Trauma, Relationships, and Agency

Relationships are shaped by circumstances. Our relationships shape us. There’s no wonder that we are experiencing frustrations, fatigue and challenges with our identity as we go on post a period of trauma caused by the disruptions, disease and death of the pandemic. We need to allow ourselves to recognise the hurt and also what has changed. In many cases, the changes to our identities are greater than we realise and can shape our exercise of agency.

there’s only one thing
i can claim     these bones
are mine i tell you
they are mine     and kind
to abandon no thing
that makes this pulse
no one but me

Cindy Williams Guttierrez, The Small Claim of Bones
Photo by Alex Green on

Changing Relationships

The New Yorker recently wrote a piece on the changing nature of relationships through the pandemic. The traumatic experience of the last few years has put people’s relationships under real stress as jobs, lives and connections were lost and as new pressures surfaced on almost a daily basis. As the New Yorker article highlighted small differences in status, political views, race and social class were exacerbated by the experience. I know of a long list of relationships that have ended and also people who have formed new friendships in the adversity. People are clinging to a few important people in their lives.

Some of the social frustrations we now see: anger, disconnection, and more also fit the characteristics of those recovering from trauma. Not all of our experiences meet clinical criteria but there can be elements of post-traumatic behaviour in many of our daily interactions and relationships. These issues present major challenges for our personal relationships and workplaces when they impact connection through changes in engagement, communication and trust.

Particularly troubling is that many have reported the post-pandemic fog in which they struggle with focus, decision-making and energy. For some, this is the symptoms of post-Covid syndromes. For most, this is another consequence of the trauma and the many changes that have resulted in our lives as a result. Dissociation is a major issue for trauma sufferers and can be an indicator of future ongoing issues.

Changing Identities & Agency

In this period post-pandemic, we can feel disconnected and disengaged. What can be magnifying of this outcome and difficult to embrace is that changes in our relationships change who we are.

Photo by cottonbro on

Many people are pushing for changes in their lives after this experience, whether to restore a past status or to pursue a new one. While the Great Resignation may be overblown in Australia, there are strong desires to do and be differently. This desire for change will involve yet more changes in relationships and the dynamics of our social connection. We can help each other through these changes with compassion, support and coaching.

We will need to grieve the relationships that are lost or must be surrendered. We will need to go forward and make choices as to who we are going to be and who is part of our ongoing relationships. Those changes will have implications for our lives, our communities, our families and our work.

Back at the beginning of 2020, I flagged personal agency as a key issue that individuals and organisations need to navigate in this complex world. Our exercise of agency is underpinned by the complex webs of identity, relationships and community that support or oppose us as we go through the world. Community relationships can be an enabler if effectively managed or community can be a source of tension and conflict as people grapple with change. Following on the last two years of pandemic, agency remains a key issue for organisations and individuals grappling with new ways of working. We will need to take account of the likely trauma and emotional issues as we seek to help people to express their new indentities and goals in action.

Nothing can be mistaken for resolution,
yet the allure of metamorphosis, the way hard things buckle
under the line, ameliorates something, at least encourages
the generalized slurry of bad thinking to flow into the next
available trough. Slop has purpose. This much I know.

Lisa Gill, Post-Traumatic Rainstorm

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