There’s a lot of theories of psychology. If I tried it enumerate them, the list would long. The one that comes to mind when looking at folks’ reaction to this pandemic, including my own, is attachment theory. See John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, and others.
This approach suggests there are different ways we attach to loved ones early on, and then how we relate to the social world as we grow older. These patterns of behavior are broken into four approaches: Secure, Avoidant, Anxious/Ambivalent, and Unresolved/Disorganized.
Let’s see how these might line up with one’s relationship to the Covid-19 pandemic, especially in terms of living with the unknown, ‘shelter in place,’ and mortality.
Secure: I am not easily frightened, am not particularly worried about being abandoned or fearful in matters of intimacy. In chaotic and frightening situations, one can expect a reasonably resilient response. Of course, this person can become upset, but there is shorter recovery time. The deep enclosure of quarantine and mandated social distance from some and in house physical intimacy with others are problematic, but the problem solving skills of the securely attached come to the fore. This is an autonomous reaction.
Avoidant: I am nervous in close contact with others, I don’t like to trust others, and I really really don’t like to depend on others. The avoidant’s response is to be dismissive. Each new situation for the avoidant becomes a challenge to maintain independence and self reliance. Because this pandemic has so many unknowns and has jammed roommates, friends, and family members into close quarters, the style’s response would be to retreat and be dismissive of the dangers and seriousness of this pandemic. This retreat would look like isolating and/or anger if pushed to interact. In response to the pandemic, their avoidance could lead them into a “Minimizer” approach.
Anxious: The anxiously attached are preoccupied with their relationships. Constantly worried about the stability of my social world, I anxiously want social contact and reassurance, and am disappointed and hurt if that reassurance does not arrive. This attachment style would feel highly pained that we are now mandated to have ‘Social Distance.’ Here, anxiety and preoccupation would be the key themes— worry about family, friends, the world. Of course, one must be concerned about these, but to be effective in this global crisis, it is crucial to recover from the worry and be able to manage the problems. In response to the pandemic, this anxiety could lead them into a “Maximizer” way of coping.
Unresolved/Disorganized: Typically, this attachment style is a result of trauma and chaos. Here there are tremendous swings of sense of identity, intense inner chaos, and extremes in differing responses to the world. Coerced quarantine and the lack of safety would suggest a fair amount of disruptive actions for this person and some amount of distress for those in close proximity to them.
These attachment styles are vastly general, but they are a way to think through our own reactions to this rapidly changing and frightening world. They can also be signposts for healing change. More about that next time.
Go easy, folks.