Boy. It's only March and 2020 has already been on one. Big time. If it's not the chlamydia that's in the Artic Ocean (yep, you read that right) or the fact that there are monkeys with herpes in Florida who are running rampant (is it just me or is Florida always good for a crazy story?), it's kids on TikTok treating empty toilet paper rolls like they're straws (eww). But man, if there's one thing that definitely tops everything I've seen thus far, it's got to be, what is now a pandemic across the globe. You know what I'm referring to. The coronavirus. And contrary to what some people are saying on Black Twitter, "No, Black People Aren't Immune to Covid-19".
There is simply no way around it. If we're not hearing about it in the media, we're noticing it when we get in our cars and realize that there is significantly less traffic on the roads. Or, we're going into grocery stores, only to realize that there is absolutely no toilet paper in sight. Then there are those of us who are trying to figure out how to juggle our jobs with the fact that our kids are out of school (check out "As Schools Close Because Of Coronavirus, Nearly 300 Million Kids Aren't In Class"). Or, it's the fact that more and more of us are unable to visit our elderly loved ones in nursing homes, we're spending hours in airports trying to figure out if—or how—we should catch a flight or, we're wondering when we'll see the people in our lives who are in the military again (due to the travel ban that has been placed on them).
And y'all, if you're looking to our fearless leader (I hope you can just hear the sarcasm that's just oozing from my keyboard to your monitor) for accurate information or even comfort, well, I'll just refer you to Trevor Noah's "Trump's Coronavirus Address, Blooper Reel Included". Make sure to wait for the bloopers. Trump never ceases to amaze, man (you might also want to check out "The sick joke of Donald Trump's presidency isn't funny any more").
I won't lie. Even with the coronavirus relief bill that was recently passed, the projections of what this pandemic has the capability to do is pretty mind-blowing. As of March 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 214 million Americans could be infected. That's nothing to Kanye shrug about. But with all of the information—and misinformation—that is out here, I thought it would be important to share some actual facts. Because, as we all know, "knowledge is power". Plus, the more truth you have about this virus, hopefully, the more inner peace you can gain about how to approach it in your own life.
As a heads up, this ain't a short read. That's because, I tried to be as thorough as possible. But I'm hoping that these 12 points will provide you with what you need to come to a place of knowing that, yes, we are in some trying times. Still, it shouldn't paralyze you with fear. With a little pre-planning and intentional precautions, we can get through this. As Black people, we've certainly been through worse, right? I'm sayin'.
1. What Exactly IS the Coronavirus?
So, just what is the coronavirus (COVID-19)? It's kind of a long and sordid tale, but probably the best way to sum it up is, it's a virus that comes from a family of other viruses that has the ability to infect both humans as well as animals. Someone was diagnosed with it in December 2019 (more on that in a sec), and it's related to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). It's highly-transmittable and while—please make sure you catch this part—many people who get it end up with a mild case, the huge cause for alarm is, sometimes it can lead to pneumonia, fluid build-up in the lungs or kidney failure (check out "Here's what coronavirus does to the body"). To date, the virus is less deadly than SARS and two percent of the reported cases of the coronavirus have been deadly.
Just where did it originate? I want to be careful about taking us all down that rabbit hole because new information is constantly coming out. What I will say is if you heard that it came from a Chinese person consuming bat soup, while scientific reports can confirm that there is definitely a coronavirus strain that comes from bats, what actually has baffled researchers is, there appears to be a different animal who served as the "intermediate host" between bats and humans in this case. What is factual is it originated in Wuhan, the capital of China's Hubei province, presumably from an animal at a seafood market. Yes, it did come from China. However, let's use common sense. Chinese food is not going to give you the virus (any differently than taking the risk of eating out anywhere would) and—please stop—Corona beer definitely won't (goodness).
You can check out "What You Need to Know About Coronavirus" and "What Is Coronavirus?" for more detailed information (and additional fact-checking).
