Are you what you do?

I have often been aware that we define ourselves by the roles that we play. If we ask someone who they are they will normally reply with a list of things that they do. “I am a teacher”, “I am a…., fill in the blank. Try it yourself. How do you describe yourself to others? Who are you?

Normally this way of defining ourselves is not a problem and only becomes an issues when we are forced to change things such as in redundancy, or retirement. Most women have a changing experience of self when the last child is born, the last child goes to school or the last child leaves home. At each stage the answer to the question ‘who am I?’, changes.

Well Covid and lockdown put a new slant on this issue. I am aware of people who have been out of the workplace for prolonged periods of time are having the who am I crisis. It becomes clear that many people value themselves through their relationships with others. Walking into the workplace and having people acknowledge them and be interested in what they were doing at the weekend can give people a sense of value. As those relationships have been peeled away so has the sense of identity.

Some people have managed to maintain a sense of self through online interactions. Though, over the last few months people are now telling me that it is not the same and they are craving real, actual contact with other people.

We may not be aware of it but up to ten percent of communication is in pheromones. That is we smell each other. Dogs, obviously have a much better sense of smell than we do but we can smell such emotions as acceptance, fear, love, attraction, rejection, hatred and so on. This sense is subtle and is happening below our general awareness but it it is an important part of our relationships.

The other thing that we are missing is the nuance of gesture and body language. When we can only see someone’s head and shoulders we are not aware of their finger drumming or twiddling. We cannot see there feet moving or the knee going up and down.

Someone said to me that, in the beginning, they were really impressed with Zoom and Skype but as time has gone on they now see people as rather 2d rather than 3D, it all seems flat. The feeling was that not only are the videos becoming flat but the relationships were becoming flat as well. One person said that when they were meeting face to face they could cut a meeting short, go and have a coffee together, or even look at other things. Online they felt trapped into staring into the screen and being conscious of if they looked away it would be rude. Also the fact that the person was in a time slot in their diary they felt that they would be rude or disrespectful if they did not make the meeting last for all of the allotted time. They were then struggling for things to say or talk about.

So I have been experimenting with people to see if they can change their experience.

  1. Move the camera further away so that you are not just looking at the head and shoulders and can see more of each other?
  2. Why sit down at all? You could have a meeting standing up and get even more of a body shot in.
  3. Try not using the camera for a change and focus on each other’s voices.
  4. Agree to have sometime in the meeting, beginning or end, just shooting the breeze talking about family etc.
  5. If using just audio use your phone and put the headphones in and go for a walk. It can be quite stimulating getting out into the open air as you talk.
  6. What about moving outdoors for a video call in the garden?
  7. Agree ahead of time to stop the meeting when all that needs to be covered has been done.
  8. Add some low level background music.
  9. Maybe, don’t always sit in the same place, allow the background to change.
  10. Perhaps don’t always wear the same clothes.

If we are going to be using online for sometime to come we need to find ways of keeping it fresh and vital.

In the world of psychological medicine it has become accepted that behind the Corona virus will follow a wave of depression and possibly other mental health issues. We are about to go into the dark months when mood tend to drop anyway. We need to do all that we can to keep our own mood up and support those around us.

Take care, stay positive and look after each other.


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