28 Mar

How Coronavirus is collective trauma

We are in a wild time filled with uncertainty. At this point, it is likely that everyone in the country is somehow impacted by Coronavirus. We are unsure of our work situations, unclear on how to remain physically safe, and possibly panicked about how we are going to get the basic home necessity of toilet paper. Never before have we, as a modern and advanced society, all undergone something so treacherously terrifying as a rampant illness that keeps spreading– no matter how much information we have or how much social distancing we practice. 

This is what is called collective trauma. Usually, trauma is individually defined, unique and specific to a person, place, and situation. Not now. I walk out my front door and feel the palpable, collective anxiety. It’s like a hushed breath, waiting for what might happen next. And this breath is being held not just in my neighborhood in Colorado, but across the entire globe. Even further, this communal experience can actually enhance our terror and isolation rather than make us feel known and comforted; that’s collective trauma. It impacts us all.  

And yet, as we engage this crisis, we all do so specifically. I would argue that we are all responding to COVID-19 in the same way we have responded (or wished we could have responded) to harm during our developmental years. Maybe it is hoarding supplies like paper goods, canned foods, and anything else to keep your heart rate barely contained. Could this be because, at an earlier time, you were left wanting in some area of your life and thus promised never to be left vulnerable again? It could be through ravaging through information, voraciously ingesting news stories at a lightning-speed pace. Might this be a response to feeling that, as a child, if you simply had enough information, maybe you could prevent yourself from experiencing any more harm? Your posture might also look like feigned – or felt – indifference, wondering why everyone is making such a big fuss about this little illness. Is it possible that in your story, making a ‘big deal’ never got you the attention or care you wanted, birthing the futility of, ‘why try anyway?’ 

These are only a few examples. For me personally, I have found a tendency to unify and bond my community as I see people war on opposing sides, resurfacing the way I acted as a sort of accordion for relationships in younger years–pulling and pushing to keep everyone on the same page. Because then, if everyone was happy and connected, I could escape potential abandonment. 

These are not easy topics to have bubbling up as you are likely confined in close quarters, unable to use work, socializing, or any other activity as a balm to soothe your angst. And yet this is where we find an invitation. Can we use this time to examine these deeper questions, and look more closely at ourselves? Because that may lead us to the lessons we truly need to learn in this crisis.

Tricia Ebel, LPC regularly works with clients who have experienced trauma and traumatic experiences. She quickly recognized the need to care for clients who have experienced past trauma during this global pandemic, but also the need to care for those who will be newly experiencing trauma and protect them from greater harm. If you would like to speak with Tricia, or any of our counselors, please call our front desk at (720) 489-8555 or click here to request an appointment.

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