I shared on a friend's facebook post that in constantly berating others for buying toilet paper we are in a round about way shaming others and not showing compassion. She countered that wiping out stores is not very compassionate either. I don't disagree but I think there may be some gross misunderstandings of what is going on here amid the Covid-19 situation.
I want to shed a little bit of light on the toilet paper thing from the neuropsychology of fear.
When fear is “driving the bus” that means that the oldest part of our brain - the reptilian (named this because Reptiles also have this part in their brain) or Limbic System ( or emotional brain as you may have also heard it called) is activated.
The Reptilian Brain or Limbic System is driven by high intensity emotions like fear and the reason is primarily for survival. Our brains are hardwired to see the negative - it’s an actual thing called The Negativity Bias - and it’s quite frankly been evolved into place for our species survival. We look out for threats, we’re constantly on the watch for them so that we can evade them and learn from them and therefore survive. It’s an ancient part of our biology and frankly, we haven’t evolved out of it - it’s still very much alive and well within us even though the threats today look very different then they did in ancient times.
Our Pre-frontal Cortex - or decision making centre in the brain is responsible for thinking things through rationally, or looking and planning ahead. This is where we can rationalize and consider not only ourselves but also others.
The important thing to note here is that when the Limbic System (reptilian brain) is driving the bus, the Pre-frontal Cortex (think of this part of the brain as like your most calm cool and collected friend who can make wise and educated decisions) goes offline. When fear is activating that ancient brain we just can’t think and act the way that we normally would because we can’t actually access the part of the brain that allows for thinking ahead, thinking of others, rationalizing.
Enter shame - when people are shamed they are thrown into a form of fight or flight or freeze and that is because shame is another form of threat. It’s a threat to your character, your actions, your very sense of self.
I consider myself to be a good person, I try to do the best I can for myself and others but it doesn’t always come out the way I intend it to. I’m sure that you can say the same for yourself.
So when people start to post all over the internet images of shelves that are wiped clean, you may start to feel ashamed that you partook in buying resources for your family. Did you take too much? How are we to know at this point of uncertainty? The very fact that we do not know is the highest intensity of fear going. With that being said, the biological and psychological knee jerk reaction is to do what is necessary for yourself and your loved ones.
The toilet paper thing? I think it’s less about the actual product and what it is used for and more about the the symbolism of uncertainty and fear. No one wants to be stuck without - no matter what that is.
However when we condemn others for doing what they thought was necessary in a time where their emotional brain was completely driving their decisions. This act of shaming others for making decisions that they may not usually make only adds to the feeling of threat and scarcity.
I will admit that I found myself putting toilet paper into my cart and telling myself that I actually needed it but upon returning home when I opened the cupboard I in fact already had toilet paper .
In fact my mom legitimately buys toilet paper any time its on sale and delivers it to anyone she loves - which means I usually always have a good supply - but in the moments at the grocery store when fear was the prevailing energy I was quite literally not able to access my rational brain and think it through and remember that this is the case. I’m willing to bet this happened to many other people as well.
After seeing empty shelves in stores I felt a wave of shame that I have shelves that are full in my home - but the truth is that that is often the case for us and what I’ve come to realize again and again is how fortunate we are to have the opportunities to afford us the ability to have extra in times of plenty and in times of need.
The shame that I felt is maybe something that you have felt too and possibly haven’t recognized it as such yet. Perhaps you are judging others for stocking up even though admittedly you may actually have plenty. (We sometimes counter this at holidays by having food drives) Perhaps this judgement is just another mask for fear. Maybe judging others is a big misunderstanding. (Passing judgement in any situation usually is about misunderstanding in my opinion) But I can tell you that passing judgement on others for doing what they feel like they need to do for survival (toilet paper or not) is shaming and only further adding to the fear.
I did/do feel shame for having my shelves full and yet here is how I’m working through it:
I wish you heaps of self compassion, self forgiveness, a sense of safety, love and goodwill and if you need anything, please reach out and let’s problem solve together.