Liminal space: reframing the narrative

By Dr. Huma Durrani

No matter how hard one tries nowadays, conversation ends up revolving around the topic of Covid-19. Consciously or sub-consciously most of us are incessantly keeping a close watch on the number of virus cases, hoping that statistics will predict the direction our lives might take this year.  The current pandemic has unleashed collective trauma on most of the world, the latter described as a “calamitous emotional rupture in our sense of self-identity and community, disconnecting us from the ways of thinking, speaking, acting, and relating through which we previously made sense of the world” (Watkins and Shulman, 2008, p. 106). 

 All individuals react differently to traumatic events, some are able to withstand the psychological effects better than others who may develop symptoms such as dissociation, numbness, hyperarousal, hypervigilance, difficulty concentrating, recurring nightmares, intrusive thoughts amongst others. The reality is, that wherever one is placed on the spectrum of the aftermath of trauma, events such as we are currently experiencing are bound to affect us all; chances are (excuse the hyperbole) that no one is going to escape entirely unscathed. Metaphorically, all our boats have been rocked to some degree whether due to loss, burnout, isolation, disrupted plans, economic fallout, existential crisis, or something else.

 Hard as it may be to believe, there is a silver lining to all the havoc. For precisely when the boat is rocked, growth and transformation can happen. In fact, Watkins & Shulman (2008) posit that “Most major life transformations for individuals begin with a spontaneous yet still manageable rupture, a shocking break in routine…One may be thrust into a radical space of pilgrimage, a searching of meaning and orientation from a location “betwixt and between” seemingly stable states” (p. 134). The ‘betwixt and between’ that the authors refer to is also known as the liminal space which carries the possibility of metamorphosis (yet another metaphor), provided we allow ourselves the space and time to reflect, synthesize and reframe the trauma. It is from this liminal space that the boat that was rocked, can find an undiscovered anchor or move towards a novel landing. 

 The cultivation of liminal spaces can be done by mental health/wellness professionals, social workers, community leaders, elders within families, community centers, spaces for healing, arts and crafts. These spaces need to be containers of safety where facilitators hold and protect members of the community without controlling or intruding (Watkins & Shulman, 2008), meaning they allow the witnessing and validation of the event/s that need to be processed. Watkins and Shulman (2008) especially emphasize the power of rituals that lead to acceptance and new kind of understanding, where individuals are allowed to feel vulnerable without having to renormalize or ‘get over things’. Denial of traumatic experiences can give rise negative patterns of behavior and affect emotional well-being. Unresolved trauma may result symptoms such as: rigidity, aggression, irritability, issues with self-regulation and relationship problems amongst others.

 It is heartening to see that during the current environment with social distancing measures in place, how members of the community are connecting with each other as best as they can, through online sources. Professionals have reached out offering opportunities for group activities for exercise, meditation, counselling and so on. More than ever, families and friends are using social platforms to connect and support each other sharing recipes, videos, jokes and so much more. For instance, one of my cousins has taken the initiative of arranging Zoom meetings with our common relatives spanning the globe. At one time we may have as many as 15 plus cousins, aunts and uncles trying to talk over each other, reminiscent of in-person family gatherings. The mostly lighthearted banter, sprinkled with occasional sober exchanges affords “the restitution of a sense of a meaningful world” (Herman, 1997).   

It seems Covid-19 has given rise to never before conceived of rituals, ways of connecting and supporting each other. We must continue to build meaningful paths to rebuild our sense of order and reclaim our world. Let us cultivate the liminal spaces that are windows of opportunity for growth and transformation…the boat will stop rocking at some point.


Herman, J. (1997). Trauma and Recovery. New York: NY: Basic Books.

Watkins, M & Shulman, H. (2008). Toward Psychologies of Liberation. New York: NY, Palgrave MacMillian.