Family Communication in a Pandemic
By Alex Rebuck
Only those of us who remember living through the last world war have an experience of living through extended group trauma. This is not the same referring to PTSD we are mostly referring to a single event of trauma that has an event and an ending. Trauma is far more subtle; it is on-going and challenging for the mind to understand and process. As humans we are all meaning making and this situation has challenged our innate ability to understand. So we question. Where did the virus come from? How dangerous is it? How to protect ourselves and our families indeed what protection means in this context? However, over the course of the pandemic it has been like standing on shifting and the messaging changes as quickly as new variants emerge.
The effect of collective anxiety
What happens to a society that is struggling to come to terms with grief and loss as a global experience? As I write the total global deaths from Covid 19 has passed 3 million lives. However even if we have not been directly affected by death, we will all have been affected by loss of liberty, as we knew it, distancing from close family members, support groups and friends. Colleagues, activities that punctuate our lives and give meaning. We are reduced to connection through screens, without that essential need for touch and connection being satiated. Neurobiologists will tell us that when we hold another, hug a loved one, both people experience a biological reaction. The pleasure centre in the brain (nucleus accumbens) activates and there is a release of dopamine and natural opioids that calm and soothe us. How then does this affect how we communicate as a family. How can we make sense with our children when we ourselves feel directly vulnerable from this unseen virus. When children fear the threat to their extended family and loved ones. When life as they have known it is thrown into a different relief.
1.Build a common language of vulnerability and resilience
Encourage conversation in an emotionally safe place to build language to express and process events. It’s ok to not know how to be but think about how we can all support each other in an age-appropriate way. Younger children may enjoy having a sense of utility to encourage self-confidence. Older children may require more space and mourn their loss of freedom. How do you individuate when you are glued together with your family? Showing children that it’s fine to express how you feel and that because you feel sad doesn’t mean that your sadness will last forever. Help children see the difference between a common experience that can be experienced in different ways rather than everyone feeling the same. Take away the fear of feelings being contagious and dangerous. Remembering that children often do emotion in bite size pieces which can cause adults to think they don’t fully understand the situation. Our Imago training workshops can help both parents and children to feel at ease when explaining their feelings.
2. What does protection look like in this new context?
We may tell children that when they are out or at school, they must now wear masks, or that they must wash their hands very regularly to physically protect themselves but how do we explore what emotional protection looks like in this new and emerging reality?
3. How do we do being a good enough parent (teacher, nurse, psychologist, friend and rule enforcer) in a pandemic?
If we have ideas of showing up in our families as strong and in control when we ourselves feel that our position is compromised how might we shift our own responses to make our beliefs and expectations fit.
4. How can we create joys and memories in a situation that can feel monotonous and stressful?
Giving permission to laugh and finding ways of group laughter is a wonderful way of destressing. Using art, drama and conversation to create and remember joy and laughter. Creating warm spaces to be together. Often when people experience threat the response can be to escalate control. Push back on the need for perfection. The hoovering can be left for another day. A request for an extension to complete a school essay can be asked for, eating three fruits and vegetables in a day can be excused, for a day or so, if it reduces stress. If we are physically more confined how can we emotionally and psychologically be freer? Our relationship training workshops allow individuals to take a more holistic approach to situations that are causing stress.
Families are finding that a facilitated conversation can be helpful. Relationship training can provide a positive way for families to explore their emotions. Using Imago’s dialoguing technique which helps to explore meaning and understanding families can safely explore communication and connection so needed both during and post pandemic. Processing events will help ameliorate the long-term effect of trauma and PTSD on us all. When we find meaning and sense we build resilience together. Our relationship therapy workshops are held at various locations across the UK, they provide valuable knowledge and skills for all ages.
By Alex Rebuck