As a clinical social worker and psychotherapist in private practice, I am sending you this message to share my clinical perspective and thoughts on the current events, the multiple crisis and most importantly to encourage and give recommendations for self-care.
Needless to say, this is a critical and anxiety-producing time in our nation as we move to the upcoming presidential election and beyond. For clarity and deeper insight, I want to first give you a model for understanding this time of breakdown and crisis. The model comes from archetypal psychology, the study of patterns of behavior that help us understand the larger themes being played out in our individual lives and in the society. In the case of the current multiple crises we are experiencing, I am looking at the ‘destroyer’ archetype and the specific pattern of the ‘destroyer’ as ‘transformer’ and potential for healing and renewal.
A position of ‘neutrality’ is encouraged as an overall attitude generally and specifically as relates to the time frame for change. Lastly, self-care recommendations are given.
Our country is undergoing a crisis as we have never experienced. We are witnessing a breakdown in leadership, misinformation, public mistrust, and poor collaboration related to the Coronavirus pandemic. Deaths exceed 185 thousand, with six million-plus cases. There is widespread racism upheld by a racist president, police violence, and brutality toward blacks, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), minorities, and demonstrators. In the midst of this, we are witnessing the financial collapse of businesses and unemployment. It may appear that the breakdown being experienced began with the pandemic when in fact breakdown took a leap forward during these four years of the Trump presidency. He gained attention with his racist birther attacks on former black president Barak Obama claiming the president was not born in the United States. He has flamed the fires of dissension and hate toward people of color and immigrants making false and egregious claims, building a wall at the Mexican border, putting immigrant children in cages, and separating them from their parents. So clearly, destruction and breakdown preceded the coronavirus pandemic setting the stage for further breakdown and crisis.
From Breakdown to Breakthrough:
The word ‘crisis’ comes from the Greek word ‘krisis’ meaning ‘turning point.’ A time of crisis is considered critical in that an individual or event(s) can either get better or further deteriorate; it’s a critical time, a turning point. Crisis then implies opportunity. However, for something new to enter the old that is no longer working must go. Applying this to the crisis of this time, there is an opportunity for healing and transformation.
To further clarify, the work of Carol Pearson in Awakening the Heroes Within is helpful and specifically the archetype referred to as the ‘Destroyer’. While Pearson applies this archetype or pattern to individuals, the concept of crisis and opportunity inherent within the ‘Destroyer’ archetype is applicable to viewing our national crisis. In the breakdown phase of the ‘Destroyer’, life as we have known it is kicked out from under our feet, often coming without warning and creating a state of crisis. Life has come under the thumb of the Destroyer leading us to fear for our very lives. Nevertheless, it is critically important to know that the higher purpose of the Destroyer archetype is not to be taken down but to release that which does not serve and to transform into a new life, new direction, healing, and a commitment to a better way. In essence, the Destroyer comes to wake us up.
This is pure potential. Yet unknown is what it will take to turn the tide from destruction to healing and rebuilding. Concretely, looking forward in time, a great deal depends on the November election and what comes after. Even in a crisis people can deny the need for change just as individuals with a serious illness can deny the need for treatment or choose a treatment that does not work.
While we are in the midst of the breakdown, there are some positive signs—for example, vaccines are being developed and look promising for preventing the coronavirus. The November election has the potential for a radical change in leadership and a shift in direction. On the other hand, the president is threatening to obstruct the election process bringing further destruction. This possibility exists and it is wise to be prepared. ‘To be for-warned is to be for-armed’. With preparation, we can choose to take the high road breathing into the feelings that come up, calming ourselves, and stepping away from negativity and destruction.
Suggestions for self-care and healing:
1. Practice Neutrality. This is one of the most important strategies and perhaps the most challenging. To illustrate neutrality this teaching story may help:
A farmer has a prize team of horses that are his pride and joy. They get out of their pen and run away. The neighbors all came to express their concern saying: “It’s such a shame that your prize horses ran away.” The farmer replies: “Good news bad news who’s to say.” Days later the horses are found and the neighbors again gather saying: “Isn’t it wonderful your horses are returned and safe.” The farmer replies: “Good news bad news who’s to say.” Time goes by and the farmer’s son is riding and falls breaking his shoulder. The neighbors return saying “What a shame your son is injured and unable to help.” The farmer replies: “Good news bad news who’s to say.” Lastly, war breaks out and the son doesn’t go due to injuries. The neighbors again gather: “How fortunate and happy you must be.” The farmer again replies: “good news bad news who’s to say.”
