Lockdown: opportunity or despair?

‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way’. Victor Frankl - Author of Mans Search for Meaning


Victor Frankl knew a few things about being in a lockdown, as he was a holocaust survivor. Frankl concluded that even in the most absurd, painful, and dehumanized situation, life has a potential meaning and that, therefore, even suffering is meaningful.

When I reflect on this lockdown period I am reminded of Victor Frankl’s quote. I think it captures well, the dilemma we face today. Could we see the lockdown period as an opportunity to choose one’s own attitude or do we give the last of the human freedoms away? I think this is a key question to ask oneself during lockdown. For some people, we can see quite clearly that they have opted to fight for themselves and for the benefit of others. For example, children painting rainbows, people volunteering to help neighbours or join the NHS, Joe Wicks leading the nation with exercises and Captain Tom raising money for the NHS to name a few. We can see how they have reacted to this current crisis in a meaningful way that inspires hope for the greater good. They could have easily opted for despair, fear and panic but instead, they chose hope and opportunity! Instead of suffering, they have chosen a meaningful response.

Yes, but we can’t all raise millions for the NHS?

That’s true, but we do all have a choice. For example, opportunity comes in all shapes and sizes. For instance, we could see this time as an opportunity for deeper self-reflection, a time to evaluate where we are in life, what we want out of life; we could see it as an opportunity to deepen our connections with our own family members, sitting around a table to eat meals, using technology to keep in touch; completing tasks that we have put off for too long, getting and keeping fit, eating healthy, and making connections with neighbours and the local community. I could add a few more ideas but I am sure you get the gist.

Ok but that’s easier said than done. what about if I feel depressed, lonely and anxious. are you telling me that it’s as easy as choosing to feel different?

Yes, in that you have a choice about what you do about it. We cannot stop having restrictions imposed on us externally, but we can choose how to react internally to those restrictions. Nobody can take this away, only ourselves. We all have free will to choose how we want to think and react in any given moment. If we are feeling depressed, lonely or anxious then it might mean seeking help. Now more than ever therapists across the country are trying to be creative in engaging with people whilst in lockdown. A good proportion of therapists are offering sessions via zoom and skype or telephone, which they might not have done before. In some ways accessing therapy has never been so easy.

But why is it that some people can see this time as an opportunity whilst others sink further into despair and panic?

In a previous paper entitled ‘Addicted to Despair’ I wrote about the importance of creating what I entitled ‘internal breathing space’ in order to deal with life’s challenges. This thinking space comes into being when we are able to look at life through a 3D perspective. A good analogy to explain this further is a football match. In a 3D mode of functioning you are not only partaking in the football game but you are also up in the stands observing the match, whereas 2D functioning means you are only a participant in the game.

In the current crisis regarding panic buying and despair, we might say that certain people have a tendency to operate from a 2D perspective, where they lose the ability or capacity to observe what is getting triggered within themselves. For example, using the above football match analogy they are getting lost in the game, with no ability or capacity to observe from the stands.

Why is it that some people can take and hold a 3D perspective whilst others collapse into 2D?

The answer to this question is complex and multifaceted. Nevertheless, I think it originates from our earliest of beginnings and relates to the role of the father/partner, and the ability of the child to tolerate being on the outside of the parents relationship. In both scenarios the idea of being in a three comes into play. When a baby is born they enter into a 2D relationship with the mother. In time, with the arrival of the father/partner, it forces the baby to experience a new objective reality and a three-person situation. This is the beginning of mental space or as I call it internal breathing space. 

If the 2D mode of relating with the mother is too frustrating or too disappointing, combined with an absent father/parent, then this can make the transition and separation from 2D to 3D very difficult and painful. The reasons being is that omnipotent defences (please refer to my previous paper on (Omnipotence: The Hidden Danger) come into being to mitigate against the pain of objective reality and instead of the child being open to the new, objective three-person reality they cling and grip onto an omnipotent, subjective, 2D reality. As you can imagine, they are not going to be overjoyed when they have to tolerate sharing a parent (3D objective reality). It quickly becomes about themselves and leads to a proclamation ‘what about me, me, me?’  As a result, this leads to a denial of 3D, objective reality and three-person situations, which as a consequence compromises the development of internal breathing/thinking space. 

Alternatively, if a baby’s early needs are met, the baby can start to internalise a deep faith and trust in mother/reality. Omnipotent defences can be relinquished and trust in reality then facilitates the baby to tolerate the arrival of a father/parent and objective three-person reality. Internal breathing space starts to develop and thinking space expands.

How can I improve my 3D functioning?

Accessing analytical psychotherapy is crucial in facilitating this process from 2D to 3D. The reason being is that it provides ample opportunities for a person to experience and understand being in a three. 

How does that work when there are only two people in the room?

Yes, there are only two people in the room but due to the therapist having a relationship with his/her own mind, this creates the three, i.e. therapist, his mind and the patient. As a result, the therapists own self-awareness to work in a 3D mode, facilitates the process in the patient. Also, when a therapist has breaks, and has time away with his/her own family this creates another three-person scenario where the patient has to experience being on the outside. It is the working through of these moments of exclusion, rejection and jealousy, that act as the catalyst to enable a person to develop their internal breathing space and face objective 3D reality. 

In summary, this paper is an example of my attempt to deal with the lockdown. I wanted to convey how being in lockdown does not have to restrict our choices. As Victor Frankl said ‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.’  However, for some people, their ability to choose the last of the human freedoms is restricted because they have a tendency to regress to a 2D way of experiencing reality, where fear, insecurity, paranoia and panic takes control. Whereas a 3D perspective allows for a perspective on oneself and one's actions. It promotes the capacity to hold a dialogue with oneself, to allow for thoughts to come together and the lessening of a compulsion to act.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Dudley DY3 & Wolverhampton WV14
Written by Shane Sneyd, MBACP, BPC & BAPPS
Dudley DY3 & Wolverhampton WV14

Shane Sneyd - Jungian Analytical Psychotherapist

I am accredited with BACP, UKCP and BPC. I worked 15 years in the NHS. Currently, I work full-time in private practice and I am an associate counsellor/psychotherapist to the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) in partnership with the Sporting Chance Clinic.

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