Post Pandemic Loss of Connection is a Very Real Problem
I know that COVID is still out there and that there is an increase of new cases due to a new, more virulent variant, but I am sensing in my conversations with others that we have entered into a post-pandemic world. What exactly, you might ask, is a post-pandemic world?
At the beginning of the pandemic, we were in shock and denial. What was happening? Lockdown? Must we wear masks? At the height of COVID, it seemed that the pandemic was all that anybody talked about. I know I watched the worldwide statistics on new and total cases and deaths daily (worldometers.info).
The pandemic remains a topic of discussion in today's world, but it is not at the forefront of everybody's mind. Fewer people where I live wear masks, and the fear of having COVID has dropped dramatically with vaccines, boosters, new treatments, and milder variants. The world has shifted to a post-pandemic attitude.
But post-pandemic is not "back to normal" as many would like it to be. I find myself a lot happier staying at home in "my bubble", as my business partner Lynda-Ross calls it. She is feeling it too. I described this to several other people, and they confirmed that they had much less contact with others than before the pandemic; they feel less connected, more isolated, and a bit lonelier than before COVID.
We have lost something! That something is a feeling of connection to others, the experience of "feeling felt", and we need to get it back!
While there are many things we face the post-pandemic world without, I think that the most critical is connection. Connection comes from communication, but it isn't just talking to one another. Connection is born of an interplay between people that is both subtle and profound. It arises from a "dance of communication".
"We connect with each other through a give-and-take of signals that link us from the inside out. This is the joy-filled way in which we come to share each other's minds." (Daniel Siegel Mindsight p 21).
"Connections are made with the heart, not with the tongue" (C. JoyBell C.)
"The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said." (Peter Drucker)
Each of these quotes emphasizes that connection requires communication, but they also challenge us to look deeper, to go beyond our common definition of communication. Connection creates an experience of "we", and it happens when we attune to others, and they attune to us.
"Through facial expression and tones of voice, gestures and postures – some so fleeting that can be captured only on a slowed-down recording – we come to "resonate" with one another." (Daniel Siegel Mindsight p 28)
This connection through resonate communication is difficult in the best of times. The isolation of the pandemic made it near impossible, but the forced aloneness of the lockdown at least made it understandable. Now, as we emerge into a post-Pandemic world with less direct contact, the lack of both real communication and connection is very apparent – and distressing!
The pandemic did not create the problem of connecting, but like so many other things, it accelerated and accentuated the issue. As a psychotherapist, I spend much of my workday talking to people who are anxious, depressed, and unhappy with their lives. Sadly, there is never a shortage of potential clients, but during the pandemic, the demand for mental health services has increased by over 20%!
Not only did the pandemic remove us from in-the-same-room live contact with many of the important people in our lives, it also took away many of the things we use to distract us from facing the difficulties and struggles that life can present. Much of what we do to connect is social, and social distancing and social media are poor substitutes for social contact.
Even prior to the pandemic, we were inundated with information in the guise of communication. Social media provides us with images, stories, and videos about others' lives, what they eat, where they visit, and what experiences they just had. But this is all just information, not real connection, and rather than enhance our sense of well-being, it drives FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). There is no way anyone's individual life can compete with so many others doing and experiencing so much. One life can never experience all that social media shows happening – somewhere else.
Social media provides the illusion of connection and a steady diet of information that is like empty calories. It does not deliver on the promise and leaves us constantly craving more.
I use social media just as an example that most people can readily identify with. We use many external distractions that promise connection but often leave us frustrated and driven to try harder because of FOMO.
When this happens, we often conclude, erroneously, that there is something wrong with us, but the problem is with the means we use, not the ends we seek. We seek connection through more information, but it can only be found through communication.
"The two words 'information' and 'communication' are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through." (Sydney J. Harris).
The "dance of communication" creates a "we" when we attune to others, and they attune to us. This "we" is the connection we are seeking. Like any dance, it takes a while to learn the steps, but we get better as we practice. One of the most important steps is listening to others. To connect, we listen not just with our ears but with our whole being.
Lack of connection creates loneliness. When we are lonely, it is easier to lose our ability to look beyond our own wants and needs. When we are caught up in our own experience, our own feelings, and our own thoughts, it becomes harder to listen to the experience, feelings, and thoughts of others. When this happens, information may be exchanged, but communication and connection do not occur.
To listen with our whole being requires that we integrate consciousness to develop the ability to step back and observe ourselves. It is the difference between the statement "I feel anxious" rather than "I am anxious." The first is an observation about one's experience, the latter an identification with it.
"With integration of consciousness, we actually build the skills to stabilize attention, so that we can harness the power of awareness to create choice and change. (It) enables us to acknowledge troubling states without being taken over by them, and to see things as they are, rather that being constrained by our expectations of how they 'should be'." (Daniel Siegel, The Complexity Choir, Psychotherapy Networker, Jan/Feb 2010, p 50)
The more we are "taken over by" our experience, the harder it is to maintain the integration of consciousness. We become overwhelmed, stressed, and lose any sense that we can manage our lives. We lose our ability to really listen, our ability to communicate, and our ability to connect. The more we can focus and "stabilize attention" the easier it becomes to do just the opposite.
It is time to turn inward, gain more knowledge of ourselves, and look for the skills we need to connect inside ourselves rather than trying to find the answer "out there". To develop the skills necessary to listen with our whole being and communicate in a way that allows us to connect, we must first know ourselves.
I know that it is a lot easier to keep searching for the solution "out there" than it is to turn inward and face the pain of self-discovery. The pandemic forced us to confront how difficult deep connection is by removing many of the activities we usually use to distract us from our internal loneliness.
The pandemic showed us how important our connectedness and our experience of "we" is and revealed to us how easily it can be taken away. As we move forward into the post-pandemic world, we need to remember what the pandemic showed us: the deep connections we desperately need, especially right now, don't come from what we do, what we know, or what we have, but from who we are.
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About Dr. Gary M. Jordan, Ph.D.
Gary Jordan, Ph.D., has over 35 years of experience in clinical psychology, behavioral assessment, individual development, and coaching. He earned his doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology – Berkeley. He is co-creator of Perceptual Style Theory, a revolutionary psychological assessment system that teaches people how to unleash their deepest potentials for success. He’s a partner at Vega Behavioral Consulting, Ltd., a consulting firm that specializes in helping people discover their true skills and talents. For more information, visit https://www.YourTalentAdvantage.com.
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