Responsibility and control
How do we deal with all the emotions in relationships during the corona (COVID-19) pandemic? What happens when we, our loved ones or those for whom we objectively or subjectively feel responsible face a threat like that posed by the corona virus?
Most likely we will feel the need to act, provided that we are not paralysed by fear. What helps us to act wisely? Gathering information, listening, making decisions and taking responsibility for them come to mind, also considering that we may be wrong!
What we regard as caring or taking responsibility may be experienced as taking over by others. For instance, when foreseeing the potential danger for our children of their decisions, we may feel that we are being responsible and caring parents by warning them, pointing out the possible problems. When does this become a way of controlling their behaviour, thereby undermining their sense of autonomy and agency? The same question arises for interactions between adult children and their ageing parents.
It is worth reminding ourselves that, when humans feel threatened, our capacity to think, to reason diminishes. Curiosity and exploration are suppressed. We revert to automated patterns of thought and behaviour which are anything but creative. Now this may be very useful in enabling us to escape the threat but it may also hinder us in entertaining new ideas and finding creative solutions.
Being dependent AND independent
How do we ensure that people impacted by a crisis can maintain a sense of autonomy and control over their everyday lives? This question is particularly pertinent for those who have relatively less power e.g. children or the elderly who are frail. How do we handle our emotions in these relationships?
People maintain, or gain, a sense of agency if they have the chance to be heard and have their voices considered in decision-making processes. This raises the question: what keeps me from listening, alternatively from speaking my mind? When I have preconceived ideas about the others involved in the situation e.g. “they will act irresponsibly”; “she is stubborn”, “whatever I say doesn’t matter anyway” it may be hard to trust and to be open. “Expecting the best” may go some way to enable openness. (It is one element of a key concept, Transforming Power, that is central to the Alternatives to Violence project).
Blaming – ourselves, others – proliferates during times of crisis. What goes on for those who blame? When couples in therapy blame one another, I often ask them to reflect on the unexpressed and unmet need underlying the blame. Next we might explore how that need could be expressed in a way that has the best chance of being heard by the partner. That is taking responsibility.