2. Who Is the Most Vulnerable?
As far as who is most vulnerable, according to the CDC, it's older adults (in China, 12 percent of the cases involved people who are over 70) and individuals who have medical conditions like heart disease, lung disease and diabetes. And what if you happen to have asthma? According to The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, because it is a condition that affects the respiratory system, you should be extra cautious too. Some studies state that men are at a higher risk than women as well. So are individuals who are taking care of anyone who has been diagnosed with the coronavirus. Currently, children are at a lower risk than adults.
3. How Can You Get Infected?
How can you get coronavirus? From what I read, it is spreading due to droplets that come from people's noses and mouths. One science article stated that, standing less than six feet from an infected individual, for more than 15 minutes, can put you at high risk for contracting it.
For now, the incubation period appears to be 14 days from the day you are exposed, you would need a laboratory test to confirm that it is indeed the coronavirus and, as far as treatment? Yeah, that's another area where I want to be careful. From what I've researched, because the virus is viral and not bacterial, it doesn't respond to antibiotics. While scientists and medical professionals are trying to find a cure (and a vaccine), what is recommended in the meantime is to 1) self-quarantine (or your doctor may admit you into the hospital if it's a severe case); 2) to drink plenty of fluids in order to remain hydrated; 3) to keep the fever down and 4) if it's severe, supplemental oxygen may be needed.
It is important to keep in mind that, at least for now, 80 percent of individuals who get the virus are able to recover without the need for hospitalization or even extra-special treatment (reportedly, 70,000 have recovered in the United States as of March 12). The reason why self-quarantining is such an imperative thing to do, even if you have a mild case, is the person you could infect may have a compromised system. The less the virus spreads, the safer those around us can be. That's why more and more companies are requiring that their employees work from home right now. Makes sense, right?
4. What Symptoms Should You Look Out For?
OK. Let's talk about symptoms for a minute. When I read about a woman who freaked out to the point of being kicked off of a Jetstar flight, all because a man was coughing on it (we normally cough, anywhere between 1-34 times a day), I was like, yeah, I definitely need to throw the symptoms of the virus into this. So, here's the deal. If you want to see for yourself what makes the coronavirus stand out from the common cold, the flu or even allergies (since we are heading into allergy season), a chart that I checked out stated the following.
- Fever: Common
- Dry Cough: Common
- Shortness of Breath: Common
- Headaches: Sometimes
- Aches and Pains: Sometimes
- Sore Throat: Sometimes
- Fatigue: Sometimes
- Diarrhea: Rare
- Runny Nose: Rare
- Sneezing: No
Now, information about the virus is ever-evolving. Another article that I read is discovering that some people who have coronavirus are even asymptomatic. But what I am confident in recommending is, if you happen to have several of these symptoms (not just a cough, unless it isn't going away after a couple of days), you should make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible.
5. Good Hygiene Should Be a Given Regardless
Everything in life has silver linings; it's all about whether or not we choose to see them. When it comes to the coronavirus, two linings that come to my mind is, during the (potential) quarantine season, it could create more quality time for families and two, it should also remind us to use common sense when it comes to hygiene.
For instance, although I'm not sure I get the logic behind why The Real's Adrienne Bailon thinks that there's no real need to wash your hands after using the bathroom, so long as you're at your own house (bacteria is bacteria, y'all), believe it or not, she's not an exception in this case. A couple of years ago,The Root published an article, citing the fact that only 31 percent of men and 65 percent of women wash their hands after going to the restroom (what in the world?!). Y'all, all kinds of germs and bacteria is not just coming from bodily waste but countertops, doorknobs and cellphones—all of which are in our house. Outdoors, there are things like steering wheels, shopping carts, gas handles, ATMs…need a sistah go on? So yes, wash your freakin' hands, please. Use warm or hot water. Definitely use soap. And, make sure that you lather up and wash for no less than 30 seconds and then rinse thoroughly. Wash them after using the bathroom, after you come in from outside, and after you cough or sneeze too.
