Last night I locked the doors, I closed the curtains and shut the outside world away from my safe internal space. I felt flat, helpless, depressed and concerned. I distracted myself with TV, watching two of my favourite things, house renovation and dogs, I cleaned the house a little, I did some admin, and I cooked some food.
But still I felt the concern, the upset and the worry.
I resorted to watching a little news before returning to my admin. I’d felt tired all day so was happy to take to my bed. But I woke in the night, and whilst initially blissfully unaware as I stirred from my sleep, my thoughts quickly turned to what is happening in the outside world.
Why am I sharing this? Because I know I’m not alone.
Anxiety levels are heightened for many people and a fear of the unknown lingers in the air as we go about our daily business.
How do we survive this?
There is indeed a finite balance to be struck between feeling and acknowledging the fear and not dwelling on it or allowing it to consume our ability to function.
If we view the Hierarchy of Need (human needs as defined by Abraham Maslow) in the image below, we can see that basic needs to thrive and indeed build our future includes: Physiological and Safety needs. These are fundamental needs upon which we build.
Its easy to see how in times of conflict and war these needs are not being met.
Victims of war cant sleep, have no regular supply of food and water, their biological needs are unmet, they are not safe, cannot work, lose loved ones, lose property etc.
I describe this as their intrinsic belief system that they are safe and cared for is stripped away and ultimately the pyramid collapses.
Their core belief system internally and externally is challenged, and this can lead to trauma response being triggered.
So why are we effected when we are not directly involved? Why can trauma be triggered by witnessing violence and harm to others?
Put simply in pyramid terms, we become aware that our world may not be safe too.
We tend to believe that bad things happen to other people in other places. How many times have you heard news reports where witnesses state:
‘I never thought it would happen here- this is a nice area’
‘I cant believe this has happened to me/us’?
Most of us, sadly not all, have grown understanding our safety and security as a given. Food, love, shelter etc is accessible. Our physiological and safety needs are intact and we thrive with our pyramid of life helping us to reach our goals. We maintain this by believing bad things happen to other people in other places.
Sometimes, as is the case for many now, the threat is close to home, there is no doubt that the ‘Western World’ threats we hear in the media this week will be de-stabilising our pyramid along with empathy for those we see in the heart of it. We can relate to those people.
Now here’s the thing. We have to be realistic and when things are scary, well they are scary.
It’s pointless pretending otherwise!
However, lets look at other aspects of the pyramid.
Maslows theory has been examined and re-adjusted by many over the years. Some adding further layers and other theorists reducing it to just 3.
What remains consistent however is that bonding and relatedness needs are the only ones that are a component of every theory. Togetherness really is important.
There is also recognition that when each layer is achieved then motivation for that element of need disappears. As the old blues song goes, “you don’t miss your water 'til your well runs dry.”
So the opposite must then apply!
In war when safety and basic needs are threatened, motivation to restore them is returned. We see this in the news, despite the odds, ordinary people fighting to protect what is important to them. Their democracy and their freedom equates to safety. And their comradeship is admirable for all to see.
Lets look at the pyramid again:
The Social and Ego stages are often referred to as the psychological elements. I hope and belief that the worldwide condemnation of the invasion and support and applaud afforded to the victims of it, is indeed providing a sense of belonging.
The brain, with its primary function to preserve life, enables us to do what we never thought possible until that core belief, pyramid collapsing moment.
Ever heard of the strength a parent will find to lift a car when their child is underneath?
Or how emergency services were dismayed as to how a driver ran away from the wreckage before it caught fire, despite a shattered leg.
That’s the trauma response.
Equally is the ability to zone out, blank off, feel like the world isn’t real right now. No matter how we respond to traumatic events, we are essentially on auto pilot, Our brains are preserving us.
There is no doubt in the power of belonging, to be supported, recognised and included. Think about how it feels to be cheered on.
But also look at the Ego needs for power and control these are powerful drivers to achieving the reinstating of the basic and the safety needs. Without them that normality has little chance of being restored.
Aggressors, we hope, feel the opposite when sanctioned. Demonised and shut out from society we hope they lose sense of security and belonging.
Only time will tell.
So how do we survive this?
Our actual pyramid is unchanged but we are now aware of its vulnerability.
You may just say ‘Well I’m alright Jack. Nowt to do with me’ put your head down and get on with life as if nothing is happening.
It can work, though we know that many people internalise stress that they deny of outward appearance. You know – headaches, stomach problems etc..
Most of us need to acknowledge the worry and anguish for those affected and indeed for the rest of us looking on helplessly, wondering how this might play out. There is an old and valid message summed up in the image below.
Focus on what you can control!
Focus on how you respond to situations, how you help those that you can (including yourself). Channel energy into productive outcomes, it doesn’t have to be massive, you don’t have to devote time to refugee support or lobby parliament or donate massive amounts of money.
Give a little time to check out how someone is feeling, allow yourself to be honest about your feelings and tell yourself and others – its normal!
Take care - Sue