Big things happen. Some big things are bad. So are many of their consequences.
In their aftermath, going from day to day can be challenging. Though a number of such consequences relate to state of mind, many do not. The real world pragmatic impact of disaster and adversity must also be addressed. How we proceed in these tasks may change how we see ourselves. Perhaps for the good: we find resilience we didn’t know we had, and adjust our self-view accordingly.
But change takes getting used to. Is this really me? How do I hang on to any sense of “me”-ness, when the world that shaped and supported me has crumbled? Must I find something else big, some heavy-duty effort, to compete with the impact of major adversity?
Not really. It’s the little things that bring us back.
This time, tragedy struck in San Bernardino. Since the alleged shooters came forward without any known hint of a violent streak, implications are especially difficult to absorb.
The media bring up the usual debates that follow these incidents: gun control, access to mental health services, how to protect ourselves if we personally faced something similar. The arguments of both sides eventually fall to the wayside: The inadvisability of adopting extreme positions eventually takes hold, we sensibly agree, and we move on, letting our individual resilience take form.
But wait–what’s wrong with this picture? Isn’t that exactly what terrorists do? Look at the extreme interpretation of a position, then act accordingly? Is that truly logical, adaptive, or resilient? Does this approach place us at the same level of functioning as the terrorists?
Around the world, indignation runs high as news reports and social media outline the horror of yesterday’s attacks in Paris. Unfortunately, death and destruction are not the only casualties.
Anger can suit us well during times of physical threat. It can drive us to take action to protect self and others, a critical purpose for those rare circumstances when socialized behavior will not save the day. Once the incident has passed, anger loses its main purpose. We can let go of it.
Easier said than done. Many hold on to it, as the morals of basic humanity and wanting to keep from being caught off guard take center stage. This easily becomes destructive to self or others, turning us into secondary casualties of the original incident. It not only eats away at inner peace. Hard feelings and lashing out at others also impairs relationships, the social connectedness that lies at the core of personal resilience.
As we hear about more and more incidents such as the Paris attacks, how do we counteract this unwanted consequence?
There’s one simple thing we can all do to battle the terrorists’ war against the soul.
“I don’t have time to think about how I feel.” The disheveled woman gestures at tornado-ravaged debris that once had been her home. “Look at everything we’re contending with!” Her family members are aimlessly stumbling, poking at this or that. She spends the rest of her day dabbing away grime from salvaged silver.
How do we help those in such circumstances? This week our hearts go out to those learning about destruction and personal loss due to flooding in South Carolina. Where do their feelings leave them? How do we comfort, and help them move on?
When circumstances are overwhelming, it’s easy to get stuck. There is so much to attend to immediately following disaster. Especially if the damage is personally catastrophic:
- The entire house is gone, and most of what it held.
- What about the all that paperwork, the ID that tells the world who I am?
- Where are my insurance papers?
- What about my job?
- How do I still get to work?
- Is my place of employment still up and running?
- My parents! Did they make it out okay?
- Are they injured? Do they have their heart medications?
- Where are they, anyway? Did they find a place to stay?
- Where will my family and I sleep tonight?
- How will we get food, or changes of clothing?
- What do we do about money?
- What about Suzie’s big test next week—her schoolbooks?
- Is the school even open?
Incidents like yesterday’s shooting at Umpqua Community College put our resilience to the test. We will grieve because of it. We will each process the tragic incident in our own way. We continue to move on. Life goes on.
For children, it’s more complicated. Their personal resilience is not yet fully developed. They rely on their support system’s resilience to get them through disaster. For most, this means turning to parents and other significant adults for comfort and direction.
What should we say to a child when he or she asks about the horrific? Especially when it involves a shooting at a school, an environmental setting that is so prominent in their own lives. We cannot completely hide such incidents from them, given how they promote so much discussion and media coverage. What can we do to help keep a child from becoming an emotional casualty, after the fact? Continue reading
“Thanks for all you do.” Those who observe the effort, sacrifice and dedication of workers helping others during adversity often share this sincere appreciation. Their kind words do help.
The most critical need for the helper journey is ongoing restoration of the soul. The spirit of what leads us into public service occasionally needs replenishing. Without it we become depleted, “burnt-out” as labeled by the vernacular. It matters not whether we’re helping as a friend or neighbor, an agency volunteer, or a professional responder.
There isn’t one right answer for how to best avoid burnout. We each find our own answer to the question, “What restores me?” Continue reading
Disaster is like that. Trauma often is, as well. It’s like the rug being pulled out from under. All that seems solid, all that props up our self image, our routines, the view of our world and our place in it, is suddenly no longer there. We are vulnerable, protective coatings somehow stripped away.
How can we go on, in the face of any adverse life event that has left us feeling so exposed? How do we regain a sense of safety, and wholeness?
An adversity’s rightful place on the shelf of our recollections shifts throughout a lifetime. Still, there are ways to coax back a present sense of wholeness and wellbeing, even after disaster. Continue reading