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We’re All in This Together

These are frightening times, but shared experience can connect us to others.

E. A. Segal
Source: E. A. Segal

We human beings are social creatures, in part by necessity, and in part by choice. We need to be cared for by others for years after our birth, setting in motion our deep connection to others.

As we age, we develop autonomy and at times can choose distance over closeness. But even during those times of distance, such as moving far away from family for school or a job, we can choose to stay connected to others. We make friends, join social groups, are part of work teams, and in those ways, we are connected. And now comes our new normal, social distancing.

Social distancing breaks our sense of connection

Being sure to limit physical contact and staying at least six feet away from others is not natural for us. Social distancing by its very definition is the opposite of connection. Being removed from others and not being allowed to gather together in groups is very difficult for human beings. It reinforces a sense of aloneness, and not of being part of a group or community.

Even though keeping social distance makes great sense given the highly contagious nature of this virus, it is foreign to our sense of humanity. So how can we deal with this? There is no easy answer.

Ways to shrink the sense of social distance

  1. Know you are not alone. For the first time in history, we are experiencing a crisis simultaneously across our local communities, our states, our country, our world. Although the scope of this virus is mind-boggling, it also links us as human beings because we are all going through the same thing.
  2. See the bigger picture — we are all in this together. This is one of the very rare instances when a major event is shared across the globe. Tackling social distancing can be done by broadening the lens of how we view our lives. Social media helps us to see how people are dealing with this crisis in other parts of the world — collectively singing on their balconies at a set hour or thanking first responders and health care professionals with clapping from windows at the same time.
  3. Connect with others in any way that you can — phone, text, video. Use the time to catch up with people you never seem to have enough time to call. Take a walk and say hello to others, from a safe distance away. Smile and others will smile back, it is our natural inclination of mirroring.
  4. Tap into your empathy. Understanding what others are feeling can help you to step outside yourself, and as a result, also understand your own feelings. Take the perspective of others, and then use that knowledge to respond. If you can feel and understand another person’s fear, you can help to soothe them, and by doing so, you can soothe yourself too.
  5. Accept that these are very difficult times. It’s okay to be realistic. Losing a job is very real, struggling to pay your bills is very stressful, and staying healthy is a constant worry. Know that these are major problems, but not of your own doing. You are not to blame. While you are being compassionate to others, be sure to be compassionate to yourself.

Empathy for others gives us empathy for ourselves

I wish there were some magic potion that could be given to all of us today to eradicate this virus, and maybe someday there will be. But for now, if we can hold onto the links we have with others and know that we are not alone in this, we can tap into our empathic side. And when we use our empathy, we can touch others with kindness and compassion.

Understanding another person’s fear or pain and responding with care not only helps that person, but it touches us, too. Caring about others — sharing kindness and compassion — helps us to feel our own sense of worth and connection to others. And we can all use more kindness and compassion during these frightening times.

More from Elizabeth A. Segal, Ph.D.
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More from Elizabeth A. Segal, Ph.D.
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