As far as other precautions that you need to take, it's not too much different than what you (hopefully) learned in early elementary school. Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. Avoid touching surfaces, as much as possible, in public places. Also, keep your hands off of your face, your fingers out of your mouth, and keep your house clean and disinfected (this includes tables, light switches and desks, not just toilets, sinks and faucets).
Now the "extras" that you should factor in, just to be extra safe, include avoiding crowded spots and staying six feet away from people as much as possible; doing a fist-pound instead of a handshake, even with people you know; avoid touching surfaces, as much as possible, when you are in public (try opening doors with the sleeve of your shirt instead of your hands), and nixing the whole in-store product testing approach. At least for now (Sephora and Ulta Beauty won't let you anyway; again, at least for now).
If you happen to be like a friend of mine's husband and you feel like you can't give up the gym, no matter what, take a second to check out "Coronavirus and the gym: Be 'super careful' at public facilities, doctor suggests". Speaking of men, fellas, you can keep your facial hair (praise the Lord). It was a rumor that you needed to cut it off, but you don't.
And what about your pet? Rest easy about them. Reportedly, "The SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads from humans to humans. There is no research to support human to animal spread at this time." Yeah, I caught the "at this time" part too, but until we know something different, don't stress about Spot, Fluffy or whatever your dog or cat's name is. Treat them as you normally would—unless you kiss yours in the mouth or let them sleep on your pillow. Then…don't.
Oh, and what about the whole mask-wearing thing? According to the World Health Organization, you only need to put a mask on if you are actually ill and disposable face masks should only be used once. Otherwise, you can chill on that.
6. Use Soap More than Sanitizer
While I'm still trying to figure out what the obsession with toilet paper is right now, I totally get why hand sanitizer is flying off of the shelves. If you can't seem to find any at your local store, I wouldn't trip, if I were you. There are a substantial amount of sources out here that say a good old-fashioned bar of soap is more effective anyway. One article said that it's because soap has the ability to loosen bacteria and viruses from the skin (it also said that, when you're in public, it's best to go with liquid instead of bar soap). Another article that I checked out stated soap is one of the most effective ways to get rid of the virus because it removes the fatty layer that coats the virus. The New York Times also recently published an article entitled, "Why Soap Works". So, instead of thinking that you've got to take the risk of standing in line at a local drugstore for some sanitizer or that you should figure out what DIY recipe actually works, pick up some soap instead. It's totally got your back. Again, there's plenty of data to prove it.
7. Pay Attention to What’s Happening in Your Actual State
If you're feeling overwhelmed, I'd venture to say that, a part of the reason why is because, not only are you watching what's happening on our continent, but what is transpiring all over the world. While it is essential to be aware of what is going down globally, remember that it's essential that you are most knowledgeable about what is happening in your actual state (or where you are traveling to). For instance, in Ohio, health officials believe that 100,000 people are already infected while (at the least at the time of me writing this) West Virginia is the only state to not have a coronavirus patient yet. It's also important to know how your local officials are handling the situation. While I'm here, shout-out to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance, who may have read articles like, "Coronavirus to impact low-wage, black workers the most" and already decided to halt water disconnections for the next 60 days.
You can go to your favorite search engine and seek out US maps that track how many people are infected based on where you live, or you can go to a search engine and put "coronavirus" along with your state (or even your city) in order get the updated info. Make sure that you do.
8. Here’s What You Need for a 14-Day Quarantine
I went to the store to stock up for about three weeks a couple of days ago. I'll be honest with you—it wasn't so much due to the virus as the fact that so many people are panic shopping that I wanted to make sure I actually had something to eat in my house (because eating out is gonna be a no-no for me right through here for a little while). But whether you're shopping to stock up "just in case" or because you have been told to self-quarantine (or see the need to self-quarantine because you recently came back from Italy or something), you don't need to go broke by buying up the entire store. Here's basically what you need for about two weeks of staying in your house.
