As the iciness of Winter sets in, load Shedding in is really getting South Africans down. But what if there is a deeper reason for the discombobulation that load shedding sets in motion? What if the blackouts and colder homes were less of a worry than all the feelings it generates in us – the anger, the worry, the disappointment and the fear. Because let’s face it, we all have feelings about load shedding…so many feelings! In this way, the lights suddenly going out is not only pulling on our socio-economic structures but on our own internal emotional ones as well!  What if I told you that there is a very good (albeit illogical) reason for this: that load shedding is so worrying because it is actually making us all feel like little kids again! And that in the wake of this bizarre situation it is really important to not only power up externally (with UPS’s and flashlights) but internally with emotional resources too. Read on to understand what might be happening to you and how to power yourself up in spite of an unsteady electricity grid.

Once upon a time we were afraid of the dark

There is something pretty unnerving about the lights suddenly going off without warning. When it happens, you probably get annoyed. But a microsecond before that, you actually catch your breath and your heart pounds a little. While this is inconvenient on a number of levels, the initial panicky micro-response is actually similar to what you might expect from a small child, right? It’s important to remember that once upon a time, we were kids too and the dark felt tricky. Lights went out just after mom or dad left your room and you were suddenly alone with your thoughts.  So inside our unconscious minds, these little sleepy worrisome selves are still active and when the lights suddenly go off now, for the briefest of moments, they get a shock and have to calm themselves down all over again. 

At a deep emotional level, fear of the dark can also bring up deep worries about “what we’re in the dark about” and somewhere bring to mind a deep concern about what is unknown inside ourselves. Maybe as a kid you had to do a lot of thinking alone and this felt overwhelming. So when physical things disappear suddenly (like lights)  this can also evoke the absence of understanding something inside yourself and this will surface those feelings all over again. Things suddenly turning off without any warning (heaters, TVs, traffic lights) might also stir in us a deep fear of end of life, which is very unnerving. This leads to feelings of vulnerability and fear and even anger. No wonder South Africans are all a little jittery at the moment!

Being out of control feels scary

Load Shedding is a pain, even when you’re expecting your suburb to go off and it doesn’t. Why exactly is that? Surely we should be relieved and thankful for the extra hours of power? Actually though, as babies we were wired to crave predictability. Think about how babies and toddlers need some sort of predictable routine. This helps a young mind structure thinking and trust their environment. It also helps very vulnerable minds get ready for whatever is coming in order to feel secure. So when the physical environment is unstable (with say, unpredictable Eskom schedules) our inner worlds respond and we feel shaken. At a very deep level, this takes us back to our earliest days when we relied on our primary caregivers to survive and we needed them to come back and look after us when they said they would. No one really wants to go back there and this might explain some of the difficult feelings swirling around South Africa right now.

How can you power up in spite of load shedding?

Have you noticed how the homeless people at intersections are suddenly directing the traffic? They have managed to flip their usual script of being in a passive and vulnerable position, to being in control of all the traffic around them. They have managed to take their powerlessness, get in control and feel useful. Similarly, the first thing we all do is try and get back in control: By planning household schedules, arranging backup battery solutions and stocking up with batteries. There is nothing wrong with this and in fact, it is a strategic way to manage the external world so that our internal world follows suit. 

The most important thing though is to understand how these external factors are shaking things up on the inside. There needs to be some sort of conversation between the inside and the outside. So make sure you are not only managing and getting in control of the situation from the outside and consider talking to someone about the difficult feelings that load shedding is evoking inside you.  Use it as an opportunity to address your own internal structures and try to find out where else you are feeling powerless or unstable in your life. This can actually be very empowering. We all are getting our backup systems in place and while all this is absolutely necessary in the wake of a rickety infrastructure, it is also an opportunity to know something about ourselves and process load shedding from the inside out.

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