The COVID-19 pandemic affected all of us to varying degrees. Will it have lasting impacts on our collective psyches, mental health, psychological development, and socialization behavior? In this episode, Dr. Gary Deel talks to APU psychology professor Brendi Schramm about the fears and insecurity caused by COVID and how it has affected adults and children differently. Learn how adults and children have adapted to a virtual world of work, school, and daily tasks, but have been greatly impacted by the loss of in-person social connections and social interactions. Also learn tips about how to help children cope by understanding their love language, focusing on attachment styles, and finding ways to connect deeper with them.
Listen to the Episode:
Read the Transcript:
Dr. Gary Deel: Welcome to the podcast, Intellectible. I’m your host, Dr. Gary Deel. Today, we’re talking about health psychology amidst the COVID pandemic. My guest today is Professor Brendi Schramm. Brendi is a professor of psychology at American Public University. Brendi holds an undergraduate degree in health psychology and graduate degrees in counseling and social work. She’s worked as a marriage and family therapist, and she is also a licensed master social worker. Brendi, welcome to Intellectible, and thank you for being our guest today.
Brendi Schramm: Well thank you so much Gary for having me. I really appreciate this.
Dr. Gary Deel: My pleasure. It’s great to be here. We’re here today to talk about the psychological implications of the COVID pandemic. And for the sake of an appropriate perspective for our listeners, we’re recording this in mid-May, 2021. So I think by some measures, it’s safe to say that our society is coming out of the pandemic. Although we are certainly not in the clear yet.
We’ve got concerns about additional spikes or waves of infections on the horizon potentially. Depending on the way people behave, frankly, with respect to social distancing, and vaccinations, and taking care to do the right thing and take safe precautions. But I’m hoping, and I’m knocking on wood as I say this, that the worst is behind us. Obviously in the United States, the COVID pandemic began more or less in late February, early March of 2020. So we are a bit more than a year removed from that.
And this has radically changed the way we live our lives, obviously, from the social distancing with close members of family and friends. Not gathering, not getting together for special occasions. Not going to work in many cases, remote work. A lot of folks have been unemployed as a result of the need for businesses to lay off workers amidst a lull coming from the pandemic.
So without giving you too loaded an initial question, what are the most prominent things that you’re seeing or that you’re expecting in terms of the way that COVID will have lasting impacts on the psyche of the American population?
Brendi Schramm: Well, I appreciate that question Gary. And first of all, I did want to say with COVID, it’s really something that literally impacts all of us. And we are all in this together, and to all varying degrees. And it’s really good for us to be able to get together, to explore that, and to see if we can figure out ways to make things better for people.
As we look for ways that the COVID pandemic is impacting people, one of the things that I think is helpful, I know from a developmental perspective, is looking at what are the basic needs that people have from childhood all the way to adulthood, and how is COVID impacting that?
And we’d like to look at it through the lens of Abraham Maslow and his Hierarchy of Needs. And for those that may not have heard of Abraham Maslow, he’s created a pyramid of needs. And there’s five essential needs that build on each other. The very base of that pyramid is our physiological needs. On top of that is safety needs, love and belonging, esteem needs, all the way up to self-actualization.
Now I know you live in Florida and I live in Houston, and we’re very used to hurricanes. They frequent where we’re at. And we know that whenever a hurricane comes through, everything shuts down. Right down to the first lower needs of that pyramid. The physiological needs and our safety needs.
The physiological needs are those needs that we need in order to stay alive. We need water, we need food, we need clothing. We need oxygen, all these different things and medical care to keep us alive. And we see how COVID has impacted that.
A year ago on top of all these basic needs, we even had the fear of not having enough toilet paper. Now I don’t think that Abraham Maslow thought of that as part of that lower need. But we do see how including in our family environment, we also have the fear of losing jobs, of unemployment. For those that have already lost jobs with so many of the industries being shut down. It’s the fear of how am I going to have an income? How am I going to survive? How am I going to be able to provide for my family?
And the fear of parents trickles down to children. And then the children also wondering, “Are we going to have a place to live? Are we going to have food? Are we going to have different things in order to live and survive?” So that is that basic foundational level of our physiological needs. And then all the other needs build on top of that.