Dried and canned goods. It's pre-packaged (unlike fresh produce). Plus, I wouldn't 100 percent rely on electricity, if I were you. If the entire country goes on a lockdown, well, that's people who work at the electric company too and you just never know. Plus, I live in Nashville and was without electricity for a week after the tornadoes that we had a couple of weeks ago. Throwing out a freezer full sucked. Anyway, whatever you decide to get, make sure it's a 14-day amount for each individual who lives in your home.
Frozen foods (and a cooler). Again, the dried foods and canned goods are a precaution (they also last for a long time). Hopefully, your electricity will be just fine, so also get some frozen foods (they last longer than fresh produce) and a cooler, if you don't have one. That way, if your electricity does happen to cut out for a moment or two, you can put the ice in there and store your frozen food a bit longer.
30-day prescription of medications. Even running out "for a hot second" could infect you or someone around you. So, just to be on the safe side, have a month's worth of the medications (and vitamins or supplements) that you already take available.
Over-the-counter meds. If you do happen to have mild symptoms and your doctor encourages you to recover at home, you'll need some ibuprofen to help with body aches and your fever (although some experts are actually recommending paracetamol instead); cough syrup to manage your cough and some cough drops to soothe your sore throat. Stock up on those.
Paper products. Toilet paper, paper towels, you get it.
First-Aid kit. If you've got kids or a man who likes to tinker around the house, a kit is paramount.
Ladies, don't forget about sanitary products. If your period is scheduled to come on during the quarantine, make sure you've got what you need to handle it. Personally, since I've been using a menstrual cup, I've got just one more reason to be in love with it; I only need to use one and I only have to purchase one every 10 years. I'm set.
Water. They are saying that the virus won't affect our water supply. But again, if there is a nationwide lockdown, that somehow happens to affect the employees at the water company and how we get our water (you never know), having a 14-day supply of bottled water, per person in your household, is a good look too.
I could go on, but USA Today published a pretty comprehensive list. You can check it out here.
9. Yes, You Need to Budget
The shoes can wait. So, can buying up 10 plane tickets or purchasing whatever else is on your current high-end shopping list. The main reason why I say that is, in the midst of the pandemic, please don't miss some of the shadiness that is going on. Things like "Court cites coronavirus in blocking Trump administration's food stamp cuts" (yep, this administration is actually trying to cut people's food stamps during a pandemic. Wow.) and "For the Love of God, Why Is the Trump Administration Blocking Medicaid Access to Fight Coronavirus?". Moral to the story? Don't assume that the government is automatically gonna have your back right through here. If there was ever a time to create a budget (and stick to it), save and be frugal, it would be now.
Case in point. I have a girlfriend who is a speech pathologist in Maryland. Maryland and Ohio were the first two states to shut down all K-12 schools due to the coronavirus. She's married with four kids. When I asked her what all of this meant, she said that she would be paid for the next two weeks, then there's spring break and then…we'll see. You can't pay a mortgage on "we'll see". Spend and save wisely, y'all.
10. What About Air Travel?
As far as travelling, about half of the people in my intimate circle have been on a plane, at least once, since the news of the coronavirus broke out. They are still healthy and pretty "Omarion" (you know, unbothered) about it all. Good for them. Still, for as long as the government allows us to fly (check out "Are restrictions on travel within the United States coming soon?"), it's still important to take precautions. That's why you should have some sanitizing hand wipes in tow and you should also wipe down any surface that you plan on touching on the plane; to drink as much water as possible (it will flush out your system, keep your immunity in good shape, and help to prevent headaches, body aches and fatigue); and, that you have some Vitamin C on hand. It is a holistic way to fight off airborne germs. I'm hoping it's a given that you would cover your mouth and turn your head away from others if you cough or sneeze (you might want to do it into your sleeve rather than your hand, just to be extra safe).
