I had an interesting conversation with a client earlier this week. In it, he raised what could be THE underlying psychological problem for many people during the Covid-19 pandemic. He said that he kept feeling as if he were being dislodged or dislocated from his normal reality by the way people were acting around him, and the way they were looking at him. He felt as if he had lost his value, his inherent worth, and his sense of contentment, love, and peace, because of what has become an emotionally toxic environment.
Essentially, during the pandemic the underlying and unexamined assumption that people are now making about other people is: you’re a danger to my life. In other words, “anyone who comes into my vicinity could give me Covid-19 and therefore they could kill me.” This is the effect of relentless mainstream media coverage about all the BAD news about Covid-19, combined with the fact that most people are not to be critical thinkers. We’re generally not taught to challenge our own thoughts or the opinions of people who are reporting the “news.”
Of course, one result is that when I query my clients, most of them are now reporting that they don’t trust news sources at all, and often don’t listen to the news anymore because they can’t tell what’s true and what’s false. However, the major result in the culture could be that because of relentless reporting about the negative impact of Covid-19 on all people (whereas the most prevalent negative impact is on people 60 and older), we now perceive ANYONE and EVERYONE to be a threat. We also automatically assume “if I get COVID, I will die” which is also not true. (I recently came across a statistic that stated that only 1% of people who get COVID ever end up in the hospital, and not everyone who is hospitalized dies.)
As we live in this fear of others, it’s natural that this fear begins to translate into how we look at others and how we approach them. My client noticed that in the high-traffic business where he works, people nearly always looked at him with a combination of fear and loathing. Fear of the possibility that he might infect them and loathing because he might the “source” of that infection. He began to start to fear himself!
As people kept looking at him in fear, as if he could cause their death or they could cause his, he began to feel like a walking ‘viral death sentence’ and lost his ability to feel his value as a human being. He became self-conscious, after a long struggle to stop being self-conscious, and began to shut down his own heart, his ability to communicate, and his ability to feel love or contentment.
During my conversation with him, it occurred to me that he was probably articulating a struggle that many people are having, and he was doing so before anyone else that I’d spoken to. He could be warning us of the real emotional hazards of the pandemic, as if he’s the human equivalent of the ‘canary in the coal mine’ (the canary would die before any human, as a warning to humans, if they opened an otherwise undetected pocket of methane gas while mining). Because others were afraid of him, my client began to be afraid of himself, to think that there was something inherently wrong with him.
His struggle in therapy, which is common to so many therapy clients, was to learn to feel that he was all right just being himself. The way people have been treating him, with fear and loathing in their eyes, was undoing all the positive work he’d done to overcome his self-consciousness and accept himself for who he was.
I’m quite concerned that we’ll see an epidemic of shattered self-esteem in many people because of similar negative change processes they are experiencing due to the pandemic. In addition to the difficulty with self-esteem, we also know that too much isolation can literally shorten the length of a person’s life. When we’re not part of a group and don’t have a valued role to play, we can also question our value….particularly in the modern West, where we’re taught that if we’re not productive, we’re nothing. The isolation by itself, becomes another major challenge to our self-esteem, if we’ve believed the message that we must have a role in the community to be valuable as a human.
I hope that bringing my client’s insights to you (my readers), will enable you to start to address how the pandemic has challenged your own self-esteem, so that you won’t be undermined without knowing why.
Wishing you a restoration to sanity and positive self-esteem.