So our next need then is safety. And with safety, we see that especially with children, it’s the fear of getting coronavirus. And to children, they watch TV, they’re bombarded with this every day. They see that ball with the funny red things sticking out of it. And they’re scared about, “I don’t want that thing in me. Am I going to get coronavirus? Am I going to get sick?” And then with all these fears, we see how it impacts the adults as well. Just keeping safe.
And along with those safety needs on that same level is also security needs. And we know especially for our children, they need the security of predictability, of structure, and routines. And all that’s been thrown off with COVID. So with that, it’s children not knowing what is the next day going to be? Or what’s today going to be? What are we going to do?
And then with school being closed and everything being put on the internet, then we look at that third need, love and belonging. We’re now we’re experiencing social distance. And for over the year we have. And that is very difficult for everybody. We see each other online. But virtual reality is not the same as what we experience when we’re actually with people.
And studies have shown even with children, you could have a teacher that’s physically with a child teaching a lesson, showing them, talking to them, physically there. You could take that same teacher teaching that exact same lesson and have the child virtually watching that teacher teach the exact same thing. And they see time and time again, the child absorbs, learns, picks up more with the physical presence of the teacher than just learning the exact same thing virtually. The social presence makes that much difference in a child. So we see how COVID impacts that level as well.
One of my favorite topics is attachment theory. And I can go on and on with the conversation of attachment, our attachment styles, and COVID as it impacts that level. But I’ll stay on right now, hierarchy of needs.
Dr. Gary Deel: Yeah, that’s interesting in light of the concept of love, and belonging, and attachment. Because what I think about in the wake of the COVID pandemic and the way that it’s changed our lives is that the need for public safety and specifically the social distancing that was required to manage this crisis has forced us into what you alluded to is the online environment of for lack of a better word, FaceTiming, or Zoom meetings, or just plain old traditional phone calls.
Where we once were accustomed to a lot of close, person-to-person, interpersonal contact. So what I’m wondering is if you have any thoughts on whether it seems that the human psyche is capable of adapting to this new norm in the sense that we find the same satisfaction from this online-distanced world that we do or did previously, to the intimate setting of a lot of close meetings and contact with other individuals.
And the reason that I ask that is as you were describing this, I was thinking about the work environment specifically. And I know that people don’t necessarily associate love and belonging with their workplace. But it’s not lost on me that a lot of folks I’ve talked to who transitioned to a remote work environment and were not in one previously, are actually quite content, at least in my social circle with the remote work environment.
They like not having to fight traffic in rush hour on the way to work, having to go to a desk and sit in an office with a bunch of other people. They like being able to get up and sit down at their home office in their pajamas. And they’re totally satisfied with never returning to a traditional office if they don’t have to. So I’m just wondering if that’s a lasting effect of COVID, if that’s going to stay. What does that mean for the way that we will adapt psychologically to just less general contact with people?
Brendi Schramm: Well, that’s an excellent point, Gary. It is interesting to see just how resilient the human psyche is and how we’re able to adapt to the changes including the workplace from when we were meeting face-to-face to now where we’re more in our virtual environments.
And it’s interesting. I think depending on the person or people, I know with talking to some of my colleagues and, personally, I really have been enjoying our Zoom meetings, not having to, like you said, fight the traffic, and it saves time. There’s more things that we’re able to be in participation with. So that is really great. And I think, yes, that we’ve come a long way from that, with that.
And I do think that this is something that will continue. Maybe not to the degree that it is right now, but I do see the virtual meetings and things as something that’s continuing.
That said, I don’t think that it totally replaces what we gain from being together as a group, with our colleagues, and that we really need maybe a combination of both. We really need those times when we can be together with other people. We can be face-to-face. We need that social connection as well. So maybe balancing that out.
We also see more of a phenomenon of Zoom fatigue that a lot of times, people are getting to the point without that personal interaction, that there’s more fatigue in like another Zoom meeting I have to attend.
And one of the things that we see too, is that when we’re physically together with other people, it tends to release certain neural chemicals in our minds that are real positive, such as we have a little more dopamine. We may have a little more serotonin. And also even some of the oxytocin, some of the bonding chemicals that we have when we’re with people day by day. And somehow that it’s not quite as triggered when it’s in virtual reality as it is when we’re actually face-to-face in connection with people.