When it comes to some avoid-getting-sick-while-flying hacks, NPR did a good feature last month. It included booking a window seat as much as possible, and also keeping in mind that the office where you work is probably nastier than any plane you've flown on, so stay calm. Peep this—"In the course of her research, Hertzberg's team took more than 200 environmental swabs on 10 transcontinental U.S. flights and didn't find a single respiratory virus in the sample (though there was plenty of bacteria)." Again, knowledge is power.
11. Make Sure to Keep Your Immune System Strong
The stronger your immune system is, the more equipped you'll be able to fight coronavirus if you do happen to get it. Stay hydrated. Eat healthy (especially consume lots of antioxidants like spinach, citrus fruits, beans, eggplants and dark chocolate). Get plenty of rest. Exercise (even if it's just in your house). Take a multi-vitamin. Open up your windows (indoor air pollution is 2-5 times higher than outdoor air pollution). Get some comfort foods for your quarantine but don't overdo it on the junk. Make green tea your friend. Have sex with your partner (sperm is like a mega-multi vitamin and a woman's vaginal fluids are the ultimate probiotic). In short, be as proactive as possible about your health. It's an extremely worthwhile investment.
12. Fear Helps Absolutely Nothing
Being concerned is one thing. Being paralyzed with fear is something else. The first is productive. The second? It really does nothing but make matters worse. That's why it's so important to embrace every moment, to remain as tranquil as possible, to operate from a place of wisdom, knowledge and discernment, and to choose to not fear. Because, as my Bible following family knows, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7—NKJV); love and a sound mind—for real, for real—are what's gonna get us through this.
If you need a little more encouragement, Hot New Hip Hop recently posted an Instagram message from hip-hop artist Lecrae that I thought would be a fitting way to close this out. Here's some of what he said.
"I stayed up late doing as much research as I possibly could. I was on the phone earlier today talking on the phone with someone who is very close to a biotech scientist who spent their 50-year career working with viruses such as corona and actually on coronavirus. COVID-19 is a new strand of coronavirus, so corona has been here for a while. This is a new strand." (He's right; reportedly, the first strain was described in the 1960s.)
"God is in control. We live in a world that is broken. There have been pandemics, there have been wars, there have been bombs, there have been plagues since humanity's been here. It is not an excuse for us to act inhumane and for us to act as if God is not in control and as if he's not a God we can trust. He's brought people through it. Not without pain and not without suffering, not without loss. This shows me where my true rewards are, where my hope really is, where my faith really is."
Yes, sir. If I were around you, I would give you a fist-pound for sharing this. Come to think about it, hip-hop artist Lupe Fiasco also had a word in due season:
"As this thing grows and gets a little more out of hand, remember that corona is what you make it. If you make it a crazy, panic-driven, fear-filled thing, then that is what it will be. This disease isn't just the disease itself; it's also the reaction to the disease, and in some cases, for most of us, what we will be experiencing is the reaction to the disease."
The coronavirus isn't something I'm thrilled about, but with the info that I have, it's not something I'm terrified of either. Stay aware. Stay focused. Stay calm. Like all crisis, sis, this too shall pass.
Now get off of here and go to the store before all of the toilet paper runs out. #justsayin'
Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:
Here's How To Stop Worrying So Freakin' Much
10 All-Natural Ways To Avoid Catching A Cold
Stressed Out? Here Are 10 Steps Towards Immediate Calm & Tranquility
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (firstname.lastname@example.org) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
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The Unhealthy 'Unconscious Contracts' We Make With Our Parents (And How To Break Them)
I’m a quotes kind of girl. Unapologetically so. I think I like them so much because they’re a way of packing in a lot of wisdom and insight without giving an entire speech (or writing an entire article). And if there’s one quote that I know I use at least three times a week, it’s “Adulthood is surviving childhood.”
