Fear and Anxiety and Our Changing Perceptions
The COVID period has been long. It’s worthwhile reflecting on what’s happening to our changing perceptions now, at this point in our huge shared major life transition.
We tend to think of ourselves basically hunkering down and enduring the whole COVID crisis, but we are actually changing as a result of our experiences in this time. None of us will emerge from this as quite the same person we were when we went into it. So, how are our perceptions altering? What is happening to us through all of this? Is there anything potentially good in all this?
Two of the key characteristics of this period have been uncertainty and anxiety. While for people in Ontario, there may be the feeling recently of a more optimistic trend, there is still a great deal of uncertainty in the current circumstances. This is associated with anxiety and even fear that seems to sit just beneath the surface, present but not quite acknowledged.
All of this experience is changing us. It is certainly altering our outlook, the way we are experiencing the world and the ways in which we will move into the future. The key question will be exactly how it affects us. One possibility is that we could let it pull us into defensive and negative postures that lead us to permanently keep the world at arm’s length. Yet, we find ourselves asking: might there be any other possibilities?
Crisis and Personal Change
When human beings go through periods of crisis, or great and rapid change, it is common to experience uncertainty, disorientation, fear and anxiety and rapidly changing perceptions. This is part of the human condition. Author Guy Vanderhaeghe, OC, SOM in his recent novel August into Winter describes the descent into the crisis of the Second World War in a small Saskatchewan town. He writes of its effect on the consciousness of all those impacted,
You carried the past into the future on your back, its knees and arms hugging you tighter with every step.
So it is in a crisis. We struggle to come to terms with the new reality, to take it in, to see what it means. Perhaps many times we fall victim to misperception or misinformation. And all the while the past clings to us and doesn’t want to let us go. It cleaves to us, and as Vanderhaeghe so eloquently describes, demands to somehow be carried into the future. Throughout that process we struggle for new understanding that somehow combines what was, and what is. Clearly, the potential for anxiety in the midst of this is great indeed.
We’re Changing Whether We Acknowledge It or Not
We’re undoubtedly changing as we live through a changed world. As human beings, we need to make meaning of what is happening in our lives. We do this through the story that we tell ourselves about our lives. The question is whether that story we tell ourselves is one that genuinely affirms all of who we are, and that looks with honest and open eyes at the world as it is. The alternative is to tell ourselves a defensive story that may keep us from experiencing pain in the short run, but that isn’t truthful about either ourselves or the world. As Jungian analyst James Hollis asserts,
It is disturbing to think that rather than we living our stories, our stories might be living us.
Unfortunately, it’s common throughout our current time and through history for people to tell themselves stories about their lives that are self-deluding. Often these stories are driven by unconscious parts of the individual’s personality that are defending against trauma, shame and fear of many different kinds.
Changing Perceptions & The Undiscovered Self
Our changing perceptions are actually a doorway to the undiscovered parts of the self. As we live with and come to terms with our perception that the world has changed, we come to terms with what Jung called the undiscovered self. Our reactions to, and experience of, the world coming into being, and our sense of loss attached to the past that is gone, show us different parts of who we are. They are trying to come into our conscious awareness, and to be accepted with compassion.
Work with a compassionate and supportive /a-midlife-transition can help immensely in dealing with our changing perceptions. It can also assist in bringing a deep sense of compassion for ourselves, and for others, in this turbulent time.
With every good wish for your personal journey,