I am writing a follow on from the wonderful blog written by Gerry Gilmartin back in August. 6 months on and here we are again, facing new Covid-related challenges with more restrictive measures in place, more infections and more deaths.
The theme of Gerry’s blog revolves around fear and hope, and how to work with these polarities which coexist in most of us. Psychotherapy is very much about learning to live with polarities within ourselves as well as acknowledge them in others. In psychotherapy we gradually increase our capacity to understand and be with complex human emotions, and to reduce polarised black-and-white thinking. Gerry writes:
“The uncontrollability of the corona virus may reflect something of the uncontrollability of a globalised world. Both highlight our mutual dependence and by implication our mutual vulnerability. At a time when a sense of universal unity might be prescient it is also a time at which it seems extremely unlikely. In a state of fear the instinct is to contract mentally and physically, to batten down the hatches against a real or imagined enemy. In a state of fear we may abandon our capacities for hope and for trust…. On a global as well as an individual level”.
Talking about what we are afraid of can be enlightening. It helps us separate fantasy from reality and to stay connected to ourselves and others. It can be difficult to ‘stay sane’ when we are constantly being bombarded with news items which are designed to retain our attention as much as possible by scaring us into remaining watchful and alert to yet more bad news, just in case we weren’t already frightened enough.
This process actives our fight or flight systems, sending us into survival mode which is never conducive to reflective states of mind required for conscious thought and creativity. In fact, the very type of thinking that is required for effective leadership and decision-making.
Part of our job is to help people to think when they have stopped thinking and are living in fear or in a state of hyperarousal. Of course, this isn’t always possible. However, it is possible in most cases and an outcome which is see in psychotherapy time and time again. People arrive contracted and fearful and leave feeling hopeful and with a more expansive and different mindset – each week, each month, each year this process deepens until it becomes second nature.
Through the establishment of a trusting relationship with another, we begin to create a microcosm of safety where difficult feelings can exist without the urgency to get rid of them. We learn to tolerate the intolerable, which may also result in setting limits, taking action, or even doing nothing. Whatever the choice, it will be one which emerges from a place of more awareness and hopefully lead to a more fulfilling life.
Sam Jahara is a UKCP Registered Psychotherapist with a special interest in working with issues linked to cultural identity and a sense of belonging. She works with individuals and couples in Hove and Lewes.
Further reading by Sam Jahara