It’s not a good thing either because, basically, what the quote is saying is a lot of us experience so much trauma as children that many of our adult years are actually spent trying to figure out how to survive it all. In fact, I recently read a Guardian article entitled, “Survivors of childhood trauma often grow up believing they are unworthy,” which had a line in it that summarizes a lot of why I do what I do for a living: “Jane now understands that she was conditioned as a child to see toxic relationships as almost normal.” I’m here to reprogram a lot of counterproductive stuff that a lot of us don’t realize we are doing…as best as I possibly can.
And yes, believe it or not, a part of the reason why we get into then tolerate then endure the oftentimes pure suffering of unhealthy relationships with other people — personal and professional, romantic, platonic and familial — is due to something known as unconscious contracts. Boy, when I first learned about unconscious contracts and what they entail, it was like I had a new way of helping to free up so many people from their hamster wheels of dysfunction with other individuals.
Okay, but I’m getting a little ahead of myself. If you already feel drawn to or even triggered by the intro of this article alone, please set aside some time tonight or this weekend to dive into what it means to sign an unconscious contract, how it typically ends up working against you, and what you can do to change it ASAP.
What Is an Unconscious Contract?
I like giving credit where credit's due, and when it comes to the entire concept of unconscious contracts, one of my instructors taught it to me. She said she learned it from a neuroscience educator by the name of Sarah Peyton.
The gist of an "unconscious contract" is it's an agreement that you made, oftentimes in order to get through living with your toxic parent (or parents), that ended up being an unhealthy habit or approach to dealing with other people as you grow and develop into adulthood (you can watch an intro video about it here that is pretty damn enlightening if I do say so myself).
According to Sarah and her findings, a lot of our full dependence on our parents (especially our mother since she's usually the primary caregiver), as far as communication goes, happens around four months of age and, without us even noticing it, we find ourselves figuring out what needs to be done in order to get along with them — even if it's ultimately to our detriment.
An article that dives deeper into all of this is "When Relationships Fall Apart: Conscious and Unconscious Agreements in Relationship." The authors speak on the fact that a conscious contract is an agreement where both parties know the commitment that they are getting into, while an unconscious contract is usually unspoken, although what transpires is one person decides to suppress their thoughts, feelings, and needs in order to make another person happy (or it at least makes getting along with them easier to do).
Now I'll already tell you that if you read this and thought, "Isn't that just compromising?" you just revealed that you are someone who definitely needs to continue on with this piece because, no, suppression is not compromise; suppression is you denying a part of who you are in order to keep the peace — or avoid abuse — and there is nothing compromising about that. It is destructive and definitely the kind of "unconscious contract" that you need to break…immediately if you can.
Before I break down how to do that, let's go a bit deeper into all of this.
How an Unconscious Contract Affected Your Childhood Development
Last fall, Newsweek published an article entitled "Why Adult Children Are Cutting Off Their Parents More Than Ever." Now for the record, no parent is perfect, and since some people like to throw around words like "toxic" as if they are confetti, let's look into some signs that you definitely had a toxic parent as a child/teenager — and that you may still have one now:
- They didn't respect your privacy/boundaries
- They pressured you to agree with them even when you didn't
- They were harder on you than they were on other children (especially outside of the home)
- They found a way to make everything about them
- They wouldn't let you ask questions for clarity (and/or they lashed out when you did)
- They were controlling
- They didn't shield you from trauma (and they oftentimes caused it)
- They used religion to justify their toxic behavior
- They used you as a makeshift therapist/counselor (told you too much information)
- They were verbally and/or emotionally and/or physically and/or sexually abusive
- They were emotionally unpredictable
- They weren't supportive (or you felt like they were competing with you)
- They kept you walking on eggshells
- They deflected from taking accountability for their mistakes (or poor choices)
- They either used guilt or withheld love in order to get their way
If any of this resonated with you, yes, on some level, you are a survivor of a toxic parent — again, not an imperfect parent; more like someone who put you in a position where you dealt with some level of trauma on a consistent basis. And because it's a parent's job to help you to become a holistically healthy individual, when the opposite happens, it can stifle you on some level.
