Photo by Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez on Unsplash
At the end of the third Corona wave, many people are longing to get back to their normal lives. First relaxations also promise that everything will be like before again. But is that what we actually want? And would it be good for us? My client in this case report is quite unsettled about this.
“I’m pretty exhausted after a year of pandemic. Home office, no business trips, hanging out at home all the time. I notice how Corona has pushed me to my limits,” said the client in the 3-h coaching session: Bernd A., 47 years old, development engineer in a medium-sized company, married, no children.
“But when I imagine everything going back to the way it was, I don’t have a good feeling either.”
Well, I thought. Isn’t that what we all want? Normality again, without a mask, going for a stroll, shopping, meeting friends, going on vacation when and how we want? Something seemed to have happened to my client in the pandemic that he didn’t want us to hit the reset button and get our old lives back.
“What was your life like before Corona that you don’t really want it back?”, I asked Bernd A.
“Stressful, too, but very different. As a development engineer, I was used to being on a plane almost every week. Coordination meetings in the U.S., product launches in China, coordination meetings with suppliers in Europe. I was constantly on the road. It’s a blast when I think about it today.”
“And for the past year, you’ve been doing most of it online from your home office?”
“Yes, exactly, and the crazy thing is, I like it a lot better because it’s much more relaxed. I sleep better, I’m calmer overall, even my wife says so.”
“And you don’t really want that hectic pace back?” , I inquire.
Natural disasters like the Corona pandemic, like wars or revolutions, have triggered behavioral changes around the world that no one could have imagined before. Keeping a distance in the supermarket, no access to restaurants, museums, concerts, public festivals, gyms. Schools and daycare centers closed, children at home all day. No one would have bet that this would be possible or enforceable.
But it was. And in a very short time.
Now we are on the verge of gradually resuming a more normal life. But do we want to? My client had his doubts about that.
“I want my old life back!”
“I often thought like that during the Corona pandemic. If only the whole nightmare would be over soon,” reported Bernd A.
“But something is making you doubt now?”, I hitched.
“As I said, the last few months our lives have also been exhausting, but somehow more fulfilling. Because of me being home so much, we’ve grown closer as a couple. Before, living together was just an extra item on my to-do list that I had to schedule in time. In our circle of friends, a teenager died from Covid-19, the father-in-law got infected, we didn’t know for weeks if he was going to make it. All of this has been a wake-up call for me. Made me realize that we all live like it just goes on and on.”
“Sou mean the threats from Corona have woken you up?”I inquired.
“Yes, I think Corona showed us all how vulnerable we are. It’s not just cyberattacks by Russian hackers or climate change that threaten us. Even a tiny, almost invisible virus can drive our entire modern lives to the wall. And it can do so worldwide, within a few weeks.”
It’s always the extraordinary that often gets us thinking. Every year, 230,000 people die of cancer in Germany. That’s not worth a headline. And advances in medicine have led many people to believe that almost all diseases are curable.
The Corona pandemic is the biggest crisis for Western Europe since World War 2. And this in several respects: medically, economically and socially. The perceived security in which many people lived after the end of the Cold War is gone. It is not the fear of the Russian, but the fear of the next virus that threatens us.
Even in the twenties of the last century, many families in large German cities experienced the death of their children. Young adults succumbed to tuberculosis, which has since been conquered in Europe. In view of the infant mortality rate, it was still said at the time that one could only expect to have a whole life ahead of one when one reached the age of majority. Since then, however, premature death has been increasingly experienced as preventable.
Corona has shown us that reliable knowledge can only ever be obtained in bits and pieces. That predictions about extent, countermeasures, and possible “victory” over the virus are almost impossible and also constantly changing.
“The forced standstill by Corona showed me what a hamster wheel I’ve been on for the last twenty years. Flying from Munich to Hamburg for a two-hour meeting? No problem. But I don’t think I want to just keep going.”
“Is there anything more you don’t want back from your old life?”, I asked.
“I couldn’t do anything with the term sustainability in my life for a long time,” answered Bernd A.
“The weekend shopping trip was actually our standard program. Meeting friends in Stuttgart on Königsstraße. First an aperitif in a hip bar, then the foray through the various stores. What we bought, we actually did not need. But we had the money, so why not?
We also took short vacation trips more often. A bridge day in sight? Come on, we’ll fly to Mallorca or Sylt on Thursday night, and we’ll be back on Sunday night! Now that it’s been so long, I can feel how hectic my life has been. Even in my free time. There was always something to be done, to be done, to be experienced.”
Something had become clear to the client through the pandemic that he disliked. But I had not yet learned anything about whether he needed my support in this, and if so, for what.
“So the pandemic has made you aware of the price you are paying for your life so far. And you’re unsure if you want to continue living that way. But what are you doing here now?”
