COVID-Related Dissonance

The competing feelings of fear and desire to connect during a pandemic.

Posted Nov 01, 2020

Courtesy of Pexels, August de Richelieu
Source: Courtesy of Pexels, August de Richelieu

Baumeister and Leary (1995), share that “…human beings have a pervasive drive to form and maintain at least a minimum quantity of lasting, positive, and significant interpersonal relationships” (p. 497). Two criteria must be met to satisfy this drive, which include consistent pleasant interactions with these connections and interactions that involve concern for one another’s welfare (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). Forming close relationships with others can enhance our well-being and serve as a protective factor against stress.

People that are responsive to us during times of need promote a sense of attachment security, which is related to the belief that the world is generally safe and can or should be explored (Shaver, & Mikulincer, 2007). People who are securely attached seek support from others, develop and use coping strategies, and are able to tolerate stress (Mikulincer, 1998). This attachment security serves as a buffer against stress across the lifespan.

Forming stable connections has a profound effect on the individual, and can definitely help in dealing with the fears associated with a worldwide pandemic, however competing information regarding being in proximity to others can further complicate seeking physical connection to these loved ones.

During the pandemic, social distancing guidelines warn us to steer clear of physical contact to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Recent news articles note that informal family gatherings are likely major contributors to driving the spread, and caution us to think twice before making our visits. However, people want comfort from family members, fatigue has set in, and people simply miss their old routines which involve seeing their loved ones and being in their presence.

There is tension between wanting to be near loved ones, not only to see them, but to take comfort from them during this incredibly unsettling time and the fear associated with spreading or contracting the virus from them. Dissonance is created as a result of both wanting to seek comfort from, and distancing to protect, family members. Below are a few tips for how to handle these opposing desires.

  1. Clearly establish boundaries and explain your reasons for them. If you don’t feel comfortable seeing a loved one given the risk involved, let that person know.
  2. Prioritize close relationships with family and friends and connect virtually as a safer alternative to meeting in person.
  3. If you do choose to physically see a family member, use safety precautions such as wearing a mask, meeting outside, and maintaining at least 6 feet of distance.
  4. Reframe your risk aversion as loving protection and know that by avoiding physical contact, you are securing the ability to maintain the health and well-being of those important to you.

However you choose to connect during this time, maintain the relationships you value and support one another, which doesn’t always require physical proximity. 


Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497-529.

Mikulincer, M. (1998). Adult attachment style and affect regulation: Strategic variations in self-appraisals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(2), 420-435.

Shaver, P. R., & Mikulincer, M. (2007). Adult Attachment Strategies and the Regulation of Emotion. In J. J. Gross (Ed.), Handbook of emotion regulation (p. 446–465). The Guilford Press.