Thoughts on why we must stay spiritually close while physically distant
Well here we are. For those in California, we are now several weeks into shelter in place. To be honest, it has been difficult for me to write, or really focus on anything in particular. Many of our anxieties do not have simple answers, or answers that we know at the moment. And of course, my job is not always to give answers, but in a time like this, I know that’s what people are craving most.
In the middle of the storm, it is about survival, rather than learning helpful tips and tricks. In the past weeks, I have used my energy to be there for people that are closest with me—my clients and my family. For me, this is not an act of selflessness. In fact, interaction with those I deeply care for nourishes me, in or out of a pandemic. The importance of these relationships in my life is not just a commentary on my life as a therapist, but speaks to the greater experience of everyone desiring close attachment with others. Giving to others (while recognizing and respecting my capacity for this) makes me feel whole, and I know I’m not the only one that benefits from this.
Although I consider myself an introvert, I too still need connection. The reason for this is not explained by social preferences, or if groups of people or staying home is what “restores me.” More so, this desire in all of us comes from evolution: the inherent need to nurture and be nurtured.
Paul Gilbert, the creator of Compassion-Focused therapy, discusses three different emotional systems based evolutionary neurobiology: the drive system, the threat system, and the soothing system. Long story short, the threat system deals with emotions related to potential threats and fears, and the way to manage this system is by increasing the soothing system. The soothing system is connected to our attachment and deep love and compassion for and with others. This is the way we are all hardwired.
Adding to this, I believe there is a spiritual component to why we need social connection. I won’t pretend to understand this entirely; such is the case with most of the unknowns of our world. But there is a phenomenon that happens when two souls align that can be at the very least, fulfilling, and at the very most, healing. There is not much that needs to be done to have this type of exchange, just being present with another person who you resonate with on a deep level who is also present and completely there.
That is what I believe the role of mental health is in the current moment. The research supports the idea that the therapeutic relationship is one of the strongest indicators of successful therapy. And although all the mechanisms at play aren’t fully known, I do believe it has much to do with some of what I discussed here. Sometimes therapy or emotional support isn’t about finding the “ah ha” or cathartic epiphany. Sometimes, or maybe a lot of the times, it’s about sitting with someone as they are in pain. And just knowing that person is there and understands you is more than enough.
I do not have a list of ways to find social support in this time, because for many, it’s just not feasible. However, what is feasible, is remembering those that you love and that love you. This may be a therapist, a family member, a partner, a friend, or even a pet. These connections are not gone in the age of COVID-19. And we don’t actually need constant engagement with these relationships to feel their power. Holding them in mind can be enough, or you can take the extra steps to reach out using all the wonderful technology we have. If we don’t feel like we are finding enough connection, that is also very likely as well. And for this, we must find a place of acceptance that this is the way things are for now. It’s certainly not easy or pleasant, but it is temporary.
Take care of yourself and your loved ones.