Just as we were getting over Covid…………………… Putin messes it all up.
Most of us were affected emotionally at least on some level by the pandemic.
So much has been written about the mental health impact of it, including here.
And then, just as the world could look up, de-mask and breathe a sigh of relief filled with common humanity and the potential of connecting with our fellow humans around the globe in collective recovery………………….Putin ordered his troops into Ukraine.
We don’t know what the orders were. Some say the Russian soldiers were told they were just in training exercises. In any case, there is now a new and horrible collective grief and horror at the suffering, death, and destruction caused by the war in Ukraine.
Some of us thrived despite the Coronavirus Pandemic. Through huge efforts and work on our mental wellbeing, we quickly learned to accept that it was a reality. Acceptance, as I have written about here before, is a key part of having emotions while not suffering because of those emotions.
So we learnt acceptance.
Accepting our emotions and allowing them to just sit there within us instead of pushing them away or shoving them into our box of ‘never to be revisited feelings’ , is way more effective than resisting them.
You know when you try not to feel something like anxiety or sadness, it just comes back bigger and stronger to get you.
Even if you assume zombie, emotion-less mode through alcohol or drugs or even just through binge-watching Netflix, once the numbness wears off, it still hurts, and sometimes it hurts even more because we haven’t accepted any of the pain.
This war is different on so many levels albeit it is still another global crisis.
For one thing, this time there is a perpetrator.
So while our minds have to deal with familiar emotions like anxiety, fear, and despair. We now have anger to add to the mix. Helplessness, hopelessness, and guilt are in there too.
The Three circles of control
There is a prayer called the Serenity Prayer which is by far one of the most famous prayers that were written in the 1800s by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971).
Its popularity grew even more in the 1940s when Alcoholics Anonymous took up using a shortened version for its recovery program.
The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
In Counselling Psychology, there is a concept called circles of control, that helps us to understand and reflect on how close things that affect us are to our influence.
The idea here is that some things – many things happen that are entirely beyond your influence, so your energy is better focused on things that you can influence.
In the central circle are things that we can control. Although it may take effort and instruction, we can make changes here for the better. This includes the most important thing of all: our mind.
With good instruction, we can change our minds. Mindfulness can rapidly move our chaotic way of thinking and reflexive way of behaving into an easy and methodical way of thinking and a way of behaving which is reflective rather the reflexive. I.e. we decide our reactions to things.
The middle ring contains things over which we have a small amount of control. This will include many things: our friends, family, jobs, habits, and daily life. Through compassion, self-compassion, kindness, and purposeful actions, we can have an enormously beneficial effect on the people around us. Sometimes just giving off good vibes can be palpably calming for those around us. Other times, a change in our daily habits can turn our profound sadness into joy. I say this from the experience of experiencing horrific tragedy and soon afterward feeling blissful about tiny things surrounding me.
The outer ring is made up of things we cannot control.
Vladimir Putin is going to pursue his military agenda whatever you or I think, do or say, so this sits in our outer circles, beyond any kind of control we might have.
So, how can we just accept it?
We see the Ukrainian people resist and fight back with unfathomable resilience and bravery.
The public awareness thanks to Zelensky keeping Ukraine in the forefront of the minds of everyone around the globe is phenomenal.
We’re angry and want to se Putin accountable.
Acceptance is not about sitting here like a blancmange doing nothing and saying “Que sera, sera”.
It’s not about being complacent and ineffectual.
Acceptance is about feeling that anger and maybe pure unadulterated hatred for the perpetrators of human tragedy, and accepting that we feel that way.
So we can have all that anger within us, for obvious reasons, and still, be kind to those in our inner circle (ourselves) and our middle circle.
We can donate cash with gift aid, we can drive a truckload of blankets to Poland, all the time allowing ourselves to feel anger, grief, and the excitement that comes with being proactive all at the same time.
By accepting our plethora of emotions one by one, maybe we will be more effective and courageous in the long run in changing the things we can and being wise to the things we can’t.