This morning, Greenpeace activists dropped a giant “RESIST” banner from a crane next to the White House. And I cannot look away. I want to see and hear everything. I am attending to this action.
Last summer, while completing a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), I learned about two psychological coping personalities: attenders and distractors.
Attenders choose to approach stress actively. These are the people who at the doctor’s office choose to watch blood being drawn from their arm. Distractors, are those who need to look away and be distracted by a tv show.
I am an attender. I used to have a dentist with a camera setup that allowed me to watch my teeth cleaning on a TV screen. I really miss having such an up close and personal look at my teeth.
In the past few weeks, as a new (or ancient) political reality unfolds around us, you can see people taking up their preferred coping strategies. You see the attenders, reading all the articles, getting together with friends to trade stories and news, acting out their preference for being active information seekers. And then there’s the distractors, going on vacations or to the movies, immersing themselves in romantic fiction or cat pictures to avoid information about all that is being revealed.
Dr. David Pelcovitz, a professor of psychology from Yeshiva University, who describes these two approaches (really, more of a spectrum) in his article “Coping with Loss and Terror: Jewish and Psychological Perspectives,” says it’s not that one or the other – attender or distractor – is better, but instead that we need to honor people’s ability to manage their inner lives in the way that is appropriate for them.
This concept was essential in CPE because I couldn’t expect as an attender that the person I was providing spiritual care to would want to attend as well, especially if they were a distractor.
As we learn new ways of doing movement together (by the hour!) I keep trying to remember that some of us are attenders and some distractors, and everywhere in between. May we each have the liberty to cope in our own ways.
What about you – are you an attender or a distractor?
image credit: U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Jake Bailey