(COVID-19) Giving ourselves permission to feel
“We are all in this together”, is one of the many messages that is slowly being treacled down to us in our current climate. Whether it be the panoply of brightly coloured rainbows that are pressed up against my neighbours windows or the phrases that I frequently see on social media such as "this won’t last forever" or " count your blessings".
These aphorisms express the salutary reminder that things will change, and yes, finding meaning and expressing gratitude in all shapes and forms is important. As omnipotent and in control as we like to feel, what we are all currently experiencing is the immense gravity of what it means to be human. Is it possible to demarcate the mind from what the body may truly be feeling?
The words 'isolation' and 'lockdown' in many respects, reminds me of the experience of going to a 10-day silent retreat. I remember hearing the doors shut during my first retreat and the last few words that were shared with us were, 'there is nowhere to go and nowhere to hide'. In equal measures, I had never felt so wretched and relieved at the same time. The relief that there was nowhere to go to but being 'here'; no meeting to attend, no to-do list to review. The feelings that shortly ensued would include everything from hopelessness, anxiety, desperation, fear and panic.
Perhaps now more than ever are we forced to face existential issues that are inherent in life; freedom, death, isolation, meaning/meaninglessness. One of the greatest lessons I have learnt as a psychotherapist over the years, is to give ourselves permission to feel what we are feeling in this moment.
What I was taught during my training, but more importantly through my own personal experience is that the quickest way to help another human being uncover significant conflicts or anxieties is to let them speak, unfettered. Acknowledging how we are truly feeling and giving ourselves permission to feel fully.
How you can truly support anyone (or yourself) who is suffering is to just be a compassionate witness to how you are really feeling, without judgement. It sounds simple, but seeing another human suffer is incredibly difficult and can be at times intolerable, especially if we ourselves aren’t comfortable in sitting with our own uncomfortable feelings.
Feelings can be uncomfortable, painful and even distressing. It is quicker to numb, deny and intellectualise our feelings, but allowing them to exist and rise within us (the 'good' ones as well as the 'bad') is part of what being human is all about.
If you were to think back to the last time you had a good cry with unbridled intensity and the sensation of those tears tracing down your face; it may not have been pleasant, but there is something very cathartic and healing in just allowing yourself to stay with these more difficult emotions.
In this country our long-standing modus operandi is to keep calm and carry on. Whether our governments, community leaders or even those closest to us may not be showing it, perhaps these responses of anxiety, fear, hopelessness and confusion are not only normal but healthy in this extreme state of uncertainty that has challenged our whole way of living.