The following are some thoughts about therapeutic mental health work at the time of this pandemic.
I have often noticed that significant events that happen during therapy present an opportunity to go to the heart of the personal narrative and to the earliest attachment traumas and patterns. Maybe this world crisis presents us all with just such an opportunity?
A Rorschach test
The pandemic is, no doubt, a significant event in all our lives and across the whole planet. I’ve been noticing in myself and others what people are focussed on in relation to the pandemic and how it affects them. It has become like a vast Rorschach test potentially giving insight into our perceptions of ourselves and in relation to others.
For example, in some, the virus is stimulating a fear of invasion and a heightening of paranoia.
For others it mirrors an uncaring other (mother) that indiscriminately attacks and even kills, treating beings like objects.
Some are focussed on how dangerous the world has become perhaps stimulating memories of violence, hyper vigilance and anxiety.
Others relating to a profound sense of powerlessness perhaps echoing the powerlessness of the child in the face of abuse or neglect.
Just about everyone will be reminded of times of loneliness and isolation and for some this will be extreme. One mental health patient said he was relieved that the rest of the population now knew what isolation felt like.
The effect of these projections and our reactions to them can be very painful and troubling. They can take us back in time to the origins of our attachment patterns with the original feelings being stimulated with the same intensity.
An Opportunity? - from lockdown to look down
Although potentially re-traumatising and emotionally challenging this revisiting of old patterns maybe also presents us with an opportunity, what some have called an enforced retreat. Stripped of many of our usual distractions and in lockdown forced to stop our relentless forward movement and maybe look down into our inner world.
* First we have the chance to open up to feelings that were not expressed at the time of the original trauma. In mindfulness this is simply described as noticing and accepting whatever arises. There’s no attempt to change anything, more of an allowing and a letting go. Very commonly there is deep grief for what was lost or what was missing.
* Second we have the opportunity to discriminate between fact and fiction. What really happened and what was the story we told ourselves about it. For example: fact: ‘I was rejected’ story: ‘I am a reject’ (something wrong with me, not ok, bad person etc).
This discrimination can wake us up from a perception of ourselves and the world that may well have influenced our whole lives and help to let go of the fictional narrative to reveal the true self.
The Bigger picture
In a wider global sense perhaps the pandemic offers the same opportunity. A chance to dissolve our cultural fictions and illusions allowing what is real to come into view. For example the shattering of the illusion of celebrity revealing and reminding us who are our real heroes or the illusion that economic growth is sustainable reminding us that love is.