New York City, NY

Unkind Behavior During a Distressing Time in NYC Harms in Big Ways

Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW

We’ve met the enemy and they are us. ~ “Pogo” comic strip by Walt Kelly

In the throes of a surreal time in history, further exacerbated by ambient uncertainty and mediocrity you would think people might be nicer to one another. Perhaps it’s the pandemic fatigue coupled with lockdown measures and the anxiety of global collapse that has us at our limits. I certainly find myself astounded and challenged to deal with the most expensive third world city in the world (aka New York), during a time when a modicum of stability and agency are sorely needed. Nothing works here. The whole infrastructure is broken, homelessness, rats and crime are rampant and people are straight up mean.

The ubiquitous hostility and Darwinistic survival of the fittest posturing is disheartening, but understandable. I find myself unconsciously plodding on, minimizing how unsafe and scared I feel. The fears go underground where they fester and percolate, ultimately resulting in insular ruminating about how to withstand the onslaught of inertia and the nebulous disasters coming down the pike.

Shackled to my computer I meet with real pixelated people for therapy sessions. There I encounter kindness and humanity. Elsewhere not so much. Other than loving exchanges with my husband and a dear friend in Canada, the relational landscape feels pretty barren.

So when an acquaintance from the past resurfaced to introduce my husband to a band seeking a seasoned musician, we seized the opportunity to explore beyond our designated place of refuge. Donning our masks we optimistically ventured out of our bunkers to socialize with new people. I know, very taboo.

Although the evening was stellar, the trajectory of events was not. The initial camaraderie, quickly died. The hours of shared food and wine, laughter, meaningful conversation and acknowledgment of current struggles felt restorative and encouraging. In fact I was delighted by the connection I made with a woman at the gathering. When she extended an invitation to her art show I enthusiastically accepted. Why it so abruptly turned to hostile antipathy eludes me. Yet only two days later when I trekked to the gallery to share in her celebration, her vibe and behavior turned cold and rejecting. Not even a thank you for showing up. A similar scenario unfolded for my partner when a week later he participated in the band rehearsal.

That was the fait accompli.

Fed up and dejected, I’ve returned to my hermitage.

Like many these days I’ve got plenty of personal trials to grapple with. The recent fire at the garage, my partners ‘man cave’ where he stored his motorcycles, tools and equipment, has been a painful fiasco, more so because of the solace and respite it offered, than the material loss. The closing down of my therapy office after over two decades of providing treatment there, to transition to solely remote work, has been fraught with complex emotions. Then there’s the impossible ordeal of getting married in a city not equipped to provide marriage licenses. Indeed life these days is replete with challenges.

Suffice it to say I am fully aware of how fortunate I am to be sustained by the essentials of health, shelter and food. I’m one of the luckier ones. Yet I can’t help but consider now more than ever, during this age of death and decline, how basic human decency would go a long way in neutralizing some of the despair.

I remember after 911 the somber, yet caring energy that infiltrated New York. I was traveling in Budapest when I heard the news. It took awhile for my mind to wrap around the enormity of what occurred. Watching with a crowd from a storefront on Vaci street, the footage of the towers crumbling to the ground looked like a cartoon. The enormity of the death toll seemed uncanny. It took awhile for it to sink in as real.

Since all flights in the U.S. and Canada were grounded my friend and I flew to Israel to stay with her family. When we were finally able to return home to New York it was a massive ordeal, but rather than our fears and grief creating a huge chasm of discord, solidarity ensued. The heroism of essential workers was lauded. Compassion for New York was abundant and it inspired New Yorkers to care for one another. People were nice. We pulled together.

Why is the current state of trauma causing such a different reaction? Why are we so shitty towards one another?

Perhaps it’s the fear of another transferring a potentially fatal virus, as opposed to the culprit being some foreign enemy ‘out there’, that is the basis for the rancor. Certainly it can’t be denied how government incompetence and corruption in NY has generated feelings of defeat and apathy. There is no leadership and little hope. The number of shootings in NY through Nov. 8 is up 94% over 2019. It feels as if the lunatics are running the asylum. We just want out. Caring for ones neighbor is not the priority. Surviving is.

If our interactions inform our beliefs of self and others what does this tell us about the current state of the world? It tells me we’re stuck in a collective state of trauma. It also cautions me to not put myself in harms way, not just in terms of a viral contagion, but also with allowing others to cause emotional harm. The disillusionment and pain that engenders esteem deflating hostile interactions has ignited a cyclical no-win situation. The closeness we need has become too perilous to even try to attain.

In a city as densely populated as New York, that is ironically beset by pervasive loneliness and isolation, the longing for connection coupled with nagging self-protective ambivalence can feel debilitating. Yet as with most things in life, survival prioritizes staying ‘safe’ over being fulfilled, even on the most essential levels. Consequentially this means isolation and insulation. This is a tragic, but apparently necessary option even though it’s obvious that togetherness is the needed panacea.

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As a survivor (and thriver) of complex trauma and a seasoned therapist specializing in treating complex trauma, narcissistic abuse syndrome and addictions, I am intent on creating content that affords informative insight, hope and healing from psychological disorders. I aim for my creative content to assist readers with tapping into the resiliency of the human condition while recognizing the countless challenges of being human.

New York City, NY

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