There's no PLACE like home
Lockdown, by nature of its social and economic implications, is putting unprecedented pressure on relationships of all kinds - personal and professional.
There are families who are used to spending hours apart each day, suddenly thrown into being with each other 24/7. And conversely, work colleagues, extended family and friends are now distanced, connected to us only through electronic devices.
Whilst existing in all of these different relationships, each and every one of us is experiencing our own additional stress, anxiety and trauma. This might include worries about keeping ourselves and family members safe from the virus, how to get food, stress about paying bills, the trauma of losing a job or keeping a business afloat, trying to get to grips with homeschooling and meeting your kids needs, worries about how to access healthcare, being lonely/disconnected from loved ones, or perhaps even suffering from losing a loved one to coronavirus.
Every time we interact with someone else right now, we’re connecting with them in the midst of our own individual experiences…and theirs. Though this creates a great opportunity for meaningful connection, it also poses a great threat from ‘misconnection’.
Get it right, and you and your family member or work colleague feel great - you both feel understood, cared-for and secure. Get it wrong, and both parties are left feeling bad - perhaps feeling rejected, invalidated, or neglected - and in no better position to cope with their current trials. At this unprecedented time, how you conduct yourself, and how you are perceived is being tested as never before.
So how can we get it right? To help with this, I’m drawing on a well-known therapeutic approach from the psychology world: PLACE. This memorable acronym stands for: Playfulness, Love, Acceptance, Curiosity, and last (but certainly not least), Empathy.
Developed by the wonderful American Psychologist, Dan Hughes, PLACE is most closely associated with therapeutic relationship work with adopted and looked after children. However, many of us Psychologists see the benefits of extending this philosophy to life in general - to all relationships - whether parent-child, adult-adult, personal or professional. Adopting PLACE can be life transforming. So please, accept this nugget of wisdom as my gift to you during this most testing of times (all accolades to Dan of course, for I am just a messenger!):
Playfulness. Find things to enjoy within your relationships, something fun and light-hearted. When times are tough, you need this more than ever to keep your relationships going. Have some silly fun in the garden with the children; have a giggle over funny YouTube clips (other online video-sharing platforms are available!) with your friends over a virtual coffee morning, or share some jokes with colleagues. Allow fun to blossom within your relationships, and within your own daily routine.
Love. Find something to love (or at least like!) from all the people in your life. Yes, someone might be causing you headaches, heartaches or stress (and it may feel like you’re getting little back). But take a step back. You may have fallen into the well-worn trap of dwelling on negatives. Your relationships will have been forged around someone’s principal characteristics. As time passes, relationships may struggle as one party (or both) tries to hone the edges of the other. The insignificant edges. These weren’t relevant to your love or friendship in the beginning - and neither should they be now. Especially now.
So go ‘back to basics’, and rediscover the source of your love. Appreciate them. Dwell on the positives. Moreover, let them know! Love begets love...and you know the next bit.... you've got to love yourself too! Nobody is more critical of you, than you. So at this time, give yourself a break - notice your positives, notice what you're giving, how hard you're trying, and who you are. Look at yourself through loving eyes.
Acceptance. Accept where people are at with whatever they are thinking, feeling or experiencing right now. It might be ugly, it might be depressing, it might increase your own anxiety. But it’s their experience and it’s important. Don’t judge it, don’t invalidate it and don’t minimise it. Show you get it, and show it’s okay to feel the way they do. Self-care alert: you don't get out of this one lightly either- show acceptance of your own internal experience too. Validate yourself and accept that whatever you’re feeling right now is okay.
Curiosity. Don’t assume you know what your children, siblings, parents, friends, colleagues, neighbours are thinking and feeling. Even if you notice they are struggling, don't assume you know what the reason is, or assume their journey right now is the same as yours. Ask them how they are doing, follow the threads of their communication to piece together the picture of what it's like for them - their trials, their stresses and their positives. Similarly, don't forget to share your own experience….’warts and all’. Remember, a bit of vulnerability is what helps us connect as humans.
Empathy. (Not sympathy!). Sympathy is about looking in on someone's experience and feeling sorry for them. Empathy is different. Empathy is about standing in someone else's shoes (metaphorically!), and allowing yourself to feel what they must be feeling...and then showing them that you get that experience, and that you really, truly, deeply care about it. Empathy is a game changer - it's the lifeblood of maintaining healthy minds and healthy relationships. Show empathy to someone today and you'll see the power of it unfold before your eyes. Show it to yourself, and you're really on a winning streak.
Share the gift of PLACE. There’s literally no time like the present!