When All Else Fails Sing – What we Can Learn From Italians Who Defy The Virus

Human beings need one another. Our hearts ache to connect with each other and when we can’t we do everything humanly possible to feel as if we’re connected, even if it’s for a brief moment. People need people and we’re seeing how badly we need one another more and more as we’re being asked to keep away from other people to avoid spreading this dreaded virus. While self quarantine is an important discipline, we still ache to engage our fellow human beings and it seems when we can’t do that not only do our bodies feel as if they’re under siege but our souls do as well.

This desire to connect with one another at this difficult time is being beautifully expressed in Italy. News stories around the world show videos of Italians singing to each other over their balconies as they wait out this terrible experience of self quarantine. You can watch one of these videos here. While the disease caused by this virus is bad enough, the emotional strain caused by isolation is just one more factor eating away at our human spirit. The Italians have found a way to overcome this tragedy and connect to each other through one of the most uniquely human activities one can perform. They are singing songs of hope to one another.

As I watched these videos I started to think how important it is to find ways to connect with one another during this crisis. Psychologists have done numerous studies that demonstrate the importance of human connection. Children raised in orphanages who seldom receive human touch struggle developmentally and sometimes succumb to death. Studies exploring social isolation find that the same pain centers associated with physical pain in the brain are active when an individual feels isolated and socially excluded. We need one another and when we can’t connect to each other we suffer physically, emotionally, cognitively, and socially. So the question we need to answer is how can we remain connected with other people when we’re being asked to socially disengage?

I think we need to be mindful that while many of us will be with other people because we’re quarantined with family members living in the same house there are those who live alone that won’t have that same opportunity. They may be single adults, older individuals, or people with illnesses. People who are self quarantined and living alone will feel isolated in a more profound way than those of us isolated as whole families. However, they don’t need to feel alone if we just do some simple things to stay connected to them. What can we do?

First, make phone calls to people you know who are living alone. Check in on them, ask how they’re doing, and see if there is a way you can get them anything they need. Most likely just hearing your voice will be enough to lift their spirits so they can press on another day. Phone calls are simple gestures of care that too often get pushed aside by our texting habit. During a time when people feel alone, the sound of your voice might be a better choice than the “ding” of a text.

Secondly, use Skype or some other video conferencing application to connect with those left alone. We need to see another human face, its a very important part of how we feel connected to people. Often just seeing another human being’s face gives us a sense of comfort and connectedness. Try and make that a reality through Facetime or Google Hangouts. We have the technology to connect with one another so lets try and make it happen for those who feel left alone or isolated without any option to be with people. In fact, there are numerous free video conferencing websites that a number of you can use to get people together, use them to create a virtual social gathering.

Lastly, connect with one another over social media. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. all provide some sense of connection to others. I have a friend who lives about 8 hours from me. Unfortunately he isn’t able to get out much because of his health issues. However, he spends a significant amount of time on Facebook when he can’t be with other people and often he and I engage in chats as well as share pics and memes with one another to the point where it feels like we are in the same room. In fact, after a number of shares and chats we often just call one another to talk about what we’re doing on social media. Even the most minimal engagement through technology can help us feel connected to others.

Nothing can make social isolation perfect and nothing replaces face to face human interaction. Most days we lament the fact we don’t connect in person with other people and remain disconnected through social media. However, maybe social media and technology can be the one thing that helps us keep those living alone feel connected to other people. Maybe this situation will help us reignite the desire to get off the screens we hold in our hands and actually visit with one another when this virus is contained. Ultimately, if none of this works, maybe we can learn from our friends in Italy and let that primal human expression that bubbles up within us emerge from our vocal chords. Maybe, just maybe, we need to sing. When all else fails, sing to one another and let one lonely soul cry out to another through the gift of music.

Processing Pain – The Heart of Forgiving

man holding his face
Photo by Wallace Chuck on Pexels.com

I’ve been writing a great deal about forgiveness over the past few months because I believe it’s such an important tool necessary for living a good and peaceful life. Frequently, no matter what someone comes to speak to me about as their therapist, the need to forgive someone for something seems to always come up. In fact, I use the very things we’ve been talking about as part of my daily practice so that I can be a more forgiving person.

