Coping with Tragedy

Posted by on Oct 2, 2017 in anxiety, Coping Skills, Loss, Sadness, Stress, Trauma, Violence | 0 comments

Faced with yet another horrific news story about a mass shooting today, most of us are saddened, angered and generally overwhelmed with emotion. There is no logic, and it is impossible to find any meaningful explanation for this event.   How we can cope with this on a personal level is a big question.  While much of my work as a therapist utilizes what is called cognitive therapy, cognitive therapy is not going to help much here. There is no positive way to re-frame senseless killing and dying.  There is no good side to this.  Attempting to find different “self-talk” to make it seem even 10% less tragic is a dishonor to those who have died and a denial of the real human loss involved.  Sometimes life is unfair, tragic and horrible.

However, there may be some things we can do that can help us get through days like today. Probably the most important thing is to allow ourselves to feel.  Although you have a job to do, school to go to, or kids to take care of, it is good to allow yourself to have emotions. What are you feeling right now?  Sit with those feelings, allow yourself to cry, rant, scream, feel scared. It’s OK to feel, it’s normal, it’s human.  When we numb ourselves, pretend it doesn’t exist, or “try to be brave”, it tends to come out later anyway, sometimes in self-destructive ways.

Once you have allowed yourself to be human and have some feelings, then you can find a way to express your feelings and thoughts to people you care about.  Talk to a friend or loved one. Write in a journal.  Seek support.  Social media can be a way to find support, although too much venting, or reading other’s sad and angry posts can sometimes overwhelm us even more. If you go on Facebook for 2 hours and feel worse, then take a break, do something else.   If you’ve been a victim of trauma yourself in the past, watching too much TV news of a tragedy may re-traumatize you.  Turn off the TV or computer if it is making things worse.

Find a way to reaffirm a connection you have with another human being.   “I love you.” “I’m glad you are here.” “It’s so important to me that you are part of my life.” Reaching out and saying these things in times like this makes a difference.  In the aftermath of violent tragedy, we feel insecure and the world seems more unsafe.  We all need someone to be there for us.   While we may realistically conclude that we are never completely safe, we can still gain comfort from family and friends.  Sometimes public vigils, or memorials are also a good way to feel this connection with our community.

Also, perhaps start looking for something positive you can do, some positive action you can take. We see news of tragedy and we feel helpless – maybe that’s not true? Maybe we can make some positive difference. It might be going to a community meeting to discuss local issues about violence.  It could be volunteering for a school, church or a non-profit group – showing you care about those in your community through service.  We can’t go back and protect those who have been hurt, but perhaps we can prevent hurt from happening in the future.  Perhaps we can turn someone’s current struggle into hope for the future.  Violence often comes from hopelessness – what actions can we take now to help people find opportunity and possibilities?  Violence often comes from people feeling stuck or trapped. What positive work can we do for others to show them that they have options, that there are other possibilities out there? By doing some type of meaningful work we also help ourselves by focusing on what we can do, rather than sitting helplessly on the couch ruminating over tragedy.

Finally, we can take time to observe and recognize something good in our lives right now. Being mindful of what is good can help us find meaning, when much of the world seems meaningless.  A flower, a smile, a song, a beautiful landscape, an interaction with a pet.  These are small simple things that make our lives fulfilling every day.  We’re not forgetting or making light of a horrible incident in the world. We are not pretending everything is ok.  Instead we’re reminding ourselves that life IS meaningful, even though events are incomprehensible and meaningless. There is no way to reframe killing as a good thing or a positive event. We can, however, remind ourselves that there is still good in the world.

Allow yourself to feel. Talk to someone about it, express yourself.  Reaffirm your love and connections with people. Find something meaningful to do, and look for the good that is right in front of you.


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