Author of The Blackout Book and the online course Bloom Where You’re Planted
Most of us in the United States have been under some form of lockdown or restriction for more than a month now. It has been a stressful time for many due to fear, health concerns, and financial worries.
One of the biggest surprises for a lot of us has been the way other people behave when they’re under pressure. I’m not just talking about the folks you see panicking on YouTube videos or the ones you see saying nasty things on Twitter. I’m talking about the people with whom we interact on a regular basis: our family, our friends, our loved ones – the folks who make up our inner circle. The people we thought we could trust.
Who stole the wonderful, rational human beings we used to know?
You may all be locking down together, squashing you all into a smaller space than you’re used to, and spending more time together than normal, perhaps suddenly putting multiple generations together. Or you may live nearby with the plan to later stay together. It may just be the members of your family who normally live together, but not 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Either way, this has probably been an interesting look at your group dynamic. And for some of us, it may not have all been pretty.
It’s been a crash course in human behavior.
Now, this may not apply to you at all. Your lockdown experience may have been like walking back in time with the golden sunlight painting everything. Your children may have been perfect angels, content to do their schoolwork at the kitchen table in the morning after a healthy breakfast about which they did not complain, and then going outdoors in the afternoon to frolic at a safe social distance in the backyard.
You may be spending non-stressed time with your partner and remembering exactly why you got together in the first place. You may have 3 generations, joyfully cohabitating under one roof. You may be serving farm-fresh meals and wiping heinies with the toilet paper you collected over the past year and stored in perfect conditions in all that free space you have. You could live in one of those neighborhoods having the fun socially distanced block parties and swapping homemade bread for fresh eggs, a neighborhood where everyone looks after everyone else.
Or you may be like the rest of the world, wondering, “How could I have raised/married/been friends with/moved near someone so stupid/naive/ill-tempered/batcrap crazy?”
Most of the things we’ve run into have been annoying inconveniences because things, while difficult, aren’t that bad. We’re not literally fighting to the death for survival on a daily basis. Personal interactions are shockingly important and this is something many of us had underestimated up until now.
Behavior within the group
A lot of us thought that once things began to go sideways, our friends, neighbors, and coworkers would all get on board with the plan. They’d finally see that we are not, in fact, crazy and that what we’ve been doing actually makes a lot of sense. They’d congratulate us on our wisdom, they’d be grateful to be spending this time with us, and finally, at last, they’d understand that prepping is smart.
Instead, we’ve experienced things like:
- Partners trying to reign in our spending
- Loved ones who don’t understand why you’re still buying toilet paper every time you see it
- Teenagers trying to maintain their social lives
- Those same teenagers saying that you’re “hoarding food” because they saw someone talking about it on Tik Tok
- Family members still, right in the middle of this whole darn thing, saying smugly, “You’re overreacting.”
- Those in your circle who stubbornly refuse to take any precautions whatsoever, even though they’re elderly people with asthma and diabetes, because “it’s all a hoax” that you fell for
- The folks who aren’t nearly as patient and loving with your children now that they have to live with them
- Loved ones who are suffering from mental distress now that all the things that were “normal” to them are no longer an option.
At a time when you thought that everyone would finally see the wisdom of your ways, they don’t. Now, when your years of prepping are finally paying off, people are still not interested. How can this be?
These dynamics are very important and can make or break your group.
Some issues the people in your group my have had
Here’s a quick reminder: the people in your group are there because you love them. No matter how annoying, frustrating, or upsetting they may be right now, these are people you care about.
If everything has run like clockwork, you may not even need to read this article. But if you’ve been surprised by the folks with whom you’re taking shelter, hopefully, the following suggestions will be of some help.
It’s important to think of the reasons that your family members may be acting in manners that are unbecoming. This can give you some clues as to how to best deal with them.
Everything has changed.
One of the most common reasons you’ll see people acting out is because everything in their world has changed. A few months ago, they were making all sorts of plans for the year ahead, only to have everything yanked away from them without warning. What they’re feeling (and you may be feeling it too) is grief. A person who is grieving may not be the most rational soul around. They may be angry, they may be sad, they may feel completely helpless. Change is difficult to deal with for most people, so try to be extra patient with them.
They are no longer in control.
If there’s one thing that is absolutely true across the board, it’s that there are many things right now we cannot control. We’ve got new executive orders and bills cropping up on a daily basis. We have restrictions on how much toilet paper we can buy. There’s a limit to the packages of meat you can pick up on one shopping trip and only a certain number of people can be in the store at once. Workplaces are closed, leaving people without a way to make money. Unemployment is taking for-freaking-ever to come in for some folks, and they don’t have a dime to their names. For these people, it’s important to give them tasks that allow them some control.
More people are dealing with mental illness.
Currently, a lot of people are dealing with the symptoms of mental illness. For some it’s situational, and for others, it’s the worsening of a chronic condition. This is a very real problem. Prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications have increased by 34% between Feb. 16 – March 15. Suicide hotlines are reporting an increase in calls. And these are just the people who are asking for help. There are many more people struggling who are not getting help. Watch for signs like a change in sleep pattern, sudden anger, extreme sadness, panic attacks, an increase in the use of substances like drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, and unusual behavior.
Depression and anxiety are very real issues and not a sign of weakness. These mental illnesses can be deadly if left to fester. If you feel that a family member may be suffering from depression or anxiety, the CDC has advice and a list of resources that may be helpful.
People who don’t understand
Some folks just plain don’t understand what’s going on. They’re not trying to deliberately sabotage you, but remember – they’re getting a crash course – on the job training – in a topic you’ve been willingly learning about for years. There’s no way a person is going to go from their cushy 9-5 lifestyle, someone who has never known anything but abundance, and suddenly understand the importance of things like pantry inventory, rationing, and being ready to board up the windows.