Now, we also see that there’s a challenge especially with children. That it seems like although my children can adapt and they do just tremendously. But I think when it comes to the virtual world, I think that it might be easier for adults to be able to adapt to that more than children. And children and even college students seem to be experiencing a challenge of not being with other children. They need that social interaction for healthy development.
We know with social learning theory, so much of the social development of children depends on them being physically with others. So they learn things like sharing, taking turns, cooperating, communicating, and even how to handle some social challenging situations by being in that day-to-day reality with other children. And that is something that they just miss out.
There’s also that feeling of disconnect that they struggle with. And it’s hard. On birthdays, they have Zoom birthday parties. They may have other Zoom-like get togethers, and they may be happy that their friends are online, but yet that’s not the same, for many children, as being face-to-face with others.
And we see that with students. I know a number of my students have said the same. That they’re glad that they can continue to take classes, but they miss the structure of the school, the classroom. I teach online, I also teach in-class. And a lot of my students that are in class, they miss being in class. They miss being around other students. They miss the one-on-one physical connection with their classmates, having the instructor they can just go up to afterwards, after class, ask questions. So they’re really struggling that way.
And we also see that in some of our schools, in some of the schools I’m teaching here in Houston, that some of the enrollment has been down. And I was part of this, it was initiative, “Bring Them Back” initiative where I contacted at least 100 students just checking on them. Because these are students who had not signed up for the fall. This was last year, when I had called them. And just checking to see what the reason might be, if I can help them anyway.
I was thinking that the main reason was that they for some reason just didn’t want to return. But I found out the majority of students actually wanted to return, but were just having difficulty connecting with human beings virtually.
So I became kind of like the bridge, the conduit, to kind of connect them to their advisors, or to their instructors, or to the financial aid person. And then they were able to sign up. So I guess long story, short.
Dr. Gary Deel: It’s an interesting dynamic with respect to the interpersonal contact. Because as you were describing the situation and in all of your points I’ve witnessed over the course of the last year as we all have. But it struck me that we’ve received a double dose of stress in this respect.
One of them of course is that we have a lack of social contact with friends and distant relatives that we would usually interact with on a daily or at least weekly basis. And yet, also, we have a change in the nature of our relationship and the amount of time that we’re spending with our immediate family inside of our homes. Because we haven’t social distanced to the extent that we need to lock ourselves in isolation from all other human beings. We’ve just asked American families to huddle together with each other and not interact with others outside of their immediate nuclear family.
And, to me, that’s interesting because as a remote worker myself, someone who was a remote worker for years before COVID, and you may be able to relate to this as well, as a professor and faculty director here for American Public University, we are for the most part, 100% remote. We have a campus in West Virginia, but most of our work is done remotely. As you mentioned earlier, I live in Florida and I do everything from my home office. So I’m fairly used to spending my days just a few feet away from my wife and my two boys.
But for those that have not, and many people have seen the funny Zoom meeting recordings where folks are trying to get some serious work presentation done and then a three-year-old wanders in with a toy or something. And I think that’s probably put a stress on having to adjust the family dynamics. With someone with experience and expertise in marriage and family issues, would you agree that that’s probably put a strain on that dynamic as well?
Brendi Schramm: That’s a good point. I have to smile because I can relate to that personally. I know we all can. Right now, I feel like our family have become more like The Waltons. So I have my 91-year-old mother who had lived by herself after my father had passed. So she had lived by herself for probably about 10 years and was doing really well until COVID hit. And then once COVID hit, all of a sudden churches closed down, or the club meeting she’s gone to is closed down, or she’s unable to go to the store because of COVID. And then I find I’m then taking over trying to get all these things done for her.
But then, I saw where she got to a point where she just wasn’t faring well by herself. So now, I ended up moving her in with us. So I’ve got mom. And then with a lot of the colleges closing or the dorms closing, so now I have my adult children with us too. So we’re literally a multi-generational family.
And I know just trying to prepare for the podcast, I’m trying to get everything ready. But then I have my mom needs this, or my daughter needs this, or someone needs that. And I was like, “Okay. I love you guys, but I need to get ready for this podcast.”
But it’s challenging because before, and I know especially, parents with young children. Your children go off to school and then that’s good for them. They’re taken care of. And then parents then had whatever time, at least that time. I mean, whether they went to work. It was time away from the family, but also time where they were able to get things done. But it’s so challenging for parents, so challenging for families now.
