Is it Normal to Struggle to Enjoy Life While Following the News in Ukraine?

Is it Normal to Struggle to Enjoy Life While Following the News in Ukraine?

A reporter reached out from The Huffington Post asking if it was normal to feel “guilty” — about enjoying life post COVID, dining out, traveling — and requested comments from a broad group of therapists. Both Spencer and Elisabeth contributed thoughts on this important, complicated topic and we feel honored to both be a part of this article.

Below are Spencer and Elisabeth’s full comments:

I am reminded of a prominent concept in the Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) model: that two (or more) things can be true at once. This type of therapy and worldview holds that in order to experience and behave with authentic and deep humanity we must become skilled at holding and connecting with many (sometimes conflicting) realities. This means that you can feel heartbreak for people caught in a war across the world, AND also be suffering from a relatively minor heartbreak on your own, such as a breakup. The two don’t cancel each other out. You may need to make the wise decision that though you care about suffering across the world, you first need to take care of yourself and heal from your own personal heartache. Once you heal then you can take action to help your greater community and world.

I don’t think people who are fully experiencing reality are going to proceed as “normal” or “status quo,” though it may look like that on some level. I wouldn’t advise people to close their eyes to what’s happening. This doesn’t mean you abandon your life and fly across the world to try to help, but it means you should live with this awareness and find where you are called to act in the life that you’ve been given. It should impact the companies you use, who you vote for, how you structure your community and its supports, and what you teach the next generation.

Feeling guilty about enjoying daily life activities while watching scenes of horror and bravery unfolding in Ukraine is completely understandable and healthy. Consider that “guilt” is often anger that is directed inwards. It often frees up tremendous energy to connect with the anger and use it as the powerful source of energy that productive anger can be.

As a therapist practicing in Washington, DC, I know that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a near constant focus of my clients this past week. I have had the honor to help them process the experience of leaving flowers at the Ukrainian embassy, getting involved at immigrant advocacy groups like Kind Works and to work with professionals who are changing course to work on assignment near the Ukraine-Russia border.

It is adaptive to question the comforts of home or the joys of travel against the backdrop of this pivotal moment, but the real question is what we do with these difficult feelings. As the late Senator Robert Kennedy said on June 6th, 1966: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Elisabeth LaMotte

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