I know it is a strange question. How do we deal with it when we don’t have any personal experience?
I grew up with war stories. My father was born in December ’39, in trenches, and he never knew his father, who went to WWII while my grandmother was pregnant. It is not easy to imagine how a widow with three children (my father being the youngest) survived the war. Nevertheless, we heard stories as children. Stories about German and Russian soldiers who needed food and would do anything to get it. Soldiers who were also missing their children left behind and would seek some comfort in holding my father since he was perhaps about the age of their children. And then they would move on to die or to live, leaving behind women and children robbed of the little food they had, yet alive.
My mother’s side of the family also carries war scars from a grandfather raised by the army. Widows like my grate-grandmother could not afford to keep all their children, and they would give them away to the military. At least they would get food and clothing. When he learned I was going to study in the North of Norway, he told me that he have been experiencing both the Northern Lights and the Midnight Sun while traveling with the army through Russia, up to Murmansk. I think he also spoke some Russian, yet I never heard him speak it. What I heard was the classical music that he was playing since one of the things he learned in the army was to play the horn in the army’s orchestra. Keeping the soldier’s spirits up was also important at the time.
He came back alive and married one of the many girls of a widow who survived the war – my grandmother. They were some of those many people who helped rebuild the country after WWII.
I am not alone with this kind of story. Many people from southeast Europe have similar stories. After the war was over, the communist experiment started in Romania (Ceausescu’s version), influenced by the great power in the East, USSR. That was the only place people could travel in those times and Russian the only foreign language taught in school.
War was always present in our upbringing through my parents’ attitudes and behaviors, who learned survival skills growing up with the war, like my father, or building the country after it, like my mother. Practical skills and little emotions. No time and place for such frivolities. We are generations who experienced “second-hand war” through our parents and grandparents.
The war in Yugoslavia was also close in the ’90. The borders were closed and the news was censured until 1990, therefore people didn’t understand what to do with what was told on TV. The politicians at the time had managed to keep the country out of the conflict though.
In the past 30 years, some of the new generations in Romania, who did not experience either the war or Ceausescu’s communist regime, are making a “psychological revolution”.
Many read and educate themselves within the field and started to talk about how war and dictatorship experiences (death, rape, hunger, anger, etc) were sent through generations and how they influenced them.
They are brave young people who dare take a deep dive into themselves and their family histories and try to heal whatever they can, so they won’t give the wounds further to their children.
Since February 24th what we thought is in the past became present and very close to Romania’s borders. I hear that tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees have passed through Romania on their way to more stable countries and with a more significant distance from the conflict.
I see on social media stories from my friends who got involved and are helping the best way they can. At the same time, I live in Norway, a country that is also neighbor to Russia. Until further notice, we are supposed to carry on our lives as nothing happens. Yet I cannot help not noticing Coast Guard ships passing through the fjords every time I drive to the office. Nor the trailers that are carrying military equipment to the nearest military point that was supposed to be disabled.
I cannot pretend the war in Ukraine is not happening. Nor ignore the newspapers articles from all sides talking about a “true” story about what is happening in Ukraine and Russia. A “truth” perhaps we may never find out.
At the same time, what can we do to deal with war so close to home? I managed to find about 11 points that may help, yet there can be much more. Please add them in the comments.
- Work and live as “normal” as possible for the time being. Keep yourself busy.
2. Talk to other people. At the same time, I experience that people who ask me or Ukrainians or Russians or Polish people how we are, don’t want to listen to the answer. They are in a much bigger hurry to tell us how they feel. Because this is how they deal with their fear.
People who are asking how others are so they can speak about themselves we see around us every day. It is a coping mechanism and a “social skill”. So my suggestion would be: don’t ask people how they are if you don’t mean to listen to them. If you need to talk, say it: “I need someone to talk to”, and I am sure people will listen.
3. Do not watch the news, except for specific times in the day, so you can give yourself time to process the information you’ve already got. Choosing the source of information can also help in getting some accurate ones.
4. A cold head is good to have in such circumstances. Do what is needed wherever we are, instead of getting emotional and creating scenarios in our heads about a future we do not know anything about yet. War is unpredictable, no matter what diplomacy says. I don’t think the world leaders were prepared for the one in Ukraine. War and its consequences are practical. Yet, to be able to deal with its practicalities, people need to be strong psychologically.
5. Flexible mindset helps, and use of words which would place the mind on a non-catastrophic path: “I choose”, “It’s bad, yet it’s not the worst”, “I don’t like it, yet I’m doing it anyway”, – are formulations which keep the mind in a less comfortable place, yet survival and active one, with a good chance of turning positive.
6. Make a distinction between behavior and the human having it, when speaking with people: “your behavior is less fortunate” instead of “you’re so and so…”, and I don’t need to mention any less positive words some of us can call people around them. People are good. Behaviours are bad, and they can be changed with will and work.
7. A detached attitude can also help: “I can’t do anything about it anyway”; “Nothing can happen to me/us”; “It’s not here yet”, and so on. At the same time, there is always something we can do in this digital world within the detachment. I am sure we can write, share resources, provide the information we may know, translate if we speak several languages, volunteer, and more.
8. Talk to children about the war in a way they will understand. Explain as honestly as possible the emotions we have as adults, and which may occur in the process. Naming them for children and accepting them within ourselves will help them also understand what they are going through. Accordingly to their age, it is good to make references to bedtime stories, films, and books they may be familiar with.
Emotional regulation is a challenge both for children and adults, at the same time, the adults are supposed to be responsible and be able to take care of their feelings and the children’s. We also know that children are survivors and good at hiding feelings. Therefore, paying attention to their eating and sleeping patterns, and the degree of fear and shyness in the presence of other people can help detect if they are really ok.
9. Take care of yourself, if you can, with everything that implies: healthy food, sports, sleep, meditation or prayer, routines, social circle, and whatever makes everyone have a sense of meaningful life. All this will help approach the situation from a better standpoint, and a feeling of control.
10. Think of a social network. Where can you go for help and when? Who are the people you can trust? Have a plan. Check the municipality’s websites for practical information they may have.
11. And last but not least, if you are an immigrant, do not take the war with you. Remember that leaders make wars, not ordinary people who decided to leave the bad leaders anyway. Now they live in the same country as you.
If you come from a country with lousy leadership and a flawed political system, you are not responsible for it, even if you voted for them. The same goes for people coming from other countries. Throwing bad words to people from the country your leaders decided to go to war with, knowing that the locals won’t understand the language you’re speaking in, is not very elegant nor says something good about you. If you support the political decisions in your country of birth, it can be a good idea to keep it to yourself while you are an immigrant in another country.
If you need to talk about this war issue that is affecting us today, do let me know on this link.
Wishing you Peace!