Ways forward as we continue to isolate ourselves to protect our communities.
Human beings are social animals. This means that we are vulnerable as alienation from others causes us deep pain and loneliness. It seems hugely hopeful that this vulnerability also gives us a huge capacity to thrive even in very difficult circumstances, as our deepest sense of safety comes from being accepted and nurtured by the people around us. Indeed, for children, it seems like the emotional world created by their parents is more important than anything else - even the very real threats and concerns that surround us in the outside world. For parents, it can sometimes feel like a lot of pressure to know how important they are for their children even as they are struggling with troubles and worries of their own. Practicing compassionate communication, where we make brave empathetic guesses about people‘s feelings and needs can be one way of finding the connections that sustain us and enrich our lives.
Even though connection with other people seems to be a very important human need, it’s also true that humans don't cope well with boredom, even living with a small number of other people who are close to us can become monotonous. While many of us might usually choose to spend time with the people we live with, when we cannot get away from those around us it can lead to feelings of suffocation and tension. These difficult feelings can easily spill out into angry exchanges. Astronauts and Polar Explorers have experiences of close confinement which can suggest helpful ways forward. These people have found that it is important to identify areas of personal space for each member of the household to retreat to in times of aggravation or frustration. If everyone in the household knows that they don’t interrupt or bother someone when that person is in their personal space, it can foster a sense of freedom and autonomy even in very restricted environments. The possibility of planned breaks can leave everyone more open to emotional connection at another time.
Supportive households have the tough job of balancing both connection and space for all their members. Again, Astronauts and Polar Explorers have found that harmonious interactions in tough situations don’t happen by chance. Their experiences suggest some approaches can help a lot with the inevitable frustrations that living closely with others brings. It can help to have an agreement that if someone is getting annoyed, they can talk through the issue that is getting to them in an open conversation before tempers flare. Often, we are not taught how to go about having these sorts of upfront conversations so lots of people worry that bringing things up will only end up with a lot blame and shame - but no solution. Non-blaming when-then phrases can help raise a difficult issue, e.g. "When there is washing up in the sink then I feel irritated because I can't get a drink without having to tidy up first.” Recruiting others to the solution can also develop positive ways forward, for instance, it might be possible to ask ‘…so if you see something in the sink, could you wash up just one thing?’ or ‘Can you think of some other things that might help?’
Hopefully these ideas for balancing connection and space will not only be useful during these strange times of challenge and change, but will also continue to help us all live harmoniously together even when we move back into more normal ways of living.