So far, I have mentioned the importance of doing several things to be more forgiving. First, forgiveness is a choice you have to make, it’s not a feeling you have about something. Forgiveness is much like love. We can feel we love someone or something but more importantly, we can choose to love someone or something. You must choose to be a forgiving person, how you feel about that is something you work out later. We talked at length about this part of forgiveness in the post called The Choice to Experience Anger – Step 1 of the Forgiveness Process. I have also discussed how forgiving someone who hurt you means seeing them differently. Too often we see our offenders as these powerful monsters who can hurt us instead of the broken and hurt human being they actually are. Changing our view of them isn’t easy to do, so I try and help you with that part of the process in the post I called The Monster Who Hurt You – How to Start Forgiving Them. As part of forgiving our offender and seeing them in a different light, we have to start extending some level of compassion toward them or at least reduce the feelings of anger and hatred the thought of them causes us. Again, I discussed that in the post called Extending Compassion to Your Enemy – The Crucial Part of Forgiveness. I know its not easy, but is indeed part of the healing process that frees you from the past hurt they caused you. These steps are important because they help break key barriers that keep people from being more forgiving. These barriers are:

    • Our sense of justice wants us to see the other individual suffer as much as we have, but revenge seldom gives us the peace we want.
    • Too often people believe forgiveness is the same as reconciliation. You need not reconcile with the person you forgive, nor do you need to allow them to hurt you any further.
    • Sometimes people see forgiveness as a sign of weakness. Forgiveness is not weakness. It takes a great deal of strength to be a forgiving person.
    • People will avoid going through the forgiveness process because it requires you to re-experience the pain and injustice that caused you such difficulty in the first place. However, it’s important you re-experience these feelings in order to reduce their impact on you in the present.

So, if you’ve been able to work through these stages, you’re well on your way to being forgiving. What you need to do next is begin to process the pain you feel. One way I help clients do that is to ask them to make a list of the people who have hurt them. Then, list under that person each incident of interaction they’ve had with that individual that caused them pain. Most likely it wasn’t just one thing they did or said that hurt you, there are either multiple incidents or multiple aspects of what someone did that needs processed. The first step is to write it down. Then, look at each incident. Ask yourself, “why did this person do this?” “What pain or hurt in their lives caused them to act this way?” “What is it about me that makes me hurt because of what this individual has done?” “How might I evaluate this differently and in such a way that I see it as the action of a person struggling in life just like me?” Keep asking questions. If you feel hurt again, it’s okay. Think about the incident and then slowly but surely view the incident as a black and white movie. Shrink it down in your mind and visualize it as a small movie clip in black and white running on a small video screen. Notice how your body allows you to relax more and more as the image of that hurt becomes less and less real and more like a fading memory. Repeat these questions and this visualization over and over again. If you can’t visualize it, think about the dialogue. Soften the dialogue so that it becomes less and less audible and more like a bad recording from long ago. Make the voices fuzzy and difficult to hear.

Do this over and over again for the incident you decided to work on. Keep trying to understand the person who hurt you did so because they are a weak, hurting, powerless human being that found a way to avoid experiencing their weakness and powerlessness by hurting you. Let your mind transform the experience that haunts you in a way that it becomes weaker, more powerless, and more distant from you. Do this again and again until you can say with confidence you forgive the person for that one thing they’ve done to you. It may take days, weeks, months, or years, but do that over and over again until that incident is powerless and gone. Now, repeat this same process for the next incident you have on your list in relation to this person. If its one, you’re done. If you have more, keep moving through the list. Do this again and again until you process the emotions around the hurt you experience. The key to forgiving this individual is forgiving each incident you can recall that hurt you. Once you do that, you have forgiven them.

It sounds easy when you read this but it can cause a great deal of emotional trauma if the incident you’re reflecting on is exceptionally difficult. That’s why sometimes its best to do this with a good therapist. However, there are probably lighter issues that this self-reflective activity may be useful when trying to overcome emotional pain. Use it as you can and if things get tough seek out a good therapist. What is most important is to begin to let go of things that are stuck deep in your emotional self with barbed hooks and metal that just won’t let go. If you can process these feelings you can be free.

In the last post, I will share on the topic of forgiveness in this series, we will discuss how you hang on to that sense that you have forgiven someone when it feels like you never have. Often we go through this process and believe we’ve done the hard work necessary to forgive someone and something reminds us of what was done to us and it sets us off again. I want you to be able to hang on to the forgiveness you experience so look for how to maintain that forgiveness experience in our next blog post.