For instance, I grew up with parents who didn't know how to respect a boundary or take accountability if it hit them square in the face. I don't even have the time to get into how deep it all went. For now, I'll just give one example of how it played out in my adult years — recent ones. One parent was so toxic that they really should be in prison. Because they're not, they had the nerve to email me acting like they were doing me some favor by leaving me alone…like I had told them to do for almost two decades now, that they still had moments when they would disrespect the boundary. And where did they get my contact information? From the other parent. WILD. Not you out here enabling my abuser.
Boundaries are limits, and limits (when they are not used to weaponize or manipulate) are put into place to keep us safe. People who don't respect your boundaries are unsafe individuals.
When I think about how my boundaries were constantly being dishonored as I was growing up affected me all through those years. One way is I didn't know how to set healthy boundaries with other people. As a result, I had some of the most toxic female friendships known to man (no joke). Another result is I had a tendency to be controlling to certain other people too. Control is what was modeled to me (suffocatingly so), all the while being told that it was love, and so… that's what I thought it was.
I had written an "unconscious contract" with my parents that allowed them to railroad my space, my body, and my feelings. My needs were basically the "rent" that I had to pay to live in their home and have my basic material needs met. And so, I thought that's what relationships looked like — that I had to go above and beyond while overlooking what I deserved in order to keep people around, OR I had to control the narrative in some way as a way of expressing my "love" to them. And I lived just like this for many years.
How an Unconscious Contract Affects Your Relationships Now
Before the end of the year is out, I'll be finishing my third book. One of the things that it's going to touch on is just how emotionally abusive one dynamic with a certain guy was. I'll give you an example. One time, I helped him put on an event. I got him the venue for free. I made the programs. I set up the slideshow. I ran the slideshow. He didn't pay me a dime. Because the venue was about an hour away and we left unbelievably late (in separate cars), I asked him if he would stay on the phone with me because I was sleepy. He yelled at me, told me that I needed to find someone else, and hung up. And the next day, what did I do? I texted him to make sure that he was okay. AMAZING. He never apologized, even when I brought it up. Instead, he deflected and justified his behavior. Also AMAZING.
In hindsight, I know this is the fallout from unconscious contracts that I had "signed" with my parents, several of them. Something in me thought that if I just loved that man enough, eventually, he would stop mistreating me. Yet, I know him well enough to know that he has his own unconscious contracts that need to be broken, so while I was over-giving, he was over-hustling. He also was being ungrateful and narcissistic (and narcissism is also oftentimes the result of a traumatic childhood; it's a cryptic way of protecting oneself). Yeah, because I still had some "live contracts" going on, folks were able to get away with all kinds of stuff.
I'll give you another example. I have a girlfriend who keeps picking materialistic and shallow women as friends (check out "7 Signs Your Friendship...Actually Isn't One"). Her mother was exactly that way. It's wearing her out now because she feels like all she has in common with her circle is shopping and, inconsequentially, debt. Yet, until I introduced the concept of unconscious contracts to her, she didn't realize that all she really had in common with her mom — and the only time her mom ever really spent quality time with her — was when money was involved (including her mom feeling entitled to her money in present time).
Again, adulthood is surviving childhood. So, take a moment and think about the list that I provided as it relates to whether or not you had a toxic parent. Where the points apply, ponder what your adult relationships look like these days. Where are there patterns? Where are there mirror reflections of the relationship that you had with your mother and/or father and/or caregiver? Where do you see the same kind of unhealthiness…even now?
When we're children, we are innocent and a blank slate. We rely on our parents to show us how we are to see ourselves, along with how we are to live out our lives. So yeah, without some serious inner work (and oftentimes therapy), the contracts that we became a part of as children will continue in our adult world — that is, until we break them.
