When faced with an unknown the first instinct is often fear. For many of us, with the recent pandemic, economic instability and the recent issues around race, it might appear that the world we have come to know is changing. And change isn’t always comfortable or welcoming. “A new normal” is the phrase of the year 2020. But what exactly is that new normal?
When looking at the last several months from a mental health perspective, we are definitely at some unique and trying times. When the pandemic first began to arrive, it had never happened in our lifetime and was something new that none of us were truly prepared for. One moment it was rumors, and the next…full lock downs of entire states. Familiar restaurants and stores shuttered their doors. Many people found themselves at home…with nowhere to go.
It seemed that with the pandemic there also came with it a strange conflict. With the news, internet and social media people took their sides. The first group felt, in their hearts, that it was (or perhaps is) an over-exaggerated news cycle. These folks just simply don’t accept nor believe that it is any more dangerous than the flu. To quote “the fear is more dangerous than the COVID”. Angry that the country had been shut down, they refuse to wear a mask and feel it’s their freedom and decision to guard their health and shouldn’t be decided by a government or “fake news”.
The second group was at the other end of the spectrum. Watching the daily reported numbers of cases across the world exponentially increase, the deaths in the United States alone crept up faster and faster, passing 200,000 dead in just a few short months. Left unchecked, eventually it would completely overwhelm the hospitals. Shutting down the country to save the country is not a small price to pay. And so, many of these people hunkered down, some refusing guests or even family members. Wearing a mask and only leaving the house when absolutely necessary, they felt not only a responsibility to their own health, but to others as well.
And then there is the third…somewhere in the middle. Feeling that the pandemic is dangerous and limiting their contact with strangers, but they are not necessarily so cautious among their own family or friends. Perhaps wearing a mask in a store, but not in other places. A family barbecue can be had, but avoid crowds. This group is the somewhat cautious group, but only in their own way.
And now we have it. Three distinct groups with three completely different belief systems. All three feel that they are right, and that the other two groups are being a bit “ridiculous” or in some cases, dangerous. All of this would be ok, from a mental health perspective, if these groups never encountered one another. But the world has many overlaps. And in some cases, all three types of people are now living, not only in the same world, but sometimes…in the same home.
Three completely different belief systems now under the same roof. How does one operate in such a place, especially when emotions are extreme? Perhaps Dad feels its all an overreaction. “I don’t care what the news says, I need to work. It’s all propaganda. And no one is going to make me wear a mask to go to the damn store.” A right to his own opinion. But maybe mom doesn’t agree. She feels that the pandemic is deadly and wants to protect herself, her family and her own children. And each day she watches him leave, without a mask, powerless to do anything about it. In some cases mom keeps quiet. In others, arguments occur. What does one do, when these situations arrive? Move out? Break up what was only a few months before, a happy family? Or just pray and trust. Add the stress of staying inside together for much longer than before and resentments build.
The mental health crises that we are seeing goes above and beyond the trauma of never before seen danger and change. It is happening in between each other as well. A nation becoming polarized in so many ways, opinions rage at one another on social media. Every so quick to point out who is right and who is wrong.
So, what to do?
It’s interesting what people who have never had counseling before think that marriage counseling really is. Often, when asked, they feel that you come together and talk about your disagreements, and perhaps the therapist might point out who is more right or more wrong. Maybe dad yells too much and the therapist will tell him that’s wrong. Or mom drinks to much, so that might be the topic.
In reality so much of therapy and counseling isn’t about who’s right and who’s wrong. In marriage counseling it’s often about regaining (or in some cases, gaining for the first time) the ability to COMMUNICATE in a healthy way. Two “always right” individuals coming into therapy and learning that there is a better way. Oftentimes the first step is to learn to listen. To truly try and empathize and hear what someone that you might possible disagree with. To budge a little from the side of being “100% right” to becoming a “100% listener”. To be able to speak without anger. To be able to learn to compromise. To honor the differences and not always see a differing opinion as wrong or a threat.
Perhaps what the world needs most right now…is just one darn good marriage counselor. To sit down with all of the people with their “right” opinions and teach us that somewhere along the way, although we may have the greatest of intentions…we have just simply lost the ability to hear and honor the opinions of another.
Pandemics, economic instability, issues around race. Maybe the answers aren’t one side or another. Maybe the miracles will happen when two opposing viewpoints, in a home or on social media, can truly see the other person and say “I hear what your saying…and I can respect that.”
Perhaps the real pandemic isn’t a virus. Perhaps its that we have lost the ability to see and hear each other. I certainly hope that we get it back. For when working together, even with differing opinions, we can create magic.