The suspension of our projections about the future. The fear of contagion – and indirectly, of death. Concerns. The confinement. The psychological effects produced by the pandemic that has humanity in suspense appear, in Argentina and in the world, like the blows of a time that tests us. How do they manifest, and to what extent do boys also suffer? Can culture and art, in that unpredictable context, serve as a tool or palliative?
Virginia Ungar think so. That even in the most adverse contexts, play, creation and expression “have helped many people survive.” Psychoanalyst specialized in children and adolescents, Ungar is since 2017 president of the International Psychoanalytic Association (API), and the first woman in history to preside over this institution founded by the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, in 1910. In this interview, he explains to what extent psychoanalysis can answer some of the most pressing contemporary problems.
-We are going through an absolutely disruptive moment from the social, political and cultural point of view. What is the main psychological impact among those who produce this pandemic?
-The pandemic connects us to the subjects with vulnerability, the fall of certainties and our own limits. With different degrees of impact in the different countries at the epidemiological level, and at the subjective level, is ravaging the world: There is also a suspension of the idea of the future that affects individuals, regardless of how old we are. Those who have more psychic resources, resist better or ask for help: currently in our country there are public and private professional institutions that offer free help; there is no fear of resorting to them when necessary. We live with uncertainty throughout our lives, but we routinely do “not realize it” operations. This pandemic now forces us to face it in a rather dramatic way.
A new reality, which forces us to recognize uncertainty. / Germán García Adrasti.
-Who resist best?
-Those who already have internal resources to tolerate this kind of emotional destabilization that occurs, to a greater or lesser extent. The rest may present symptoms that show that they do not tolerate it well: sleep and eating disorders, permanent fatigue, anxiety, even depression, are proof that the mind “is not enough” to process what happens.
-The appearance of a virus of which little and nothing is known, and against which there is no treatment for now, subjects us to an unprecedented situation, perhaps comparable only to the great wars …
– That element, that of ignorance, makes it even more terrible. Because the resources that science has so far are insufficient.
-Incertainty and fear, isolation, does it feel like a real psychological test?
-It is. Quarantines are – in the world – the only known way to reduce the level of contagion and yet they do not imply a cure. This whole situation generates stress.
-Isolation leads us directly to the issue of loneliness: being alone -or knowing how to be alone- is not the same as feeling lonely. On what does it depend that loneliness results in a negative and even overwhelming emotion, even when you live with other people?
-This distinction is very interesting: being alone versus feeling alone, because indeed there are many who feel alone even if they are accompanied at home by other people. Abatement will depend on the same internal resources that each individual has. The feeling of loneliness affects millions of people today, regardless of whether they are physically accompanied or not, whether they work or not: we are talking about a social impact of a brutal scope, in this sense. But beware, it is just as important to know how to be alone – or to ask for help when that loneliness ends up being overwhelming or distressing – as to be able to maintain pre-existing ties, keep in touch with our loved ones and friends, both to be alone and to know how to stay in touch, they are two signs of mental health.
-Do those internal resources include the fact of being able to contain ourselves?
– Yes, it is not something that is chosen, but it is managed to be done or not. And it is important to understand that in addition to taking care of the virus we must take care of our mental health and our ties. There are two extreme and very evident poles that frame a very diverse range of anguishes: they are denial and paranoia. Between these two extremes, each one is located as it can; not all affect us in the same way.
– the boys and the young people are more plastic to adapt to this new reality or, on the contrary, are they more defenseless?
-I think both. On the one hand, they have a greater and faster adaptability, but on the other, they need care. We see a very varied range of reactions and symptoms associated with this situation. Paradoxically, the most phobic and those who have a tendency to retract, in the context of isolation, feel more safe; and others “healthier” suffer more.
-Do they suffer in the same way the distance from their friends and family, despite being more used than adults to the use of technology?
-Almost everyone misses, especially, physical contact with their peers. For them this is a rather dramatic deprivation. Those with siblings have a little better time. But in all social classes we see a high percentage with higher levels of fear, some with phobias or greater anxiety and sadness.
-The game saves them?
-He help them. And because they play more than adults, they find better tools to deal with fear and uncertainty: drawing the virus, for example. It is a way of resisting the anxiety of the parents, the death count on television, the fact of hearing that they can be asymptomatic transmitters and therefore a threat to others; a series of data that distress them.
“As boys play more than adults, they find better tools to deal with fear and uncertainty.”
-Can reading, music and art serve as palliatives in a context like this?
-Of course. One of my teachers, Donald Meltzer, used to say that exposing ourselves to art cures. I do not give tips, because every situation is unique, but art, in any of its manifestations – even through screens – heals, it adds, it recreates and liberates us.
-Art has a therapeutic effect, then.
Yes, because it also allows you to find situations of the internal world that overwhelm you. So teenagers like horror movies, for example: because they are full of internal terrors.
– Does facing an artistic activity allow to sublimate the pain?
-Yes, sublimation, in the classical Freudian definition, involves giving way to drives and impulses towards a socially accepted end. And in that sense, beyond the erotic, art allows us to process emotions. Creation is a resource available to everyone – beyond material resources, it can be created with up to two twigs – and the boys are our teachers in terms of expression, creation and play.
Ungar. Being alone is not the same as feeling alone, distinguish. / Emiliana Miguelez
-Is it necessary to put and maintain limits to the boys in this context or is it necessary to relax?
– Above all, it is necessary to provide them with tranquility. The need to transgress many times has more to do with what parents do – or not – than with children. The limits must be set but always for the benefit of the boy, when a cap is required. Not because a father or mother is tired or overloaded. To the little ones, rather than saying “no” to something or in a bad way, it is sometimes useful to think about how they can be given greater tranquility or serenity, how to help them in what they express, what they are needing.
-During compulsory isolation, femicides and gender violence also increased dramatically. What is behind some men’s hatred of women?
-A very deep fear, even if it is a bit simplistic to put it this way: Violence against women is a terrible reality and within the framework of closed coexistence, aggression increases. From a psychoanalytic point of view, the topic is complex: it involves patriarchal society and gender violence, a topic that I have been studying for five years. In my vision, it has to do with the construction of masculinity according to patriarchal parameters, with force as a conception associated with gender.
– For the man formed according to those parameters, the empowered woman appears as a threat of annihilation?
-Yes, there is a mental construction that is put in check; then aggression appears. Human beings have a constitutive bisexuality, and in this sense, male aggressors are incapable of taking charge of their “feminine part”. This enormous conflict with her own femininity and her primary relationship are embedded in a problem that is more complex anyway, but it has to do with the fact that there is a transformed woman, the one who has broken with the mandate to silence her voice and men in deconstruction process. Be careful, it is a process that also involves women: the image of women in a passive place has to do with cultural mandates. And that is not only attributable to men, but has also been accepted and transmitted by many women. All of us, then, will have to go through that process of deconstruction of what was already incorporated.