On International Family Day
By Ruth Formosa Ventura, systemic psychotherapist, couple & family therapist in private practice
Where are we?
And here it is again! International Family Day. In last year’s write-up, I encouraged all of us to remember that irrespective of our differences we stand winners in the face of adversity and chaos when we are ‘inclusive’, when we show compassion as well as when we are in solidarity with one another. Our differences are not meant to separate us and define us, but more so to remind us how rich and strong together we stand. At the end of the day no matter how different one family is to the other we are all families living together.
What is being done?
The Women’s Brain Project remained active this year in promoting and advocating for the consideration of sex and gender differences in brain and mental health. More than a year has passed since our first lockdown in Switzerland and we have made it a point to continue supporting families with the best scientific literature, publications, webinars and other educational events. The aim is to increase the understanding and knowledge of current mental health issues, beginning with the effect and influence of the Covid-19 pandemic on families, as well as on individuals living with existing brain and mental illness such as Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), migraine, autism, to name a few. Moreover, we need to consider the effect of the pandemic on mental health risk factors such as employment and isolation as well as the higher risk of suicide and other consequences related to mental illness. The aim is for families and individual members to learn more about available treatments and therapies and help being offered so that every family and its individual members irrespective of their gender can make the best-informed decisions about their health, whether it is related to physical symptoms or whether it is due to mental health issues or symptoms.
I think we, families, need to continue learning more about what we are going through. We need to maintain and sustain a level of ‘curiosity’ around how we are all being affected by this new way of living with Covid-19 around us, how we are learning to accept that we cannot master the sense of freedom we had in our lives pre-pandemic, at least for the time being. Every family unit is trying to make the best of one’s circumstances, be it with restricted measures we continue to put into practice as well as with the personal freedom we allow ourselves to have in our daily functioning and interactions. Every day, every week and every month we are learning more and more about the interplay between the family and its surrounding environment. As a systemic family therapist, I learnt that families are not a separate existential unit but rather are defined by the community and/or cultures they form part of. This last year or so, we were immersed fully in experiencing this. Unfortunately, it came unannounced, and families faced and are still facing, the consequences of how the outside environment can really impact the family unit; some running the risk of being destroyed or disintegrated. It has been a lesson on how families cannot grow and develop at the exclusion of the outside context.
We learnt that the environment affects our daily living and that we humans cannot go on ignoring it. Hence, perhaps the lesson to families now is, that we need to hold a systemic epistemology where we appreciate the reciprocity of this interplay between family and the environment, in that we start asking ourselves “what are we doing to affect the environment in a way to re-establish homeostasis, in reaching some degree of ‘normality’?.” “How are we going to interact with it to restore our balance- making it possible for us to socially interact together and at the same time protect healthy boundaries between us?” (our newly defined healthy boundaries). This might seem like a broken record considering the current social discourses, yet let us not underestimate it. We need to continuously remind ourselves of the new ways of behaving between us, of enjoying ourselves and of showing ‘presence’ with one another.
One advantage of the human being is that it is a very adaptable creature, yet, unfortunately human beings forget quickly, perhaps because of the eagerness to move always forward. Here is where I find that families come in with a crucial role to play in the process of adaptation.
Every member of a family has one’s responsibility to carry and hence can show it by modelling sustainability of newly learnt behaviours, rituals and interactions. We have learnt ways of how social connection and personal protections co-exist with and between us. It is our duty as members of a family, of the larger communities and societies to continue embracing our new ways of reaching out to others and making it possible for us to feel connected, at the same time continue safeguarding our health. Every family needs to remind oneself of how our lives have changed in the hope for our future generations to not repeat our same mistake- nothing is to be taken for granted.
It has been a year of excruciating suffering because mankind was forced in isolation. We never craved intimate connection as we do now. So let us not take for granted what we have achieved, what we managed to restore and do our best to keep it in the hope of a better future, in the hope for better human physical and emotional interaction. Every family can make and is making a difference. Continue being one!