As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves rapidly, humans across the globe are displaying some extreme behavior in response to crisis. Most notably, but not limited to, an extreme run on toilet paper.
Are you laughing a little? (I’m laughing a little.) Because you’ve gotta admit … it sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud. But TP, and the (real or perceived) lack thereof, is driving some folks to a frenzy. It is literally causing traffic jams, long lines and checkout line arguments. All of which would likely seem unfathomable at any other moment in human history.
But today, as I stood in a ridiculously long line at the grocery store, just to buy the groceries that I need for my family for the week, I had time to reflect on all the crazy I was seeing. And I was reminded of a thought that gave me a ton more compassion not only for the TP hoarders, but also for my children from hard places.
COVID-19 and TP: What’s the Amygdala Got to Do with It?
So, here’s the thing. Trauma impacts the brain. We know this from war veterans with PTSD, crime victims, and people who were neglected and abused as children. People who have experienced trauma have a different response to a crisis than people who have not experienced trauma.
The amygdala, which is the part of the brain governing our body’s primal responses (often called “reptilian brain”), gets amped up when it senses danger. In fact, it goes a little crazy. I know this from reading books like The Body Keeps the Score and The Connected Child, among others. <– affiliate links because these are amazing resources and you won’t regret reading them). As well as from my kiddos.
For one notable example, I have a kid who did not get enough to eat, a long, long time ago. Like, years ago. And although this kid has been eating ALL. THE. THINGS. for years ever since, the primal fear persists. And it impacts every response to food and all situations in which food (or the thought of food) exists. All day, every day.
To me, the fear seems completely irrational. And that is because I’ve been privileged enough to get my fill, every time my body needed it. But to this child, it is a fight-to-the-death situation. This child has got to make sure to get that belly filled and Not. Starve. No matter how much food I put out, five (5) times a day, and how fast I respond to the requests for more food.
It is hard. SO hard. Hard for me, but much I can’t imagine how much harder for my child, who imagines death to be an imminent danger (darn amygdala!!!!), and that adults cannot be trusted as it pertains to meeting this most basic need.
It does not matter how much I can verbally rationalize to my child that food will always be available. Or that I reliably show up, five times a day, every day, to demonstrate that. The fear persists. Because … amygdala.
Responding with Compassion
So as I stood in that ridiculously long checkout line, and thought about my child’s amygdala, it was sad. But also, … freeing.
We can judge people for being “crazy,” and hoarding all the TP. Or, we can recognize that what we are seeing is a response to fear. Fear is not rational. It does not follow the rules, and it is not something that people are talked out of. (If you’ve tried this tactic, you know I’m speaking the truth.) In fact, as with children from hard places, adults are equally resistant to words when it comes to shifting irrational beliefs. All that really changes things is felt safety.
Is it possible to experience felt safety with all that is going on in the world right now? Well, that depends. I suppose that the more trauma one has been exposed to, the more challenging this might be. This is my hypothesis only.
What I do know is that compassion is needed in regards to what we may consider to be irrational fears right now. Sadly, the TP situation is an obvious example of all of the amygdalas out there working overtime.
How are you coping with the current reality, and how do you help create felt safety from your kids from hard places? Please share your ideas! I love hearing from you!