When we are hit by trauma, as human beings, most of us tend to divide life into two parts; life before the trauma and life after it. We draw reference to the before to draw safety from it and the latter to fantasise about the possibility of even better times. These days everything seems to be before corona and what would it be like after corona.

A common issue that many people have been experiencing is that there are more fights and arguments since the lockdown between couples and within families. As a therapist understanding and working with the whys and hows of human behaviour for some years now, I refuse to blame this on COVID-19.

I have new clients reaching out for therapy these days presenting issues primarily around toxic family relationships. There is more conflict, depression and a generalised state of anxiety, which isn’t just about the outside situation, but an internal state that triggers it.

Recently, a couple contacted me, overwhelmed by the emotions they were feeling, stating how after fifteen years of a peaceful marriage, they have started to hate each other’s guts overnight. Again, the popular belief is that because everyone is in quarantine this is an outcome of that but through the therapeutic process, they realised that the issues were always there but distractions of life helped them cope.

I agree that with the lack of personal space, everyone seems to be in each other’s faces. There isn’t enough ‘me time’ for people but then one does question the safety of these relationships that are being shaken with proximity and more contact.

As human beings, our primary instinct is to avoid pain; physical or emotional so the coping mechanisms that we all have keep us from running away. COVID-19 just took the distraction away from everyone and forced them to stop looking outside and start looking inwards, which is overwhelming and causing more fights, lashing out etc.

In my line of work, symptoms of anxiety and depression are the most common complaints. What I realised was that we feel the most anxious and depressed when we are tired of living our lives through presenting a self that is not true to us. A child is born with their core real self and then over the years, many factors play a role in taking us away from who we were meant to be. This trauma can be: child abuse, harsh parenting, social conditioning etc.

Then at some point of life the adult starts feeling anxious and depressed because he/she is tired of living through a false self that isn’t true to him/her. Imagine wearing something that is totally against your dress sense and forced to go to the fanciest party wearing that, how anxious and agitated would one feel?

I meet people living lives at years on end unaware of who they are but carrying some fantasy of who they want to be, distracting themselves from their own real selves with lies and fooling themselves into thinking they are living a fully functional life.

And now this lockdown has forced them to look inside and acknowledge their feelings of anger, sadness and regret and because there isn’t enough support to understand this process like therapy maybe, they start projecting these feelings to people around them and start blaming them and holding them responsible. The biggest cause of unhealthy toxic relationships is this dumping of one’s own baggage onto others. If you are someone always finding faults in others, chances are that the issue is with you.

This is the juncture of life where conflict is the greatest. Do I take the risk and find myself, but then do I fully even know what ‘myself’ is and will people around me accept it? Ask yourself when you suddenly feel a surge of anger or sadness if it really belongs to the external situation or are you projecting your own difficult undesirable feelings onto your loved ones.

This is where a mental health professional comes in and supports this journey of transformation for the individual to heal and grow. Many will argue about the usefulness of therapy or the affordability of it, which is valid, but if that’s not an option at least allow yourself to feel those emotions.

Remember that they belong to you and own them with grace and humility. As Carl Jung says, “the privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”

Zara Maqbool

The writer is a UK-CPCAB (Counseling and Psychotherapy Awarding Body) registered individual and couple psycho therapist based in Islamabad. She can be reached at zaramaqbool@yahoo.com