Think back to when you started prepping. A lot of us started due to a natural disaster or a job loss and both of those are far “softer” events than the one we’re facing now – one with job loss, financial insecurity, and a disrupted supply chain. These folks right now are jumping into the deep end and they’re convinced that soon, everything will be getting “back to normal.”
So try to have a little bit of patience with them. They’re not trying to sabotage you when they say, “I think we have enough canned goods” or “Wait…did you just say you set a tripwire by the backdoor? A TRIPWIRE?” They legitimately don’t understand the situation, and it’s up to you to educate them as gently as possible while still keeping them from eating all the treats in the pantry because “you can just buy more next week.”
Some people just aren’t helpful in a crisis.
There are simply some people who are not useful in times of trouble. Maybe they don’t want to help or maybe they’re incapable of helping. I’ve known more than one person in my life who refuses to deal with difficult things. They just want to procrastinate until the crisis is over or pretend that it’s not happening.
If you’re a person who lives a prepared lifestyle, these folks can be some of the most difficult to deal with because it’s harder to understand their mentality. You don’t have to like it but you do have to accept that this is the way they are. Only in movies does the person who generally wrings her hands in despair pick up a tool and suddenly get the courage to deal with the situation.
If your group includes people in these categories, it’s best to find tasks they can perform that don’t require a great deal of stress or judgment. Keep them busy with the things they’re more comfortable with and put them where they’ll do the least harm. Maybe the person is a good cook. Give them some guidelines for cooking from the pantry and let them make the meals. Perhaps they are soothed by gardening. It’s a great way to keep them occupied and productive at the same time. This person might also be good with the children. Find the spot for them where they’ll do the least harm to your overall plan. As Terry Trahan wrote, sometimes you just have to take out the trash and keep even the less glamorous tasks going.
Not all of these suggestions are “nice.”
Some of the ideas for dealing with family members could cause real problems within your group or within your relationship. It’s up to you to decide whether or not the situation warrants more extreme measures. It’s something nobody can decide for you. Base your decisions on the seriousness of the situation and try to be respectful of the wishes of others as much as possible. You’re part of a family, not part of a SWAT team or a military unit.
Remember – you’re dealing with the people you love here. Temper your responses accordingly and try to understand where they’re coming from.
Don’t fight if it isn’t worthwhile.
Although it isn’t always the easiest course of action, it’s often better to walk away from an argument than to keep it going. You can’t force your spouse to admit you were right and he or she was wrong if they’re not ready to accept that yet. “Pulling rank” on family members is more likely to cause trouble than cooperation. Personal satisfaction is not a worthwhile reason to get into a fight. Do your part to keep things peaceful.
On the other hand, some things actually are worth the fight. In issues of OPSEC, your family comes first and you cannot have family members out running their mouths or giving away your supplies without a conversation about it first. The same is true for matters of security. Basically, if it’s a matter of life and death, it’s worth having an argument. Otherwise, it’s not.
You may have to keep secrets.
Regarding OPSEC, you may have to become more comfortable with keeping secrets from the members of your group. If your spouse thinks you’ve spent enough but you’re certain you need more of a certain item, sometimes it might be better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission. I’m not saying to outright lie and every situation is different. This is something that could potentially cause real problems in a relationship, so you need to think it through before making your decision to do that.
On the other hand, if you have teens who want to be generous and share your supplies with everybody, it might be better if they don’t know exactly how many supplies you have. They don’t necessarily need access to the pantry or storage area. You can disguise a lot of foods by putting them inside plain cardboard boxes and setting up a little code so you’ll know where to find what you need.
Remember, people can’t tell others things they don’t know.
Sometimes you have to let people learn the hard way.
If you have a family member who simply won’t take no for an answer, they may need to learn a lesson the hard way. Obviously, this should not be a lesson that affects other members of the group.
As a parent, I’ve always been a fan of cause-and-effect discipline. If you don’t study for your test, you fail and that is the punishment. If you don’t get up and get to school on time, you’re tardy and the school will give you detention. If you don’t finish your science project, you won’t get to take the field trip with the rest of the class to attend the science fair.
This works in preparedness scenarios too.
Say for example you’ve doled out the snack food to make it last for as many weeks as possible but you have one person who simply won’t stop helping himself, divide the snack food into quantities, and put everyone’s name on their containers. Obviously, it’s not going to take long before the snack-eater is going to run out of their snacks. It’s imperative that the other members of the family don’t share if you want the person to learn their lesson.
This can apply with all sorts of different things – if the person isn’t pulling his or her weight, he or she should not reap the benefits of everyone else’s work.
You may want to make some changes in the future.
While I’d suggest not making any major decisions when you’re ticked off or under stress, the things you’re experiencing right now may cause you to reconsider your plans for future events. Obviously you can’t kick your immediate family members to the curb with a bag of beans and rice, but folks who are a bit more distant? Cousins, friends from work, that sibling you still fight with constantly 35 years later? Sheltering together may not be your wisest or most peaceful choice.
Use the things you’re learning now to make future events run more smoothly. There may be some changes you can make to help things go a little more peacefully the next time around. This could also mean setting expectations more clearly ahead of time or even deciding that you’re not meant to be an apocalypse team.
Have you run into any complications with your group?
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about dealing with people outside of your inner circle.
What about you – did the response of anyone within your group come as a surprise to you? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Daisy Luther writes about current events, preparedness, frugality, voluntaryism, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, The Organic Prepper. She is widely republished across alternative media and she curates all the most important news links on her aggregate site, PreppersDailyNews.com. Daisy is the best-selling author of 4 books and runs a small digital publishing company. You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.