On one hand, they’re happy to spend more time with their families. Because I know I had gone through that. I was feeling like, “I wish I had more time with my family.” Now we have all the time we need.
But now it’s the challenge of sometimes, we all need a break. And parents need a break. They love being with their children, but they really need break time to be able to de-stress. Especially, we have extroverts and introverts. And sometimes if parents are more introverted, they really need that quiet time by themselves recharge, or they’re just going to get drained.
Then there’s also trying to meet all the needs of the children while trying to get everything done as a parent. So with children, they need that routine. So trying to keep all that routine going. At the same time, they’ve got schoolwork. So now parents now have to be the teacher or make sure that their children are signed into class. They’re doing their homework, they’re getting things done.
But what happens when they don’t? What happens if children are falling behind or they don’t get the assignment done? What happens if they get that poor grade or they’re failing that course? It’s all that extra stress and strain on top of the parent.
And then it used to be where you could call up the school and go and visit with the teacher. But with COVID, that’s added a little more so now it may be more of a phone call or maybe a video conferencing. But that’s not quite the same as actually being able to go and physically see and talk with the teacher.
So yes, there’s so many more layers of difficulty, so many more layers of stress, so much extra stuff that’s on parents. So yes, that is something that’s so important to address to help keep parents from just totally burning out.
Dr. Gary Deel: Yeah, I can attest to that. I have an autistic five-year-old and a one-year-old who appears to be normally developing so far, but is still nonetheless a one-year-old. So, as much as you love your children, it’s limitless and unconditional, but it certainly can be taxing when you’re spending that much time in a confined space. And even, of course, preschools were for a time shut down and have since reopened. So our children go for several hours a day to VPK programs and to preschool, but it can still certainly be a real challenge.
Just to pivot to a related, but slightly different aspect of this topic. If we have any reason to believe the human race will be better at remembering this crisis than they have been for past crises. Because history has taught us that we tend not to be very good at that. I’m thinking generationally about what it will be to have lived through this pandemic myself in for me, my thirties. And I will have a story to tell to the younger generation, to my children, who at this point, are really too young to remember it. I mean, they’re living through it, but they won’t have any real conscious awareness of this that they can recall in their thirties. It’s just too early for them.
And then of course someday, I hope to have my own grandchildren. And I’ll have them on my knee at 75 and I can tell them about the great pandemic of 2020. And they’ll look at me like I’m crazy, because they didn’t live through it. They didn’t have any first-person experience with it. And therefore, it’s just not at the front of their minds in terms of how to prepare for something like this.
A lot of us didn’t think this was even possible in 2020, that we would be faced with another global pandemic that rivals the Spanish flu of 1918. And I can imagine that people from that generation probably went through the same situation where they’re describing this terrible circumstance that they lived through, but yet the later generations just don’t get it or really appreciate it because they didn’t see it. So do you think that this will stick for a while? Or do you think we’re likely to forget it in the midst of the 24-hour news cycle until the next 100-year pandemic emerges and we’re completely unprepared?
Brendi Schramm: That is a great question. And that’s one I know I have pondered a lot myself. Because I know my own parents had lived through The Great Depression. Of course I had not. And just hearing the stories that they share about The Great Depression. So because of the scope of the COVID virus, it will be something that will probably end up in the history books. Something that parents will share.
I think also just like with the pandemic, although it may not be that relevant to children later on down the line, probably what would change for them is probably how parents or society, how they treat this. What would kind of be sad, and I don’t think it’s going to, but would be is after everything is done and over, is just to go back to business as usual. That would be really sad. But I don’t think it will.
If this is something that we can actually, whether or not our children remember it or not later on, but if it’s something that we can use to make inroads, to get maybe a little closer to our children. Maybe we could use it as a way of making life maybe a little bit better, of making our current life a little bit better.
And there’s a lot of things that we have thought, “I wish I could do this. I wish I’d get closer to my kids. Or I wish I could spend more time with my kids.” Or even for ourselves, “I wish I could exercise more.” All these types of things we think about and we wish for.
But the best time to make change for a better life is through a transition. COVID is a transition. It’s a major transition, a major upheaval in our life. And it’s something that yes, it’s one of the most empowering, impactful experiences of our life. But what we do with that as a choice. We could let it tear us down, or we could use it to propel us forward. Sometimes we think of that as post-traumatic growth.
