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DEALING WITH COVID-19: The Virus as Outer and Inner Danger - July 4, 2020

Today is Independence Day in the United States. We celebrate freedom. On this date 244 years ago, we were mainly celebrating political freedom. Today many of us are continuing to see the profound importance of creating and celebrating freedom from racial, social and economic injustice as well. These are absolutely crucial to that "pursuit of happiness" that Washington, Jefferson and so many others were stating to be our birthright.

But for true happiness in life, we must also learn to pay attention to another form of freedom in our lives: inner freedom, spiritual freedom. In these blogs we have been learning a little of how to do this: valuing the real self - seeing life as a path, not a problem - valuing our inner experience - learning how to feel and understand our emotional feelings at the same time - learning to accept where we are - learning to disregard the inner critic and disregard catastrophizing using the technique of Seeing, Stopping, Shifting.

The coronavirus crisis we have all been going through is an opportunity to practice these understandings and techniques. Today in this blog I want to add a few further thoughts that are specific to our dealing with Covid-19.

I want to remind us that just because the virus is a very real external danger, it is also having a profound effect on our internal lives, whether we realize it or not. From our work currently with our patients, psychotherapists all across the country and the world are discovering that, for all of us, the virus is triggering in us not just realistic fears, but deep fears from the past that may have been buried in us for many decades, but that are now coming to the surface.

I'll give just a few examples. As infants or young children we may have been physically abandoned by a parent, which at that age would naturally have led to our being afraid that we would die. This fear of abandonment and death - or perhaps even terror - may have lain dormant in our unconscious, but may now be coming to the surface under the influence of our fear of the coronavirus.

Or - another example - we have have had an experience with a very angry or harsh parent, which also might have made us prone to a different fear of dying - from emotional abandonment. This too may be awakened by our experience with the virus.

Yet another example. We all have an inner critic, or super-ego, as we have seen, that sometimes punishes us for something it thinks we have done wrong. The virus may come to be experienced by some of us as an external representation of this internal punishing force. We are afraid it will be punishing us for our (imagined) sins.

The important thing to see here is that these deep fears of abandonment, death and punishment that I am calling our attention to, may not be in the front of our minds. They may not be conscious, but rather, because they are so painful, they may be buried in our unconscious.

Because of this, what we may experience is just that we are afraid of the virus, but nothing internal. But the tip-off may be that we may notice that our fear of the virus, when we think about it, may feel at times a bit exaggerated. So what then? The strange thing is that when we realize that part of our fear is internal, our actually fear of the external virus may start to diminish.

After all - and this is the key - as the famous British psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott once wrote: "The catastrophe we fear is the catastrophe that has already happened." In other words, part of what we fear may not be the virus itself, but rather some event that has already occurred. When we begin to get a whiff of this, the intensity of our fear may begin to diminish.

Dealing with our inner fears is a long, challenging, and ultimately very rewarding part of the spiritual path. Congratulations on reading this far.

I look forward to more contact with you.


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