Bernd A. became quite serious. “The problem is that I am alone with my thoughts in my environment. My parents n, my wife, my colleagues find my concerns pointless and dangerous. And now I’m beginning to doubt whether I might be getting into something.”
“What do your parents or your wife say?”,I asked the client.
“I come from a business family. There was a falling out with my father earlier when I expressed sympathy for the Fridays for Future movement.” He said that these people had no idea about real life, lived off their parents’ money, and were lazy good-for-nothings who made a lot of wind and got a lot of unwarranted media attention. He got really angry and yelled around. When I said the other day that I found working in a home office a real alternative to being in the office and having lots of nonsensical meetings, he got abusive again. Came up with the argument that business travel was necessary for the entire economy because otherwise airlines, hotels, restaurants and cab drivers wouldn’t earn anything.”
“How did you feel when your father dismissed you and your thoughts like that?”, I asked.
“Oh, I’m used to it from a young age. He’s a patriarch of the old school. His word is law. There’s no point in contradiction. My mother realized that early on and keeps a low profile.”
“And your wife isn’t on your side either?” I wanted to know.
“Not really. Her parents were entrepreneurs, too, and she’s been used to luxury from an early age. Of course, I wanted to give her that in our marriage, too. I worked a lot and we could afford a nice life. But she does not want to cut back on that. She suffered a lot from the isolation during the pandemic, almost became a bit depressed, and now wants to make up for everything.”
When the old life doesn’t fit anymore.
The age-old quote about “crisis as opportunity” applies to the Corona pandemic as well. The massive restrictions can prompt one to look at everyday life from a completely different perspective. Crisis makes us see the world and ourselves in a new way, including what we need and don’t need – in our daily structure, our home, our relationships and our lives.
It offers the opportunity to let go of or change many things that no longer work or are coherent for us.
“What specific changes have you made now during this crisis?”, I asked the client.
“I think what I had to learn first and foremost was to accept what is instead of fighting my idea of how life and the world should be. Because that only led to stress, fatigue and exhaustion.
I found new rituals in the pandemic, for example, I now often do half an hour of yoga after getting up, following a YouTube video, for my back pain, because regular visits to my physical therapist were not possible for a long time.
Corona has taught me to live more in the moment. What do I want right now? What’s going on right now?
I used to have a tight sports program, going to the gym twice a week. Twice a week I jogged for half an hour in the evening to clear my head. Today, I feel out more often, what form of exercise would feel good right now?”
“That all sounds very positive at first,” I found.
“Yes, aBut that was the beginning of my new problems. Because I asked myself, where did my old life stress me out? What do I now appreciate about the new slowness? And am I allowed to keep it at all? Where was I being dictated to by others everywhere? And what would a life that I was more in charge of look like?
I had an idea why these meaningful and creative impulses got my client into trouble.
“What does your wife say about your new thoughtfulness?”, I wanted to know.
“She doesn’t want to hear about it and thinks it’s crankery. All her friends and acquaintances wanted their old lives back, and as soon as possible. And that would come back soon, too. She’s already poring over travel brochures again.”
“Maybe your wife is getting scared that one day you won’t function as smoothly as you did all those years before.”
“Yes, I think so too. I once talked to her about my thoughts on whether I really wanted to work fifty or sixty hours a week in the future. Then she became quite silent and icy.”
“And how did you interpret that?”, I asked Bernd A.
“Of course, she inwardly asked herself whether and how we could then continue our previous lifestyle. I concluded that because a day later my father called and inquired how long I intended to rest in the home office. He actually said that!
When I tried to explain to him that I wasn’t resting there but actually thinking about how I wanted to work in the future, he exploded again. He said that in times of crisis, it’s not about what you want, but what is necessary. And that after Corona we would all have to make a massive effort again to make up for what we had missed, that was as clear as day.”
“How did you feel after the phone call with your father?” I asked Bernd A.
“Not good. I was unsettled. I do notice that I am less goal-oriented, also less performance-oriented. This makes my life calmer and more relaxed overall but it also worries me. What if this sluggishness affects other areas, especially my job?”
In training courses to become a psychoanalyst, the “initial interview seminar” is one of the most important components. In it, candidates should learn to grasp how a certain “scene” unfolds already in the first contact with a patient.
This is created by the way in which the relationship is established and the conversation is structured. This is because early clues to the client’s unconscious conflicts are usually hidden here. In order for such information to be perceived and understood, it is important not to determine the contact with the patient with one’s own interests and goals or to disturb it with irrelevant questions.
Helpful for this is the development of a certain inner attitude of the therapist. This leads to a special kind of listening, which the psychoanalyst Theodor Reik described as “listening with the third ear”. This involves a listening that does not refer literally to what is said, “but listens into the joints and cracks of what is said, which can open a door to what was not consciously thought before.”
The same is true, of course, of the coaching conversation. I was be
i Bernd A. noticed how much his feelings and considerations regarding the consequences caused him by…
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