di Marco Moretti (psicologo psicoterapeuta, autore e formatore)
The current pandemic, as a collective trauma, and its management have generated considerable psychic and psychosocial disorders, which numerous psychologists and psychiatrists have repeatedly highlighted . .
From the point of view of humanistic psychology (Alberti, 2007) and neuroscience (Bzdok and Dumbar, 2020), the current limitations imposed on interpersonal contact and encounter, the collective fear fuelled by the mass media, and the social conflicts these generate, instead of promoting psychological well-being, foster the process of interpersonal withdrawal and social exclusion already initiated by previous lockdowns.
Studies focusing on community resilience show that communities oppressed or exposed to catastrophes or war are nonetheless able to cope with adversity thanks to a greater sense of community and that perceived community resilience translates as an individual resource for coping with adversity (Sonn and Fisher, 1998; Kimhi and Shamai, 2004). According to this research, the ability to activate a resilient restorative process, despite vulnerabilities, is distinguished by the presence of protective factors, such as significant family, friendship and social ties such as emotional support, social support and solidarity networks, and a sense of community.
From the point of view of humanistic psychology and attachment studies (Johnson, 2002), the human being feels free when he can be fully himself, can give voice to his feelings and spontaneous expression to his movement towards the other.
The fact of being able to look, listen, meet and come into contact with each other is the basis of the human relationship, of the sharing and co-participation that constitute the fabric of the human community. This fabric is the vital and essential condition for our humanitas, in other words, what makes it possible to consolidate fully human relationships in which there can be mutual attention, help and care.
What makes us fully human, then, is interpersonal relationships, the cultivation of relationships in which there can be emotional responsiveness, the building and consolidation of meaningful bonds. In other words, the protective factors of community resilience are not only what make us stronger in adversity, they are precisely what make us fully human.
When the movement of meeting one another is prevented, the fragmentation of human relationships is fostered and, from a psychological point of view, there is a progressive process of de-humanisation in which people tend to withdraw, isolate themselves, anaesthetise their feelings, think they do not need one another and lose trust in one another.
This progressive de-humanisation coincides with the loss of one’s freedom to be fully oneself, as an expression of one’s feelings and spontaneous movement. What happens is a pathologisation of freedom: an apparent freedom to think, without being able to feel and act spontaneously.
When human beings have the possibility of fully expressing their humanity, and their feelings through encounter, sharing, and the solidarity provided by a sense of community, they find their security in human relationships.
The loss of one’s sense of humanity means that the human being loses his freedom and, deprived of himself, becomes a man/thing, in other words a non-human. In such a process of de-humanisation one finds one’s security in control. Control, in fact, is based on mutual distrust. This worrying situation lays the foundations so that it is then possible to exercise a will to power on the part of those who, not being inwardly free, seek power over others.
The process of de-humanisation reduces human beings to objects rather than subjects in relationship. So what is the difference between an idea/object and a man/object?
Since the idea/object can easily become hierarchically superior to the man/object, an idea may even be able to break off its meaningful relationships.
Dialogue is only possible when two human subjects, who care about what happens ‘between’ them, i.e. who put human relations first, consider their ideas as relative concepts to be discussed and compared. Otherwise, two human beings/subjects fail to build a dialogue, because they tend to consider their ideas as absolute and hierarchically more important than their own human relationship. This is a pathology of freedom, since thought loses its generativity, becoming self-referential and de-humanising.
Whenever a person decides to save an idea at the expense of an interpersonal relationship, at that very moment he is de-humanising himself. Only a fully human being, in fact, can decide to safeguard a human relationship at the expense of an idea, because he puts the relationship first in his scale of values.
When the human relationship comes first, law, institutions, science or any other doctrine are at the service of the human being. Otherwise the opposite happens, man/object becomes the servant of the Law, institutions and science.
As Alberto Alberti (2007) writes: “A man is born free and fully loves. But, if he is thrown into a world of unfree people, his freedom will not be loved, and perhaps he too will cease to love and to be free.
In fact, those who are not free, when they find themselves in front of a truly free person [fully human], see reflected in them what they lack, so they become aware of their own lack of freedom, and therefore of their existential failure. In most cases he is unable to tolerate this, so he will try to possess or compress the other’s freedom.
But this is not always the case: sometimes it can happen that the living example of a free or liberated person, who freely feels, loves and rejoices, comes to lightly touch his or her soul, causing it a little upset.
It may happen that the soul, thus touched, recognises the illusion of its imprisonment, realises itself, and remembers that it is free.
In order to free ourselves from this process of de-humanisation we should try to consolidate and develop emotional relationships and new friendships. Friendship, in fact, is the form of relationship in which, while respecting limits, two subjects mutually love their own and each other’s freedom.
It is necessary to expand the fabric of human community within our society. Create a community within society, so that human beings can regain their freedom to be fully human.
Alberto Alberti (2007), Psicosintesi e oltre, L’Uomo Edizioni, Firenze.
Bzdok D., Dumbar R.I.M. (2020) “The Neurobiology of Social Distance”, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 24 (9), pp. 717-733 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364661320301406
Johnson S.M. (2002), Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy with Trauma Survivors: Strengthening Attachment Bonds, Guilford Press, New York.
Kimhi S., Shamai M. (2004) “Community resilience and the impact of stress: Adult response to Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon”, Community Psychology, 32(4), pp. 439-451.
Sonn C.C., Fisher A.T. (1998) “Sense of community: Community resilient responses to oppression and change”, Journal of community psychology, 26(5), pp. 475-472.