Bewildering grief or anger for no reason? The unrecognized sixth element.
- Category: Friends and Family
This is me, writing to you from my home office on Sunday afternoon. Stay well. Keep safe.
You and the people in your life are experiencing the anxiety, trauma, loss, fear and insecurities of this pandemic, politically volatile time. You access your power to cope in five ways. But one stressor may be missing from your awareness so how to cope is also missing. Here are the five you know about. The sixth comes later in this essay.
1. For COVID you know that your power to protect yourself and your family is to physically distance and wear masks.
2. For financial insecurity you know your power is in finding an income source familiar to you or from something new.
3. If someone you love is sick you know your power is in supplying as much care as you can to the one you love and reaching for your spiritual supports, like prayer and inspirational reading.
4. If someone you love has died, you know your power is in grieving, sharing your grief with others who mourn the loss, being kind to yourself, grieving, finding your personal ways of saying goodbye and of embracing the energy of the person that will abide with you forever.
5. If the changing political face and soul of the United States is a threat to you, you know your power is to write, give money, speak, march, vote.
Maybe you can take these actions and maybe you can’t as well as you would like, but you know what’s troubling you and what at least some of your options are.
But what if you feel all those feelings, i.e. loss, grief, fear, anger, anxiety and your personal immediate situation is fine? What is causing your stress reactions?
When we feel something strong and uncomfortable, we either act out with drink, food, sex, violence against self or others, blame, take on guilt, retreat.
We look to see what the real cause is and what we need to cope.
Then we make an effort to give ourselves the ability to cope, either by personal development or leaning on another person or both.
Now we approach the question I ask in the title of this essay. What’s happening that’s causing your anguish when realistically, at least for now, you are okay?
Many of us, maybe most of us, live our lives in as healthy and as balanced a way as we can. We cope with the challenges in our lives, care for our families, enjoy our friends, pay our bills, keep to a reasonable schedule that maintains our health and mental well-being.
But all that is based on what our world was like before March 12, 2020.
6. Now people who have been supports to us based on their regular and fairly predictable presence in our lives are changing, and you are experiencing bewilderment and loss.
A friend who was always good for an optimistic viewpoint and a laugh now drinks alcohol in the garden every day. You can’t have a reasonable conversation with him because he is hyperactive, talking fast, not connecting his ideas well and jumping from topic to topic. He’s a cat on a hot tin roof, hopping to keep off the hot tin that is now his base.
A couple you relied on for once a month or once a week Sunday dinners where you relaxed and shared stories about the minutia of life that cane be so pleasant with people you love now won’t let anyone in their house. They won’t go outside. They won’t let anyone in their garden. You understand this, but a major part of what supports your emotional equilibrium is gone.
Another friend who shared barbeque time with you and your family is terrified and stays inside and alone, not as social distancing but as response to ongoing terror.
A brilliant business friend, an entrepreneur, who could create institutions and knew how to entertain briefly and then dismiss harebrained schemes, is now focused on harebrained schemes. When you talk with him, he is enthusiastic about many plans at once, none of which are grounded in any realistic possibility of coming to fruition. His usual presence in your life is gone and you wonder if you are sensing dementia. You’ve lost a way to connect with a friend. The substance between you and he is fading.
We have people in our lives who are finding new ways to cope and are retaining their stability. They are using their time and energy to focus on new solutions for their challenges. We treasure them and are grateful for their sustainability in times of crisis. Their sustainability is catching and helps us to care well for ourselves. Then we can share our well-being with others
Other people in our lives who were close or peripheral are divorcing, getting violent, abusing their children, hiding in their homes, wildly denying COVID and creating a ruckus while going mask less in the community. They are losing themselves in gaming, blaming, using and trying anyway they can get away from the reality we are in, like it or not.
These are people we know, or thought we knew.
They got thrown off their secure sense of what holds them together and are flailing. They haven’t yet found their way to their stabilization so they can function in this post March 12 world.
Many will find their way. Some will find it partially. Some are lost.
And you. When you turn to a friend or relative or associate for familiar comradery, is that person there? Or is the voice the same but the attitude and emotional climate different?
Are you being ghosted by people you thought were constants in your life?
Are people making demands on you for time, money, energy, support that are beyond what you can do or wish to do?
6. continued. You may be feeling lonely and bereft but don’t recognize the reason because the people you count on, mostly, are still here. But they are not here for you. They are barely here for themselves.
When you know this, you can give up any guilt or self-blame you may carry and even allow yourself to forgive people who cannot help themselves. Their survival mechanisms are inadequate. They need to grow.
And so do you. When you know supports to your structure are growing weak or disappearing, then your options come to mind.
Create a new structure that needs a different kind of support system?
Create new supports for your old structure?
Create a hybrid structure based on your developing new skills, relationships, expertise, ways of emotionally coping?
Naming your source of pain is a major beginning place for establishing your life in a more positive and pain-free way. Your bewildering source of pain may be the loss of friendship, support, conversation, laughter, tenderness, reassurance, sharing of any kind from people who have very little inner resources to cope with their own lives right now.
This is a great loss to you. But when you know it, you can make your moves toward your own solutions.
As in medicine, the right diagnosis goes a long way to establishing a recovery protocol.
Stay well. Keep safe.
Joanna Poppink, MFT, California psychotherapist