When it comes to this coronavirus outbreak, let’s talk about fear, powerlessness, control, and trauma, just so we can understand the psychology of how we assess risk and how we respond emotionally to risk. Rationally, we can educate our minds to understand that the risk is relatively low, even in high-risk populations. The New England Journal of Medicine is estimating that the mortality rate of this virus is probably a fraction of 1%, maybe slightly higher than the influenza virus, but nowhere near the mortality rate of SARS, MERS, or Ebola. Your lifetime risk of dying in a car crash is 1 in 100. Yet you get in your car most days and don’t feel scared. Why? Because you feel like you’re in control. Whereas with a new outbreak, people feel out of control—and that makes us feel powerless, and when we feel powerless and out of control, we respond emotionally, even if it’s not rational. Trying to have a rational argument with someone who is emotional is pointless. Emotions like fear arise from a very different part of your brain than the rational forebrain. The primal, survival-oriented limbic brain doesn’t care about rational arguments. It wants to help you survive at all costs. So fear is natural and normal when something is new, and you feel powerless and out of control, especially if you have a trauma history, like most of us do.
Another reason some people are panicking is because we don’t trust the authority figures, and this also makes us feel out of control. If you believe you are being lied to (which you are), then this can increase fear, especially if the authority figures in your young life were not trustworthy. Conspiracy theories thrive when we don’t trust our authority figures, which is understandable in times like this, when authority figures hide the truth, distort the truth, or outright lie, as they often do these days.
Especially if you have a trauma history and things went very badly when you were out of control in the past, it’s understandable that you would feel afraid when you feel out of control and powerless. This is where the healing work can happen. Find the parts that get triggered when you’re feeling out of control. Find out what happened to those parts, and get them treated with a really good trauma therapist, using something like IFS, AIT, EFT, Somatic Experiencing, or EMDR.
Then when uncertain times strike—as they likely will more and more in the coming years—your parts won’t panic so much. You’ll become more resilient and can ride the waves of life’s inevitable uncertainty. Because the reality is that you’re never in control. Not really. We like to cling to the illusion of control, but it’s merely that- an illusion. The more we treat and clear our traumas, the more emotional resilience we develop. Then fear can take its rightful place in your emotional repertoire as an early signal of intuition that is meant to keep you safe. The other advantage of getting trauma treated is that your nervous system generally settles down more, and you can more easily fight off infections and recover quickly if you catch them.
So . . . have compassion for yourself and anyone else who feels frightened. It’s distressing to see news media of people in hazmat suits, to be asked to wash your hands when you enter a gathering, and to hear all this talk about death, which we usually don’t discuss and exile into the shadows. Keep in mind that unchecked fear itself is a health risk, so this is a time to get help if you need it and use your spiritual practices to calm yourself. Also, realize that the one thing you CAN control is whatever trauma caused you to believe that feeling out of control is unsafe. Then you can relax into the flow of life and roll with the waves . . .
An Internal Family Systems (IFS) Meditation
If you’re feeling irrationally scared and you’re curious to discover why, try this guided meditation led by WHMI faculty and founder of IFS Richard Schwartz.
A Prayerful Song
If you need more comfort, a friend just introduced me to this beautiful, prayerful song, and I want to share it with anyone who just needs a boost of loving light-filled remembering of who we really are.
If this resonates with you and you want to go deeper, sign up for the IFS Inner Circle.
I’ll update you again soon. If you’re not on the update list, you can register here.
May all your parts know they are loved,
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