What happens when, in this time of pandemic shelter-in-place, one roommate, partner, mate, best friend keeps pushing the boundaries?  “It won’t hurt to …”. “These rules are overdone anyway.”  “They don’t expect everybody to follow them.”  

They are more likely to get in a grocery line even if they are well past seventy.  Or twenty-somethings heading to a beach party.  This can get them in trouble, sure, but here’s the behavior that can get all of us in trouble.  It doesn’t just fall on them, it falls on all.

There are cultural ingredients here—  The American rugged individualist.  Emersonian self reliance and all that.  Independence over interdependence.  In moderation, these traits can be highly effective.  They’ve led to creativity in the arts, sciences, and industry.  Even in this extraordinary circumstance,  individualism  can be an excellent trait— scientific research, creative ways to cope,  the creative and now necessary redesign of social institutions.  

Another dynamic happens for the compliant.  They pretty much follow the rules.  Safer there.  There’s less anxiety on this side of the line.  Perhaps this comes from the ability to visualize the catastrophic results if they, their friends, and/or their family get sick.  They can get annoyed and angry when their roommate, family member, partner pushes the limits.  On one hand this compliance is a useful safety measure, a governor on the system.  On the other, it can become like a harpy, an annoying car alarm that after a while everybody simply ignores.  Ineffective.

Negotiating these two styles is tricky.  Especially in these emergency conditions.

On a microlevel, at home, at one’s apartment, condo, it gets complicated.  These living spaces can be mini safety blankets.  Home Base.  Womb-like.  They also can be toxic pressure cookers.  The lone wolf negotiating with the compliant can disintegrate into a something destructive fairly quickly.  For the independent, their identity is at risk.  For the compliant, their body is at risk.

At worst these two styles simply clash, rotating between anger and hurt, need and avoidance.  The isolation of shelter in place and quarantine decreases the moderating influences of others.  

Some steps toward a shelter in place dialogue: 

1.  Acknowledge our vulnerability and helplessness in this pandemic.  We are all at risk; we are all vulnerable.  Begin the conversation based on honesty rather than contention.

2.  Catch the anger as it arises.   Anger is an expression of frustration and fear.   Giving voice to the underlying feelings allows the other to engage in a non defensive way.  Step back.  Breath.  Beforehand, think through what you want to accomplish in the dialogue.

3.  “You always…” “You never…” These fighting techniques pin the other down rather than open up a dialogue and negotiations.  

4. Make sure you have taken care of yourself before you begin the negotiations.  You are less likely to lay your emotional turbulence on the other.

5. We all need trusted people to check in with in these times.  This can range from a family member, best friend, AA sponsor,  perhaps a common sense work companion.  

6. Sometimes a blow out can be helpful.  Things have finally built up to the point that it needs to be released.  Extended isolation afterward is damaging.  The sorting out of the feelings and issues, the ‘debriefing’ can be a positive payoff.  

7. Cut a deal with your in-house group:  it’s ok to step back from solving these problems.  Long debates typically end poorly.  Keep it short, then move on.

8.  Reach out via social media.  Share your experiences.  Ask what others are doing.  Ask how others are doing.  Join a sing a long.  

9.  Conversely, pull away from the ongoing interactions.  Be by yourself for a bit.  Meditate. Draw.  Fix something by yourself.  Dance in the mirror.

10.   As Nelson Mandela said—“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”   

Go easy, folks.

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