And one way that I think would be so good for people in general, or even parents to be able to use this pandemic to impact their children to make things, even create as much of a close bond as they can. And one of that is being able to speak your child’s love language. And I know this sounds a little crazy.
But there’s times when we give everything we possibly can to our child. And we often give to our child our own love language. We pour our love language into our child. And then we wonder, “Why is my child not experiencing this?” And of course, that’s a little different than autism. “But why isn’t my child experiencing this? I give my child everything.” And we know that there’s five main love languages that people have.
- And one is gifts. Some people, their love language is gifts. If they get a gift, to them, that just expresses just incredible amount of love.
- And some is acts of service. So people do things for them. It shows them their love. Some is physical touch. They like hugs. They like pats. And that makes them feel loved.
- Others is words of affirmation. And they can get all the gifts in the world. Just like some parents, “I give them everything. I buy them this, I buy them that. But for some reason, they just don’t appreciate it.” But it could be because they’re not feeling that love. If their love language is words of affirmation and the parent can speak those soul words into the heart of a child. “I love you. You’re so special to me. I noticed what you did was really exceptional. I love that painting that you draw. And that’s just really neat how you’ve got that in particular eye.” And those words for a child with words of affirmation is just amazing.
- And probably the most challenging gift for busy parents to give is for the child who has the gift of quality time is their love language. For them, it doesn’t matter what a parent does. The most important thing that a parent could do for this child is to spend time with them. And that’s so hard for parents these days, especially during COVID when they have so much going on. How did they give quality time to a child whose gift their love language is quality time? It may be doing your best to try to include a child. If you’re working and you can work next to them, if they’re not trying to get your attention all the time, right? Or it could be everyone has to prepare a meal, including the child. And in that, “Would you like to help me with preparing lunch?” The child with the love language of quality time would probably say, “Yeah. Yeah. Great. That’s awesome.”
So learning the love language of your child and speaking it often is one of the best inroads into becoming closer to your child.
And even if your child maybe years down the road doesn’t remember COVID, it’s like, “I was a little kid. I don’t quite remember it.” But they will remember their love language. That is something that will stay with them. So just to practice that. Find out your child’s love language, practice it, and see what difference that makes in your relationship with your child.
Dr. Gary Deel: That’s an interesting point. I think about the quality time piece and the affection piece, the attachment, the time that we spend in each other’s company. And I wonder how future generations will adapt to new norms that may stick as a result of the COVID pandemic.
For example, I just did a podcast recording a few days ago with Dr. Kevin Forehand, who’s the former director of the Retail Operations and Management Program within the School of Business. And our podcast was all about how retail industry is evolving to accommodate COVID and technology and the fact that today, for the most part, you can just get on your phone, and order something from Amazon, and have it within 24 hours, and you don’t have to go anywhere.
So I’m imagining a future enabled by technology like what we’re using to record this podcast right now, frankly. And Zoom, and companies like Amazon with sophisticated delivery and logistics infrastructure. Where we don’t really have to go anywhere or do anything for the sake of our jobs or shopping.
I think we’re only a few years removed from that situation where you don’t even need to go to the grocery store. I mean today, you can order your groceries online if you want to. It’s not necessarily popular, but I think that’s really largely attributable to just needs for improvement in the infrastructure of the online ordering system. And what do you do about perishables? And if I want a banana, I want to pick out the specific banana. And I don’t want you to just send me one that’s all bruised and brown. So there’s a lot of corner cases that have evolved in that world, but I think they’re largely solvable through improvements in technology.
But then we arrived at an endpoint where you’re in a society where you don’t really have to go out and do much of anything. You might want to for leisure purposes, go eat at a restaurant, go see a show, go to a theme park if you’re here in Orlando, like I am.
But we’re largely products of our culture, of the context of the environment in which we grow up. And I’m wondering if today’s children will even miss that if there is a big, permanent shift in the amount of social gatherings that we have or events. If people decide to permanently deter the amount of that that we do.
Business travel is an excellent example. Not that children are traveling for business, of course. But I think a lot of companies are realizing today through being forced to, frankly, experiment with this through COVID, and social distancing, and the need to reduce the amount of travel that employees would frequently partake in. That they can get a lot done remotely in ways that they just never really had to experiment with before.
