Many survivors of childhood abuse and neglect have an ongoing ache to belong, an unassuaged longing for the warmth of secure attachment. We develop strategies both to hide our vulnerable hearts and to reach out for connection. We hide our core self to be acceptable and we expose our rawness to be visible.
Belong right now
We think of belonging as something other people give or withhold from us, something we have to earn from them. We can choose to turn that around. We already belong as humans, as dwellers in a specific place, as descendants of specific people. We fundamentally belong because we exist as part of this earth.
Our heartbreak about not being loved the way we needed and deserved can co-exist with the deep knowing that we belong right here, right now, in this body, in this place. No matter how temporary, precarious, unpleasant, or rejecting our surrounding circumstances are, we have a birthright of belonging already inside us.
Care for community
From that place of belonging and rootedness right here, right now, we have the honor and responsibility to care for our community: the land, animals, and people around us.
Care takes many forms in response to the needs of the moment. In this time of global pandemic with the airborne virus that causes COVID-19, there is one urgent action we can all take. Wear a mask. Cover your face every time you leave your home for any reason. Wear it over your nose and mouth, and for best protection, do not fuss with it once you have put it on.
Protect yourself and others
If you live in a place that took early, strong action to quell the virus completely, like New Zealand or Mongolia, then look to your community to guide you on mask wearing. One reason those countries have been successful is that almost everyone acted together to protect their community. If you live in a place where the virus has subsided but is still quietly circulating, you are probably already wearing a mask. Keep it up!
If you live in a place where the virus is raging unchecked, like many states in the US, wear a mask for yourself and for others. Wear a mask in case you are breathing out viruses without knowing it. Wear a mask so that if someone else is breathing out viruses, you breathe in fewer and therefore get less ill that you would have if you were unmasked. Wear a mask even if you are only planning to be outside far away from others. You might run into a friend, or unexpectedly need to take public transit, or want to duck into a shop on the way home.
Wear a mask to instantly belong to the community of mask-wearers who care about the people around them.
There are a lot of reasons to resist wearing masks. They are uncomfortable, especially in the heat or while exercising. They make it harder to be heard when we speak. Unless they fit just right, they slide around and require adjustment, which is stressful when we want to avoid touching our face.
It might be triggering to have fabric against your face or to have your breathing even slightly impeded. You can work with same/different to distinguish what is triggered from the past from what is happening in the present. You can also wear a different mask design such as a bandana mask that might work better for you.
We are all unwilling new immigrants to the Land of COVID-19, where we are separated from friends and loved ones, and everyday tasks like shopping have become unfamiliar and fraught with danger. Some of us come from neighboring lands of chronic illness and fragrance sensitivities where health issues already imposed limitations on our lives.
If we do not already have the adaptive skills of an immigrant, we might try to cling to old ways instead of learning new ones. Putting on a mask every time we leave the house makes it immediately real that our world has changed. We might imagine that if we ignore the problem of a worldwide pandemic, we can make it go away, especially if we already believe that positive thinking can control reality. It is important to allow the possibility of positive outcomes, and at the same time to acknowledge risks that are external to us.
Some of us live in communities that express belonging by not wearing masks, joining together in resisting our new reality. Unfortunately, that requires balancing the risks of virus transmission with the risks of visibly expressing a difference from local practice. It can give a small taste of the experiences of people who move through the world with a difference of skin color, disability, gender expression, etc.
Continue social distancing
Adapting to change is hard. Living through a pandemic is hard. We can take it one day at a time while we do our best to protect ourselves and others.
Cloth masks reduce the risk of viral transmission while in unavoidable close proximity to others. Wearing a mask does not make it safe to spend extended periods of time breathing the same air with other people. We still need to practice social distancing. And it remains good hygiene to wash our hands often.
Even though physical masks make it harder to read expressions and connect with others in the ways we are used to, we can show warmth by nodding, waving, smiling (it shows in our eyes) and saying hello. We are already showing our respect and care by wearing a mask, and we can add to that with our words as needed.
Embrace all of yourself
When we feel the small aching lonely parts of us that want so terribly to belong, we can tend them by claiming them as parts of ourselves. They belong to us, with us, no matter what. We can also warmly invite the parts of us that want nothing to do with those vulnerable parts. Those disdainful parts are ours too. We can embrace all of ourselves with the warmth and care we want from others.
- “Wearing a mask doesn’t just protect others from COVID, it protects you from infection, perhaps serious illness, too” by Elizabeth Weise, USA Today, July 15, 2020.
- “We Need to Talk About Ventilation” by Zeynep Tufekci July 30, 2020
- “Coronavirus: How New Zealand went ‘hard and early’ to beat Covid-19” by Anna Jones, BBC News, July 10, 2020.
- “COVID Underdogs: Mongolia” by Indi Samarajiva, May 18, 2020.
- “Good Neighbor Bandana Free Sewing Pattern” by Denise Bayron. I encourage donating to this Black-owned business if you use the pattern.