How do you make sense of the chaos?
I have a confession to make. I was hoping that 2021 would be a much better year. Alas, just six days into the new year, we witnessed disturbing events that we haven't seen for over a century. It reminds me of sitting through a high school history lecture and being super perplexed at the atrocities humans are capable of, such as the burning of the White House during the War of 1812.
Violations that were once unthinkable are unfolding before us in alarming ways.
How do you make sense of the chaos? And how do we explain all of this to the little people who look up at us and the world with innocent bewilderment?
Political commentary will be abundant in interpreting yesterday's events. As the nation debates, the conversations that you entertain at home will be critical.
Individuals will most likely draw out ideological lines and even parrot their parties talking points as tensions escalate. Oddly enough, while these political debates are often emotionally heated, the heart is often left out. Responses are emotionally charged but often fail to go to the heart of the matter. They fail to understand what drives the intensity of our responses.
What are the emotional needs tested in this tense climate?
The need for safety
In the U.S., we are about the pursuit of happiness and not about the pursuit of pain and suffering. We are free to do what makes us happy because we are free of the reigns that constrict or restrain us from living out our dreams and aspirations.
Historically, we have not been inhibited by fear or trepidation. 2020 changed that some. It put our need for safety to the test, and we realized all the things we had taken for granted before COVID.
We learned the power of fear and how this, too, could be yielded and manipulated. A sense of physical and emotional safety is established by many things, including laws. Legal and moral laws create a sense of security. When these are violated, we feel less protected and more vulnerable.
The violent manifestations experienced over the last year, along with yesterday's raiding of the capital, widened the cracks of vulnerability that had already erupted in our lives in 2020. Many who reached a breaking point long before all of this unfolded due to health disparities, inequity, and trauma experiences turned from feeling helpless to feeling rage.
The need for control
We are creatures of habit and order.
Habits create a sense of predictability in our lives. Depending on personality, some of us can be very rigid about the timing and process of how things are done. Others are more relaxed.
If you find yourself on the more rigid side of the spectrum, you will most likely struggle with loss of control at a greater intensity than someone that thrives in chaos, crisis, or dynamic environments. And almost everyone who feels they have lost their footing will try to regain it.
Often our efforts to regain a sense of control can lead to self-sabotaging behaviors. COVID created havoc on established schedules and overall made life very unpredictable. Given this, the surge in drinking, abusive behaviors, and Netflix binging is not surprising. As people feel their rights are violated or disrespected, and as they are incited by groups and messages promoted on their feed, they take things into their own hands and try to take control through violent means.
The need to be valued
We yearn to be seen, to be recognized, and to be honored. When others ignore and disrespect us - we hurt. Unfortunately, instead of speaking up and saying what we need, we retaliate by hurting others. We become defensive.
Everyone has individual ideas, thoughts, perspectives, and when they are listened to and considered respectfully, then we feel honored. When these are blocked, mocked, or ridiculed - we feel belittled and offended.
The need for justice
Even though we live in an unfair world, we still yearn for justice to reign. When we see injustice, the gap between the reality of what is and what ought to be, it ignites anger, passion, desire for restitution, and even vengeance. While protests against injustice are a right, there is a fine line where seeking vengeance can be damaging and hurtful to others and the self.
What is the relational consequence to the emotional and spiritual vacuum experienced?
We trust less
We look onward with weariness at the world around us, feeling pessimistic at people's ability to do good. David Maister and Charles Green developed something called the trust equation to help explain how to build trust. Trust = ( Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy ) / Self-Interest.
In this definition, trust is nurtured with credibility and honesty by being reliable and consistent, being open, and focusing on others. As people see us focused on their needs, the more trust we build. On the contrary, when people are unreliable, are deceptive, and focus on building their own brand at the expense of others - we become skeptical. Generation X is described as one of the most cynical generations.
We can be difficult
You already know that we are dealing with unprecedented rates of depression and anxiety. The lack of security, control, and dwindling trust in the sources that should have traditionally provided stability and security have all heightened anxiety. To cope, we become demanding, testy, and irritable. We aim for perfection, focus on the expectations, linger on what is missing, and blame others for not following through. We can be incredibly difficult to live with.
What do we do?
Take stock of how this situation, along with everything else, is impacting you. How do you feel about it? Write it down, draw it out, run it out. If you carry it within, it will burst out. When you stop for a moment and give yourself a chance to catch up with how you're feeling about it, you are allowing yourself to sort it out. When you don't, the feelings betray you. You spill over and can hurt those around you. Give yourself a few moments to process it all. Practice some mindful exercises to get out of your head and to be in the present.
Face it together
Invite others to process this with you. Ask your children or older parents how they are doing. Check-in on them and invite them also to process how they are making sense of things. Isolation further perpetuates cynicism and hopelessness. It is in community that we can hold each other up and feel inspired to overcome hardships. As you face this situation and others to come - do so with a spirit of hospitality. Usher in grace, be kind, be respectful, be forgiving, be grateful.
Speak from the heart
Take an elevator down and go from the head to the heart. Put aside the talking points for a moment and speak about the emotional needs that this is unraveling for you. When others speak up, listen to them, and pick up on the needs that drive their response. When you are vulnerable in this way, you will be more human. And in our humanity, we can have soft startups and build trust.
Be an active consumer
What you read, what you see, what you consume impacts you. Be critical of how much media you consume and how it saps your energy, and how it influences your mood and energy. Hold yourself and your family members accountable to the consumption of the media you consume. Set a goal to limit your media consumption. Start by reducing it by one hour a week, then two hours. Continue upping the goal to enjoy an entire day free from the influence of technology. What would that do to your wellbeing and that of your family?
Build a better world
What's the difference between those who thrive in times of crisis from those who bend under its weight? Those who have a sense of purpose and have a mindset to contribute time and time again demonstrate incredible resilience in the face of adversity. You may not be able to control governments, violence erupting everywhere, the pandemic, or any other environmental or human-made chaos - but you can control what is within your realm. You can control what happens in your home. You can control the kindness that you show your neighbors in need. You can control taking time for self-care so you can have the energy to be a better human and have what it takes to give and serve another.
Focus on doing good - you will not only feel better, but you will also lift another up in the process. And as you do this, your kids will pick up how to manage and process life as it unfolds before them.