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The Unexpected Consequences of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Experiencing the Extraordinary in the Ordinary – Robin Halpern, LCSW, DCSW & Hank Blumfarb, LCSW

We’ve been giving some thought to how people are coping during this pandemic and we’ve discovered one trend that stands out.

For some, there’s been an unexpected improvement in personal and community resilience. Of course, some people have unfortunately found otherwise, but may still go on to discover this source of resilience within themselves and learn how to become more aware of their post-traumatic growth.

In addition to the emotional, health and financial casualties of this pandemic, there have also been the unintended consequences of being forced to cope with this traumatic event.

From physical-distancing came global connection via digital media. There have also been positive life-affirming and truly creative solutions to the various challenges with which we’ve had to contend.

Opportunities to participate in online activities for work, social connections, creativity, learning and entertainment has significantly increased.

Some of these cyber-connections have proven so successful, that they will most likely continue long after the pandemic subsides despite being able to return to in-person gatherings.

If necessity can be the mother of invention, then the limitations brought on by the pandemic, have resulted in a number of inventive solutions to the many hardships we’ve had to endure.

To reiterate, activities such as virtual learning of all kinds, music, art and theatrical events as well as the opportunity to meet and share ideas with people worldwide are examples of some of the more positive unintended outcomes.

What has come out of this for many people has been seeing that these alternative ways of living and working actually are a better fit for them. Going forward, they may decide to alter their lives in ways that they had never before thought possible or hadn’t ever occurred to them.

People have been learning about aspects of themselves that they otherwise wouldn’t have felt the need to explore. Some of these emotional challenges have been difficult to navigate on ones own and that journey has been made less lonely and more manageable by broadening one’s online social supports and encountering the kindness of strangers who have been similarly affected. We’re all impacted both similarly as well as differently due to our varying circumstances. It would be useful for us to try to suspend judgment of ourselves and others in evaluating how one is coping. Like in any crisis the loss of internal and external supports need to be replenished.

There are those that have benefited from speaking to a mental health professional via one to one or group teletherapy.

It behooves us to remain alert to any manifestation of the silver-lining that may surface from this globally-shared crisis. Please let us know, by submitting a comment on our website, if you’ve noticed any unexpected silver-linings in this most disruptive universal cloud. In the language of interpersonal neurobiology, we’re dependent on one-another to self-regulate and comfort ourselves in order to take constructive action.

We find this framework useful in understanding what we all share as human-beings. We depend on ourselves and on others to accomplish the following three tasks: protection, soothing and empowerment.

1. PROTECTION – individually and with others, we remain alert to ferret out danger and to protect ourselves from these threats.

2. SOOTHING – this involves comforting ourselves and/or others when hyper-activated or hypo activated.

3. EMPOWERMENT – to behave in ways that allows us to pursue our goals and interests, especially when obstacles interfere.

Whether you can resonate with any or all of this, feel free to tap into your own and/or other’s resources and you may discover compelling and resilient aspects of yourself that you had not previously been aware of.

Below is an ancient story about the unexpected upside of one’s response to their perceived flaws. Many of us may relate to this as we have come to learn about our resilience, resourcefulness and inventiveness as a result of having being subjected to this unforeseen calamity.

The Cracked Pot
(author unknown)
A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years, this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water in his master’s house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you”. The bearer asked, “Why? What are you ashamed of?” The Pot replied, “For these past two years I am able to deliver only half of my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house. Because of my flaws, you don’t get full value for your efforts”.

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion, he said, “As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.” As they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it somewhat. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house.”

Moral: Each of us has our own unique flaws. We’re all cracked pots. In this world, nothing goes to waste. You may think like the cracked pot, that you are inefficient or useless in certain areas of your life, but somehow these flaws can turn out to be a blessing in disguise.”

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