Have you noticed yourself secretly longing for the “loneliness” you read about on social media? Are you irritated by your spouse or children? Do you secretly wonder, “What’s happening to my once happy relationship?”
Through Telehealth sessions, I’ve witnessed individuals and couples in conflict over small details. Navigating being physically distant from the world while in quarantine adds stress to all of us, which increases the likelihood of misunderstandings and conflict. As we leaned-in and got curious about these conflicts, underneath each of them were twin feelings of profound loss and fear of the unknown.
Profound Loss + Fear of the Unknown=Traumatic Grief
Traumatic Grief—what?!? You think, “I’m not sick. No one I know died. No one is abusing me.” You might think, “ I am safe—stuck, yes—but ultimately safe. “ Believe it or not, your neocortex may tell you that you are safe while your reptilian brain screams—DANGER! In couples, it’s not uncommon for one person’s reptilian brain to scream “RUN!” While the other’s brain screams “FIGHT!” Then a vicious cycle ensues—where you end up chasing one another round and round in a loop and fighting about things like how much Animal Crossing is too much or should you risk ordering take-out. Although you may have noticed this pattern before, right now you may feel caught in it.
Your neocortex may also be trying to help you out by minimizing, justifying, explaining, or avoiding uncomfortable feelings like sadness, hurt, and loss. Although you may not have lost someone to death, we are all collectively living in a time of great change. The way we have done things is no longer how we do things. Our daily routines and rituals have been interrupted. Our “normal” has left and we have yet to live into the new normal. A simple formula for this is
For those of us living with family, we might recognize we cope with traumatic grief differently. We, ourselves, may change our coping style depending on the day or time. One day we cope with Tiger King, pajamas, and ice cream. The next day we cope by scrubbing our home, power cooking, and reorganizing the junk drawer. Some days we may do a little bit of both. The important thing to remember in all of this is that we’re all in a season of traumatic grief, and we’re all seeking ways to cope.
For those living with partners and family members, here are a few reminders:
No one knows how to “do pandemic”—this is a first for all us, so finding yourself or others struggling, regressing, or having a**hole moments is part of the process. Repeating a helpful mantra like I have permission to be good enough or I have permission to make mistakes or Of course, this is hard, I have never lived through a pandemic before can help to name and normalize moments where you feel anxious, overwhelmed, and afraid.
It’s the pattern that’s the problem, not the person. As noted before, some of us tend to go into fight, some flight, some freeze and this can generate a pattern of interacting that can feel like a vicious cycle. In these instances, it’s the interactional pattern that is the problem…not the person. Recognizing this can help you stop seeing yourself or others as the “bad guy.” Often there is no “bad guy” —just stressed out people seeking to cope with a really hard situation.
Build time in each day to listen to your beloveds through having a stress-reducing conversation. Take time to be with and listen to each other without trying to fix, solve or correct one another helps people feel heard and understood. The goal of a stress-reducing conversation is to understand one another rather than to solve a problem.
Seek support with friends and family outside your home. When we are actively grieving, we cannot necessarily get the love and care we need from one person—and we especially cannot always get that care from those in the situation with us. From recovery groups to Hospice, many organizations now offer phone and Zoom support groups.
Celebrate the small victories. Seeking small moments of appreciation and gratitude can be an antidote to toxic stress. Maybe you’ve been beating yourself up for sleeping in and not having a schedule, and one day you got up a half-an-hour earlier and took a walk. YEAH, YOU! Maybe your spouse looked overwhelmed while helping your kids with school work, and you offered to step in so they could take a nap. YEAH, YOU! Maybe your teenage daughter wept about not going to prom, and you started to try to fix it but caught yourself mid-sentence. You leaned in and just said, “That sucks!” YEAH, YOU! Whatever it might be, seek the small moments and celebrate them.
These are a few strategies to help you through the wilderness of traumatic grief. Although none of us has lived through a pandemic before, we are not alone. You do not have to travel through this wilderness alone. For a free consultation to explore how telehealth counseling sessions could help you and your family through this time, contact me.