What Can You Do to Break an Unconscious Contact
I already know — this is some pretty heavy stuff (which is why I implied at the beginning that it's not exactly lunchtime reading). Yet you know how the saying goes, knowledge is power, and if you could relate to any of this, how freeing is it to get to some of the roots, to receive confirmation that you're not crazy (sis, you're not) and then be provided with tips on how to get up out of these, what seem like lifelong binding agreements, that are not serving you (and never really were)?
Okay, so now that you know what an unconscious contract is, how you found yourself being a part of one, and how much damage they ended up doing, what can be done to break the contract? Good question.
A PDF that I was given (via Sarah Peyton's site) is what my instructor shared with me. I have edited it a bit so that it can make a bit more sense (if this is your first time hearing about unconscious contracts):
Step 1. Determine what the contract initially was.
“I (your name), ________________ , solemnly swear to you (parent/caregiver),___________________
to (whatever the self-defeating behavior was) ________________________ in order to protect you/honor you/survive, no matter the cost to myself. “
Step 2. Was the vow heard? (In order to feel validated in this exercise, you should get someone you trust to serve as a representative to act as the parent/caregiver you are speaking to.)
“Parent or caregiver, did you hear this vow?”
“Parent or caregiver, do you like this vow?”
Step 3. Can the vow be released? If so, release it.
If yes, the representative says, “I release you from this vow and I revoke this contract.”
(If the vow cannot be released, like your parent lives with you and they are still doing the behavior, you may want to seek therapy to figure out what boundaries need to be set up, especially if your parent tends to go full gaslight or full denial whenever you bring trauma or their past mistakes up.)
Step 4. Create a blessing to break the unconscious contract.
The representative says, “And instead of this vow, I give you my blessing to...(create the blessing)”
In a perfect world, you could talk to your parent about all of this, and no representative would be needed — yet honestly if that were the case and your parent was truly self-aware, apologetic, and willing to make amends, they would probably approach you first about the harm that they caused. That's why a representative can be helpful. They are symbolic, and while you may never get this kind of release from your actual parent, the validation and affirmation that comes from the exercise may be enough for you to fast-track your way to healing and to feel stronger in saying "no," setting limits and requiring that your needs be met from your parents — and to offer up consequences when that is not the case.
This is an exercise that can reduce fear and stagnation so that you can start to get on with how to have healthier relationships with others moving forward.
The Benefits of Ending Unconscious Contracts…and Creating New Ones
A wise man once said, "My word is my bond." That said, to tell you the truth, the only way that breaking an unconscious contract is going to work is if there is integrity behind your words. You need to identify them, vocally acknowledge them, and have your representative acknowledge you/them. You need to receive the blessing, and then, what I recommend is setting up a new contract — this time between you and yourself.
For instance, if your childhood unconscious contract was all about you walking on eggshells, the new contract needs to say something along the lines of, "I will no longer put my own feelings and needs aside whenever I feel bullied or even dismissed. My voice matters, especially when it comes to what directly affects me, so I will speak up when necessary." Whew. Can you see how empowering that is?
It can't be said enough that there is plenty of data out here to support the fact that at the age we are traumatized, oftentimes we remain right there emotionally until we heal — and healing can include breaking our unconscious contracts. Only, in my opinion, it's not enough to break one…you need to then replace it with another; otherwise, you could find yourself slipping back into what's familiar…even if you know it's not what's better/best for you.
This really is something that I could go on for days about because it’s the kind of topic that is so freeing once people are able to apply it in their own world. For now, I’ll just say that contracts are binding agreements. Yet, the good thing about unconscious contracts is you can let yourself off of the hook, knowing that you, as an adult, now have the space to live as you wish. You don’t have to “go along to get along” in the midst of super crazy, super counterproductive, super toxic ways.
You can write new contracts — ones that will strengthen you, validate you, and give you the kind of life that YOU want to live. Not the one that your toxic parent(s) made you think you had to settle for.
So, what unconscious contracts are you going to break today?
What new ones are you going to put into motion?
There’s no time like the present to start fully living YOUR life.
Amen? Hallelujah. For real.
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