Good news bad news who’s to say? Yes, it is a challenge to get neutral and recognize a bigger picture. It takes conscious and on-going practice and the firm intention to remain calm remembering that keeping the ‘don’t know mind’ of neutrality helps calm and ground. Neutrality is allowing what is and remembering to take refuge in ‘this too shall end.’
2. Expect Positive Change. Hold to the knowing that positive change is coming. We don’t know when but we serve ourselves and others by staying out of fear, calming ourselves, and working on neutrality. It is natural to be disappointed but remember that love always wins out.
Keep in mind that ‘forewarned is forearmed.’ For example, we may not want to hear statements about threatening to block the election results. Recognize your reaction and remind yourself that you’re reacting to something outside your control that hasn’t happened. Breathe deeply and let go. It is what is! Accept what is and again get calm and remember ‘good news bad news, who’s to say.’
3. Choose Calm. Calm and breathe deeply into any fear or anger that comes and step away from thinking/feeling/ believing that the destruction has to end now. Hold a vision of the world you want. The old ways don’t give way easily. Resistance to change is to be expected. Neutrality.
4. Own Your Anger. Take responsibility for your reactions of anger, impatience, and resentment. Commit to being part of the healing; refuse to be a divisive force that feeds the fires of anger, that make enemies among friends and families. When we turn against each other we stop looking at who benefits by creating that division. Choose to be part of the solution. Step away. Our challenges are our opportunities.
5. Trust Your Knowing. Know and trust that you are a good person and hold that belief for others as well. Most of us are trying to do what is right.
6. Kindness Speaks. If it’s not kind don’t share it—at least until you can say it in a way that you would appreciate getting that feedback yourself. Our words heal or hurt. It’s a choice that we make every time we speak.
7. Everyone is Our Teacher. Is their example positive or are they spreading ill will? Choose to take the higher road.
8. We Are free. We choose. Choose well and choose consciously. Stop, breathe, get calm, and speak with thoughtfulness and integrity. It takes thoughtfulness and responsibility to speak with care.
9. Forgive. Let go let go let go. And again, take the high road. It feels much better once we do it. Kindness heals.
10. Be Conscious. Set limits on how much news you take in and whether the news is helping or causing more distress. It is not recommended or helpful to sit for long periods watching and listening to disturbing information.
11. Be In Nature. Make a habit to be in nature and be there fully. Take time to stop, breathe with awareness, and take in the beauty and the gift of nature. Plant your feet on the ground.
12. Be Grateful--Count Your Blessings. To focus on what we have and are grateful for is a powerful antidote to getting stuck in fear and worry. Gratitude is possibly our best moment to moment, day to day self-care. With gratitude we shift from lack to appreciation. Taking the time and writing each one down can add to your feelings of appreciation.
13. Keep It Simple. Practice what we learned in grade school; don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t fight, don’t bully, don’t take what isn’t yours, and be kind.
14. Pay Attention to Your Thoughts. Step back, be the observer of the movie being played out in front of you and take care to not step into the movie and lose yourself. It is said that we are the sky and everything else are the clouds. Stay conscious, be the sky.
15. Be Here Now. Be in this now moment, be grateful for this now moment, and breathe deeply with full awareness of your breath and breathing. We create the best possible future by being fully here giving our best to what is right in front of us.
16. Do Your Research. Before believing or forwarding controversial or disturbing information do your research. Is it the truth? Who is behind it, what is their history and motive? Ask for proof–rock solid proof and take 100% responsibility for what you pass on. Truth and love are the high road!
This is a critical period of breakdown and crisis in our country including a worldwide pandemic, business closures, unemployment, racism, nationwide demonstrations against police brutality, and the killing of black people.
Using the archetypal pattern of the ‘destroyer’ and the opportunity inherent in the resulting crisis, the potential is for reevaluation and breakthrough to a higher level of functioning.
The upcoming, presidential election will be the litmus test: will the current direction and path continue or will we have learned the lessons of this crisis, change course, and set on a healing journey?
Regardless, it is critically important to practice good self-care and know that while we don’t control the timing, change is coming. If the threats, bullying, and intimidation continue, and there is a further breakdown, the consequences will bring more people to see that destruction has no good end and needs to give way to a new beginning. Know it will be. Love always wins over hate.
You don’t have to carry the pain. Calm and be a force for good and continually bring peace into your world.
We each choose who and how we want to be in this world. Choose well! Our very lives depend on it and in the end remember: Neutrality—’good news bad news who’s to say’!
David Ross, LCSW
David is a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist in private practice in San Diego with 30 plus years of experience specializing in trauma and addiction.
Carol Pearson, Awakening the Heroes Within, Harper San Francisco, 1991.