Almost everyone I know has been talking about how the world has changed as we cover our faces with masks and stand 6 feet apart from each other and jump if anyone mindlessly comes near us. We have been reflecting on feeling disconnected to each other as we hide behind our laptop screens via zoom and skype, trying to stay connected professionally and personally. We have been missing meeting up our family and friends as freely as before. A little birdie told me that many are missing the selfies and numerous postings on social media of a happy life.

I invite you all to think with an open mind about how you related to each other before the corona days. What were your social interactions like? How invested were you in your relationships; personal and professional? Are we seriously fooling ourselves imagining that social distancing has started now?

When I moved to Islamabad, out of fear of loneliness, I jumped into the social scene and fully invested myself in making new friends. What stood out for me was that in spite of the numerous get togethers I attended, I didn’t get the chance to know anyone more than their names and maybe a little bit more, yet my Facebook wall was filled with countless pictures we had taken with each other. And the funny thing was that more than a casual “kia haal” which is a fragment and not even a full sentence, hours were spent just getting the perfect picture and with no innate desire to know each other.

Needless to say, I felt lonelier than before and being mostly camera shy all my life, the socialising I realised wasn’t my piece of cake. Lucky for me, I discovered my career and the journey of becoming a therapist consumed me. Most importantly, I started traveling on the road to self-awareness and the realisation that connecting to my real self was the key to being more connected with others.

At the risk of sounding judgmental but speaking more from a curious place, I feel we had never been more disconnected in our lives before the pandemic. And this disconnect emerges from our disconnect with our own selves as we surrender to our false self that we have created based on our ambition, material goals, relationship criteria successes and career targets. The funny thing is that we might think they are our goals but in most cases, we have inherited them from others including family and life experiences. I consciously choose to call it false but before I get into what it means and what a real self would look like let’s understand what ‘self’ means.

Self refers to who I think I am in this world, who I consider myself to be and how others see me. The traits might be encapsulated in a shortlist of all-encompassing features that I find important.

The real self would be who we are meant to be without the years of conditioning, inherited values and ideas from family and life experiences. Here I am not discounting that the parenting and life experiences would form the real self, but it would include healthy conditions like universal values of honesty for example, or to be loved and nurtured consistently by primary caregivers.

On the other end, the ‘false self’ emerges as we are exposed to difficult circumstances like trauma, abuse, unhealthy unstable parenting and to fight the emotional pain we start developing defence mechanisms which become part of our false self. Defence mechanisms are behaviours people use to separate themselves from unpleasant events, actions, or thoughts and thus create the psyche of false self.

An example would be someone who uses denial to forget what happened in their lives and present a false happy self by throwing parties and presenting an exultant front, not acknowledging the sadness they have experienced. This would not stop the unprocessed parts to play out in other ways like psychosomatic disorders or superficial relationships with others.

This is the time for deeper exploration to see who you truly are, to take out the demons from the closets or more importantly to start being honest with yourself. A good starting point would be asking yourself if you imagine you were born this way? Aren’t you curious to know who else you could have been had those dysfunctional experiences not taken place? Experiencing pain is universal to all human beings and even a single experience can contribute to the forming of the false self.

Start the relationship with yourself first and this would lead to more healthy and connected relationships with others. And when that happens no zoom or skype or lockdown will come in the way!