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Gonzalo Galván: From the denial of death to social commitment

Daniel GalvanDaniel Galván Source: Courtesy

Undeniably, the Covid-19 pandemic situation it represents environmental stressors for everyone. This activates a vast repertoire of reactions to that reality.

These reactions lead us to feel, think, and act in different ways. Each individual or each group of individuals carry out readings – quite diverse – of the particular reality that occurs, hence, stress responses they can vary in quality and intensity.

Two fears are, for human beings, the most ingrained and primitive: one, the fear of the unknown, the other, the fear of death (Although this second probably derives from the first; since, for sure, we do not know what the future holds, beyond our faith).

There is no doubt that the pandemic confronts us with both fears. We don’t know much about the virus (despite advances in science). On the other hand, we know that contagion can progress to an unwanted ending: death; or, in some cases, with severe symptoms.

As I point out, people make different readings and interpretations of the same reality. Thus, there are different realities and alternative forms of reaction to the pandemic that, as a stressful event, here report a series of inconveniences.

Among the range of behavioral possibilities in the face of the pandemic, I would like to focus on one of them, the behavior that seems to be determined by the denial of death or at least by the perception that little or nothing can happen if I expose myself: taking risks.

However, What does it mean to have a low perception of risk? In short, it is a failure or imbalance between the assessment of danger, that something represents, and the vulnerability that I have before it. A low perception of risk inclines people to understand themselves as not vulnerable, as subjects with certain characteristics, which make them immune to this or that event (belief of superiority) or, well, they think that chance will play in their favor.

Nothing could be further from reality, is what happens. This type of deficiency, or bias, in perception is more frequent among young people and adolescents. Certain characteristics, related to maturation of a particular area of ​​the brain (prefrontal) explain the difficulty of young people to see danger. In other words, a maturing event is what underlies, what we call “irresponsible behavior.” However, in the adult population, this also happens and here the maturation issue, from the biological point of view, has something less to do with it.

In the latter case, well-known psychological mechanisms are at work in adult behavior. Certain adults, faced with the pandemic, have not been able to tolerate within themselves the anguish at the possibility of being infected and, therefore, run the risk of perishing, much less the possibility of being asymptomatic carriers of viruses and infecting others.

In this sense, when people deny the dangerousness of an issue, in this case the pandemic, and place themselves in a position of omnipotence, that is, that nothing can happen to them, the latter begins to operate in favor of fdestructive purposes.

The low ability to perceive risk by a sector of the population is not something that would have come with the pandemic. Among these people are those who continue using tobacco despite strong evidence that it can cause cancer (among other lethal conditions); those who do not use protection when having sex and get (and then get) HIV; those same as they drink alcohol and decide to driveeven the same ones who accelerate their vehicles between the streets beyond the allowed limits, believing that they control them.

The explained behavior, in general, yields little to the interventions. These are people who do not follow biosecurity protocols, do not quarantine, deny the pandemic, generate group situations, among other behaviors; Yes, they value the immediate advantages of taking certain risks, putting the individual good above all common good, that is, their behavior does not have the characteristics of prosocial behavior.

Interventions in this type of people, in general, are not less than unsuccessful, however, something can be done. From the individual and group, we must exercise prosocial behavior seeking the welfare of other people, pursuing social goals; the greater the frequency and intensity of the use of these behaviors, the greater the possibility of generate reciprocity positive, quality and supportive in the sense of “if he or she takes care of me, I take care of him”.

Finally, by way of closing: it is not unreasonable to reflect on the finitude of life; in fact, it is something that accompanies us throughout our life cyclesIt is appropriate to befriend the idea of ​​death, to accept it; however, denying it is a faster path to it.

The author is director of the UDEM School of Psychology. He has a Doctorate in Psychology from the University of Oviedo (Spain), a Master’s degree in addiction prevention and treatment from the University of Valencia, a Specialty in Ericksonian Hypnosis, University of Valencia and is an Expert in Trauma treatment by EMDR (USA ), Degree in Psychology from the University of Flores, Argentina.

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