The Days After – Kathy L. Miller, MA, LCPC
This week we experienced another shift in the “new normal” of violence in our country. Shooting sprees can occur for no apparent reason and can affect hundreds, or in this most recent case, thousands, of people at one time. As a therapist, I’m tasked with helping people cope with these stressful situations that reverberate through us as individuals and as a society.
We know that people cannot function well at work and at home on a continued level of high anxiety. How long can one stay sad, angry, upset? To protect ourselves, we acclimate to new information and work to accommodate these intense emotions as best we can. My concern is the accommodation for painful emotions can lead to an absence of feeling and thinking. When we allow ourselves to grow numb, to neutralize negative information, we are prone to push aside the most recent incident and move on, less horrified and more complacent.
Initially, the impact of tragic news hits hard. I am observing more irritability and an increase in difficulty sleeping, as well as more expressions of hopelessness or helplessness from people. I am not convinced the trauma of watching this most recent random violence ever just goes away, and I know for sure it will not disappear for a victim or family member of a victim.
In war-torn countries, parents can tell their children the violence they observe or experience first hand is a result of terrible things like gang violence, ethnic cleansing and other direct root causes. They escape by going to a country that is safer, or change how they live, if either is possible. The idea is if they eliminate the cause for the violence, they can be safe again. Or at least feel a measure of safety that makes life livable.
The task is more difficult when we can’t point to a clear cause or explanation for violence, when it seems totally random and outside our control, as the tragedy in Las Vegas appears at this time. When we can’t wrap our brain around it, when we can’t rationalize it, we can’t effectively process it. Stuck in limbo is not a healthy place to be. We’re wired for action.
So what can we do? We can remind ourselves and others that we can consciously work each day to make our own little corner of the world better, in big ways and in small ways. It may sound trite, but it’s true.
- Do you have time and talents that can benefit others? Volunteer.
- Do you have dreams and the drive to achieve them? Start a business, or spearhead a good cause.
- Can you check on an elderly neighbor? Just knowing you care could make all the difference.
- Are there old friendships that you’ve neglected? Reach out. You never know what it could mean to someone.
- What about just vowing to exercise a little more patience with family members, or with everyone?
No act of kindness is ever too small to make a difference. As Amelia Earhart said, “A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.“
People accommodating for this latest episode of violence on an emotional basis in the short term may become less trusting, less hopeful and less empathetic. We must work as individuals and collectively to ensure that this does not become our national status quo. When those changes occur, we lose part of our identity that makes us human and compassionate.
We can throw up our hands in despair at this latest senseless tragedy, or we can join hands. We can’t control the actions of others, but we can control our own actions and reactions.
So, what will you do today, and what will you do tomorrow, to make things a little bit better, to make hope a little bit brighter? Think about it. Talk about it as a family. A better tomorrow starts with each of us and our actions, today.
Kathy L. Miller, has been a family therapist and licensed clinical professional counselor for 40 years. She is the owner and founder of Oasis: The Center for Mental Health in Annapolis, 410-571-0888 or www.oasismentalhealth.net.