And that new norm is becoming something that I’m not sure how many companies will go back to the old way of doing things. So I think some of those impacts we might expect to be permanent. And with that in mind, I just wonder how much of that will even seem odd to anyone who really wasn’t old enough at this moment in time to know anything consciously and from an awareness perspective prior to COVID.
Brendi Schramm: That’s really a good question. If we’re going to see a difference in the next generations, how they do life, and the impact that the shift that COVID is causing us. Where we are at, probably most of us have been raised with more social contact, with direct physical contact with human beings. But COVID has forced us to become more reliant on technology. And what is that going to look like for our future generations? I think that is an excellent question.
It’s interesting how we can live life almost from our cell phones. Everything that we need. I know I’m an avid Amazoner. I have to be careful. It’s just too easy to order from Amazon than to go physically to a store and to buy anything. And then how much that will impact our future later on. It’d be interesting to see how that unravels, how that unrolls.
Dr. Gary Deel: And in that context, Dr. Forehand and I were discussing Amazon, of course. But also even if you choose to go to a store, or in the rare occasion that you were maybe forced to go to a store because it’s not something that Amazon carries or the prices are better at your local Walmart, or what have you.
We had talked about the self-service option is available to you for things like checkout. And how there seems to be a shift in the willingness to adopt. And speaking only for myself, I mentioned on the podcast that I’m totally comfortable with it, especially if the line is shorter or if I can get through it quicker. I usually can get through a self-service kiosk faster on my own, just because I’ve grown so accustomed to how they work. And you can engineer the system to where your credit card is in the swiping machine before you even finish the scanning of your items. I’d analogize it to an Indy 500 pit stop. As fast as humanly possible, you’re out the door.
But I wonder if that threatens any harm on our psychological sense of pure bonding in light of the fact that if you sort of apply that analogy to everything we do and realize that if you go to a restaurant. With today’s technology, there isn’t really a need for a server. I mean, there may be a service component you could argue to say that that person can increase the value or the enjoyment of your experience by being friendly and by offering recommendations or whatnot. But we’ve all seen the kiosks and the tablets that are now available in restaurants for you to order your food online or right from your phone as the case may be, as you just described.
So if you kind of apply that in every social interaction you can imagine, then you’re in a situation where yes, you coexist on a planet with 7 billion other people, but there’s really no need to have a lot of interpersonal contact with the advent and improvements in technology. So I just wonder what are the long-term implications of does that threaten us with any harm from that sort of isolation, even if we unwittingly bring it upon ourselves? If it’s “voluntary.”
Yeah. I appreciate that question, Gary. Because I think that is so important for our own mental psyche. And just the way the world is going, and how we’re able to just live life almost with very limited social interactions with others. Just like you said, going to the store, go through that self scan. It’s already calculated so many different, you’re in and out. Just like A. J. Foyt.
And even in stores where there’s social distancing, it seems like there’s the tendency where people before COVID was probably more apt you see somebody in the store or anybody in the store, you’re more friendly. “Hi, how are you?” But now it’s social distancing. It’s all kind of like we’re all in our little protective bubbles. And we’re just kind of floating around with very little limited interaction with each other.
But I appreciate your question though. How might that impact us psychologically? Because even as our world is changing, things are getting maybe easier from a technological standpoint. But what’s interesting is that we’re all born with a social brain. Our brains are literally wired for social interaction. And we see that right from day one when a child is first born, that the attachment to that caregiver is just crucial and critical for their very survival. And no one discovered that more than British psychologist John Bowlby who’s coined the father of attachment.
It was back in the time when in the early 1900s, when they had orphanages. And some of those babies, they would be found dead in their cribs. The question was what was happening as all their fiscal needs were being met. They didn’t seem sick. It was John Bowlby that had noted that yes, their physical needs were being met, but their emotional needs were not. So he had recommended that the caregivers pick up the babies, hold the babies, hug the babies, talk to them. Feed into their hearts that social interaction. And then they began to see a change.
And we see too that Dr. Bowlby’s student, Mary Ainsworth, she had conducted research and testing what are the attachment styles that people have? And it’s interesting because whether we realize it or not, we all have an attachment style. And that’s impacted by our social environment.
So 60% of the population have a secure attachment. Then there’s probably about another 30% maybe that have anxious ambivalent and another 30% about avoidant. Those children that were born in a family with a caregiver that not only met their physical needs, but their emotional needs, they held them, they loved them, they gave eye contact, they talked to them, they cooed with them. And it was consistent care.
