In a podcast with Dan Allender, founder of The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, he invites us to understand our experience of COVID-19 as a kind of trauma. I’ve been reflecting on the significance of doing that.
Dan explains that there are three core elements of trauma that are evident right now. First is a sense of threat, danger, or harm. This can come with any ending, loss, or violation of what life was meant to be. The stories are multiplying daily of the harm brought by COVID-19 and the threats it poses to our public health. What threats will a second wave bring to us here in B.C.?
Second is uncertainty. So much remains uncertain right now. With profound uncertainty coupled to a sense of threat, we can be prone to heightened levels of anxiety. Notice how so many of us crave information during this pandemic? Hoping, perhaps, that having accurate information may give us some form of control over the profound uncertainty we face.
Third is powerlessness. You can wash your hands. Keep your distance. Even wear a mask. These actions may give us a relative sense of being able to manage. But you simply don’t know and cannot completely control whether or not you will come down with this virus. Nor what it might do to YOUR body.
What are some of the consequences of these core elements of trauma in our lives right now? Allender names three to watch out for as we begin to acknowledge the particular trauma of this time. I want to share these and offer some brief reflections on each.
Fragmentation is the first. Trauma has a significant impact on the way our brains function. Certain parts of our brain – parts responsible for planning, thinking, decision-making, even language – can go “off-line” or diminish in their capacity during trauma. Other parts of our brain may start working overtime. All of which can leave us a bit fragmented.
Our thought processes. Our planning for the future. Our ability to find the right words and articulate our thoughts. All of this can be a bit fragile, even broken and disrupted, during this time. Dan adds his voice to many who are inviting us to embrace the reality we are not likely to be able to accomplish as much during this season.
Let me invite you – if you haven’t yet – to name for yourself that you cannot do as much in this season as you could before it. Productivity will drop. Decisions will be more difficult. We need to be gentle with ourselves and give space to this reality. Expectations may need to be adjusted.
Numbing is the second. COVID Trauma can leave us all a bit numb. Distractions multiply. We realize we need to disengage. We can’t handle prolonged danger, uncertainty, and powerlessness. And so we try hard to find ways through this time. Our bodies are suffering. They . . . we . . . need a break.
When we face the reality of numbness – we become more susceptible to addictive behaviour. We can “binge” – food, snacks, drinks, Netflix, online gaming – whatever distraction we turn to in order to escape for a bit.
Let me encourage you to face this reality with honesty. How are you doing with distractions right now? How are you doing with addictive tendencies to “binge” in these areas?
And let me also encourage you to do the hard work of facing the pain and grief that can be so easy to run from right now. Opening our hearts to allow ourselves to grieve. To be brought to tears. To lament all that has been disrupted and lost during this time. Allowing ourselves to honour those tears and those losses. These steps can help us engage the struggle to go numb.
Alienation is the third consequence. Without realizing it – something inside of us can shift. We can begin to cut ourselves off from others. And even go on the attack to find someone to blame for all of this.
Our anxiety – and our sense of being helpless – can lead us to channel our anger towards someone – or something – giving us a sense of control. If we just know who to blame – if we just know the cause – maybe we can find a way out of all of this. Besides – it can be easier to point fingers right now – than to face what is really going on inside of us.
Let me encourage you – are you able to name this reality in your life right now? Are there people you are cutting yourself off from right now? Where are you most likely to point your finger in anger right now? Who are you inviting into your life during this time? Your thoughts? Your emotions?
Let us be kind. Gentle. And patient. With others. And with ourselves. As we all learn to navigate the trauma that is COVID-19 and name the realities of fragmentation, numbness, and alienation in our lives.
The Lord bless you and keep you,