Networks in times of confinement - Edith Goldbeter-Merinfeld
by Edith Goldbeter-Merinfeld
In the process of gradually coming out of confinement (this is only the beginning), we see the importance of networks and how social beings we are.
The deprivation of daily, normal and regular relationships leads us to see how, when everything is going normally, we live and breathe in our networks. It was in 1957 that Elisabeth Bott, inspired by anthropology, introduced the concept of social network, which can be defined as follows: set of material and fictitious paths that connect people to each other informally and spontaneously.
The therapeutic dimension of the networks is markedly raised in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when many were looking for alternatives to psychiatric internment.
Mony Elkaim played an important role in the use of networks, as did the Italian Silvana Montagano. The network is for them a means of setting in motion the interpersonal relations when they are sclerotic. Artificial networks can be implemented: in therapy new people are introduced into the network of patients. For Silvana Montagano, a network is therapeutic simply because it is a network: it can support and contain something, memories, goals, ideas, pains, fantasies... A support network is essential for a vast majority of people. Two people played an important role: Ross Peck in the USA who created the network therapy, and Jean-Marie Lemaire in Belgium who created the consultation clinic in which the network is made up of the family on the one hand, and professionals involved with family members, on the other.
This network is a family support group. The social support provided by the networks acts as a protection that has an effect on physical and emotional health.
Research has shown a “buffering effect” between a stressful event (the person's experience of this event or apprehension of this event) and the reaction or search for solutions by the person who is under stress. An individual who perceives that he can be supported, better defines what causes stress and better understands the means of controlling this stress. The network somehow eliminates what hinders the search for solutions, on the contrary it promotes the development of solutions (or reduces the impact of perception by helping to put solutions in place). The relationship between the social network and mental health is not linear: it is circular. Psychological distress can be caused by the lack of social support and the absence of a network, and symmetrically, be the result: the context is circular. For adolescents and young adults, the network contributes to well-being in contexts of intra-family difficulties, faced with problems of social identity or in contexts of adversity.
A group of friends, for example, provides replacement support in the absence of family support, it can even play the role of a replacement family in cases of serious emotional deprivation. It also provides additional opportunities for identification. For isolated people, the secondary networks (interveners and public services) are very useful. In our cultural context, spontaneous networks are born at school, in youth movements or in the world of work: these environments make it possible to build networks of peers outside the family.
Work significantly feeds the network of assets. Without a network, that is to say without work, without friends and without family, it is isolation. During the confinement, exchanges by current technical means (zoom, etc.) made it possible to restore or create social networks of support.
People did not wait for psychologists to know that it is important to animate and revive networks, as if the limitation of contacts made us feel how necessary it is to maintain our network, in an active way. The context of confinement at home and the absence of daily contact paradoxically had an effect on the maintenance and expansion of the social network. The reduction in face-to-face meetings has led to the development of remote networks. The more we are forced to be isolated, the more we tend to develop external relations, at a distance. So we amplify contacts and/or we look again for old links. The human being remembers that he is fundamentally a relational being: he preserves the relations, amplifies them, seeks contacts.
The confinement allowed us to rediscover this. Living alone and meeting strangers can fill a human space.
But in confinement, no longer seeing anyone or only shadows masked and in a hurry to return home, individuals whose features we cannot identify... the experience is different. What about rituals and their effects on networks?
Networks are always consolidated in rituals that draw a form of boundary between those who belong to the network, who share values and those who do not.
The network draws a kind of border between this world and the outside, delimiting a system or a territory. Sharing rituals means belonging to a group. In the rituals, the individual times are synchronized by the time of the group.
Time is punctuated by passages, as if it were going through some sort of customs post. In confinement, social and intra-family rituals have gained importance, they have punctuated time and produced a reassuring effect linked to inclusion in a temporal structure (teleworking, on the contrary, deprives of certain temporal markers). The rituals trace the passage of time, they contain a dimension of movement, with a before and an after. The moment of the ritual is well defined, with the preparation before (for example preparation of the aperitif at a distance), and the metabolization of what happened after, through a media. The aperitifs at a distance had a reassuring effect, linked to shared pleasure, to the sharing of similar conditions: in confinement we are the same, we understand each other and we have a good time. Applause for caregivers was also a ritual that drew neighborhood boundaries, but also within wider cultural groups, since the practice was widespread across countries and even continents.
The ritual is reassuring: we exist because we belong. The feeling of belonging is important: we are relational beings, “belonging” beings. What will become of these networks woven during confinement?
In the future, will these networks of former confined people (or former resistance to confinement) be maintained or will they be unraveled to make way for new networks? Hasn't confinement humanized us by becoming aware of the importance of relationships? Interview by Pascale Baratay-Lhorte
Tags: Challenges of COVID