And then we also have what’s called symbiosis. It’s kind of like if the baby smiles, the parent smiles. The baby coos, the parent coos. And then the baby will begin to do back and forth. So it’s kind of like a back and forth, but it’s a bonding that occurs within the heart of that child, right from day one.
And what happens is that the child then will internalize that parent into their psyche. We call it an internal working model. So even if they’re not with their parent, they have this warm, secure, loving parent inside them that goes with them wherever they go. And when they interact with people, it’s so much easier because they have secure attachment. They’re not afraid of being abandoned, they’re not afraid of being rejected. There’s no fear with them. So they find that it’s easier to attach to others.
And then in Mary Ainsworth’s experiment, it was a lab experiment. There was a two-way mirror. She was on one side. The child is on the other side. So the parent was playing with a child in this room all by themselves. On cue, the parent would get up and leave the room, leaving the baby in the room all by itself.
And when the baby, saw it was all by itself. This is a securely attached baby, would cry. And because he was like, “Where’s mom? Where’s dad? Where’s my caregiver?” But then on cue, the parent would come back. And then once the parent picked up the baby, the baby was instantly soothed. And that’s the securely attached baby.
Mary Ainsworth also noted, the next one was the insecure ambivalent, anxious ambivalent. The insecure, anxious ambivalent child has a parent that sometimes meets the child’s needs. Usually meets the physical needs, sometimes meets the emotional needs, sometimes not for whatever reason. It could be the parent is depressed. Parent could be bipolar, could be anything. Sometimes, the parent is happy. It’s not like we all have these wonderful days. But there’s kind of like, it’s almost like an on off. Sometimes the parent is very loving, very expressive, very emotionally warm with a child. Other times the parent is distant, is just not able to feed that love into the child. So inside, the child develops a kind of anxious core. Anxious ambivalent. And then they internalize that.
So when they’re with other people, when they get older, they’re always anxious about whether or not a person’s going to stay with them. They fear abandonment or rejection. If they have a friend, they’re always afraid that somehow that friend is going to leave them, or that friend is going to find someone else that they like better, and they’re going to reject them. And that’s something that they carry with them.
So in this lab room, back to Mary Ainsworth, she’s again behind the mirror. The parent and child are on the other side. And the parent’s playing with the child. On cue, the parent gets up, the parent leaves. And the baby cries. So here Mary Ainsworth saw the securely attached baby cried when the parent left. The anxious ambivalent child also cries when the parent leaves. How does she know the difference?
The difference was what happens when the parent returns. So when the parent returned for the securely attached child, the child was soothed immediately. But for the anxious ambivalent child, when the mother returned, she picked up the child, but it took a while for that child to calm down. It wasn’t soothed immediately. It wanted the parent’s attention, but the parent really wasn’t that secure base.
And then the third attachment style is the avoidant. And these are usually children that are from parents that meet their physical needs. But for some reason, just have a really difficult time meeting the emotional needs. So these children when they are stressed out or have all kinds of needs that are not being met emotionally, they tend to internalize. Because they’ve never addressed or identified the parent as a secure base for those.
And what we see with Mary Ainsworth in her lab is when she’s behind the desk, behind the window. And she has the parent and the child. Do the same thing on cue, the parent leaves. But the avoidant child, there’s no reaction. The avoidant child doesn’t cry, shows absolutely no distress whatsoever. On cue, the parent comes back into the room. And again, there’s no emotional response whatsoever shown by this child. Now we do know it does bother the child from testing. They show high levels of cortisol, high stress that they experience internally. But they don’t show it on the outside.
So what we see is from each of these attachment styles that we see in babies actually goes with a child through childhood, even through adulthood, unless certain things change that. So how does this impact the attachment styles that people have? How’s that impacted by COVID or by our society seem to be getting more away from socialization? Maybe they’re more tech-dependent.
And we see that with a securely attached that they do miss the secure, the connection. And they may be more apt to reach out to other people because they’re not inhibited socially. And they may fare very well with that. They’re not overly distressed by it, even though they may miss that type of social interaction.
We see with the avoidant, the avoidant can cope more with it because they’re avoidant anyway. But avoidance, they do like interaction. The difference is they just don’t like anyone getting into their personal life or into their emotions. They tend to back off from that. But they could miss social interactions.
