is yet another response. An eating disorder allows us to channel fear energy into behavior with body sensations. It helps a person love herself and punish herself at the same time by giving herself violent attention. She feels feel alive and deadened, swinging between both poles while afraid of both.
Rage and attacking others, emotionally or physically, is a response. Feelings of futility, of being controlled, of being limited, of being forced to live a way we do not choose can erupt into verbal and physical violence against others. A false sense of power and security rises in the immediacy of harming someone else.
Getting to authentic values
The values we practice when under pressure are our authentic values. If we do not admire our responses, then we can face them and look to the values those responses represent. That is where our emotional work is needed.
We need to ask ourselves,
"How am I holding up?"
An honest answer shows us our path.
To have confidence in ourselves we need to be able to trust ourselves. We each are the leader in our own lives. To trust our leadership, we need to be true to the values we say we stand for.
If we are not true to our values, we can look to those cracks in our value identity. We can develop ourselves beyond our present limits. We always have that option. Personal growth is a lifetime occupation if we choose it.
That is why I became a psychotherapist. I strive to grow myself. I devote my attention and skills to support others as they clarify who they are through continuous personal development.
We may have to remain at least six feet apart and masked. We may have to self-isolate and avoid groups. We may have to give up our favorite haunts: beaches, bars, restaurants, parks, hair salons. But we can still help each other, support each other, learn from each other. We can root out inauthentic values we carry and strengthen the values we honor and want to honor.
We can go to our inner mental and emotional cracks, acknowledge them and make ourselves more whole. The more personal integrity we have the better able we are to cope with extraordinary times.
And we probably will always be washing our hands more often.
Joanna Poppink, MFT, private practice psychotherapist, E-mail for free telephone consultation.
Book: Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from your eating disorder