A “New Normal”?

The most striking ecological effect of the Corona crisis created is clean air. We are now forced to contemplate whether we want to return to the “old” normal of pollution.

The Corona experience affords an opportunity to clear the air in emotions and relations as well. Our lives have been released from “defaults” and inertia, colloquially called “same old same old.” There is a unique and unanticipated therapeutic opportunity here. Last week we took a look at the opportunity to reflect on the recent past. Today I am inviting a look at the near future.

“Foresight” has always been recognized as a crucial component of therapeutic change. In our studies, we have recognized this concept as part of the process of “Mentalization” put forward by Peter Fonagy in the first part of this century. You will hopefully recall that this process involves a move from what “is” to what” could be.” It includes “playfulness” with reality. We can valorize our clients taking such a playful view of their reality just now, as that reality presses less firmly upon them. What would they wish for now? For example, returning to challenging relations at work or school, what would they wish that they could change about their relations and emotions? How could they imagine a different script? What could make the desired changes possible? 

I hope you can see how mentalization connects with the “I-position” of differentiation. My playfulness expresses me authentically, before I either give in to pressures of others or put pressure on others to conform to my wishes. In a couple, leaving the Corona cocoon could provide a “reset” for giving priority to communication about feelings and wishes. Could a couple become more playful both as spouses and as parents? Could they “make believe” that there is a lockdown once a month? Could dyadic co-creational time with each child become more of a priority?

The above comments relate to families blessed with a higher level of differentiation, where the intersubjective realm may have been given a boost by the lockdown. However, for many of our clients there may be first a need for recovery. Some families will have experienced (and may still be experiencing) extreme economic insecurity. Some families have lost their regulatory security and have drifted into violence or abuse. And we must recognize that addictions, especially alcohol, may have been a side product of the lockdown. For these families, whose level of differentiation may have drifted downwards, we may function as a sturdy anchor by our insistent recalling a higher level of function, and we can help to pull back towards the “old” normal. 

At The Family Institute we are also thinking about a new “normal.” We have gained valuable experience with remote work which may create changes in how we regard these options in the future. We have been most impressed and very gratified by the commitment of all of our therapists to maintaining contact with clients. It has been through a great effort on the part of the entire staff that I think we can say that the Institute has pulled through well, in training and in treatment. We have learned much about making and communicating decisions and working on “co-creations” at all levels. For this I am personally grateful beyond words.