The people that experience it the worst are those that have anxious ambivalent. They’re already worried about abandonment, worried about being alone, worried about not having friends. And then you have COVID on top of that, where everyone’s forced into that social distancing.
So that can really be upsetting to them, and they could be more traumatized. They may have more anxiety, more depression, and things like that. So really, for all, especially children, all the various attachment styles, it’s important to keep an eye on them, see how they’re doing, how they’re coping. And if there’s any way that we can use different types of strategies, or approaches, or even therapy to be able to help them make it through that. So that’s with children, adults as well.
Dr. Gary Deel: It makes me think about the spectrum of personalities, and individuals, and specifically what we call the autism spectrum. Again as I mentioned earlier, I have a five-year-old who is on the spectrum. And he’s somewhat of an uncharacteristic member of the spectrum in the sense that although he’s been diagnosed with autism, he’s incredibly affectionate and incredibly dependent upon love, and affection, and attachment from his mother and from me.
But I know a lot of children and adults on that spectrum have the opposite situation in terms of being somewhat indifferent or even opposed to the idea of personal human contact or affection that others would seek out as desirable. Maybe just the opposite for those members.
It also makes me think about the Jungian archetypes of introvert versus extrovert. And I wonder if the exposure to social distancing and the lack of human contact for those in their critical development years now, even if we sort of completely regress to a pre-COVID state after this. If you were five, six, seven years old as a normally developing child during this period of time and then again were removed from school, removed from social situations, removed from play dates with friends, removed with extended family interactions.
If there is a nurture component to the introvert/extrovert personality development, which different experts will of course disagree on. But if there is a component to that that is nurture rather than nature, I wonder if future generations might be more prone or inclined to be more introverted than extroverted so to speak.
Brendi Schramm: I think that is an excellent question, Gary. And I also wanted to commend you and your wife for the work that you’ve been doing with your son. And just from what you describe, I can tell that you and your wife just really pour in a lot of love, tenderness, and affection into your little guy, and that he’s responding to that.
And I really think there’s no substitute for social interaction. There’s no substitute for human contact. And I think that’s a good question as we’re looking at attachment styles, but also looking at Jungian theory. I love Myers-Briggs myself. I even give out the Myers-Briggs to my students and have them test their own. And I see that they really enjoy that.
I think that even as our society goes toward more independence, I don’t think that the need for social interactions, need for contact, I don’t think that’s going to go away.
Now there may be a tendency for people to become more introverted. Or what I should say is when we look at introversion/extroversion, what we’re actually looking at is energy level. Where do people get their energy? So people that are introverted, they tend to get their energy more by being by themselves in order to recharge, kind of recharge their batteries. And then they can be around people more. Then you have your extroverts get their energy from outside themselves, from people, from ideas, from what’s going on out there.
Now there may be where, and we’ve all experienced that this whole year, we’ve been isolated more than we ever have been. We’ve been social distanced, except for like you said, our immediate families. But I think the need is still there.
We may adopt more of the practices of being online or being socially distanced. And that may become more of a habit. But I still think that craving for human love, for human compassion is still going to be the driving force in all that we do. I think people will still find a way, even if our society changes into more of the virtual reality, virtual world of stuff, I think people in their craving will find creative ways around that so that they can connect with other people.
Dr. Gary Deel: It’ll really be interesting to see as we move forward. These are of course unprecedented times, and it’s hard to predict what the outcomes would be. But this has really been a fruitful conversation. And I appreciate it, Brendi. It was a pleasure to have you on, and hopefully we can do a part two to this perhaps six months or even another year down the road to kind of gauge a better assessment of what the fallout of COVID has been on the collective psyche of our society.
Brendi Schramm: Well, thank you very much, Gary. I really appreciate this podcast, being able to talk to you. Even if it’s virtually.
Dr. Gary Deel: Absolutely. It’s been our pleasure. It’s been a wonderful conversation. I want to thank you for sharing your expertise and perspectives with us on these topics. And thanks for joining me today for this episode of Intellectible.
Brendi Schramm: You’re very welcome. Thank you, Gary.
Dr. Gary Deel: And thank you to our listeners for joining us. You can learn more about these topics by visiting the various American Public University blogs and podcasts. Thanks. Be well and stay safe, everyone.