The definition of catastrophe is an event causing great and often sudden damage or suffering. The early morning shooting and killing of 12 people and wounding of others as they eagerly began viewing the latest Batman movie; “The Dark Knight Rises,” tragically qualifies.
As we shockingly take stock of this horrific event, we once again dare to imagine the pain of the families or resonate with memories of having faced similar pain. In the face of traumatic loss we are left without words, helpless to understand ‘Why’ and needing to believe there is a way to prevent such events.
We have come to know that even as we can still barely catch a breath and struggle for answers, there are some initial steps of Psychological First Aid (PFA) that offer some relief.
Here are some suggestions worth knowing and owning when life has suddenly become so darkened.
Establishing Safety-Monitoring Media
Networks of Support
When a traumatic event has occurred, an invaluable source of physical and psychological safety is connection with familiar networks of support. People feel comfort, empathy and validation in community – be it family, friends, school, church or online communities.
In the face of a horrific event we often don’t have words but the compassionate presence of those we love and those with whom we are most comfortable lightens unspeakable loss.
Making Meaning of Common Responses to Trauma
It helps many to understand that there are common stress responses to experiencing and witnessing trauma and traumatic loss. These include symptoms of Hyperarousal – The Persistent Expectation of Danger; Intrusion or Re-experiencing; Numbing and Avoidance.
Hyperarousal or the Persistent Expectation of Danger
Hyperarousal is reflected in an inability to relax, exaggerated startle response, inability to sleep or concentrate and irritability. It is as if your mind and body does not yet know you are safe. Not everyone experiences this and such responses rarely last more than a few weeks. When they persist, getting professional support can be very helpful.
Strategies to address hyperarousal include:
Intrusion or Re-experiencing
Feeling caught in the imprint of the trauma, many re-experience the images or sensations felt at the time of trauma as nightmares, flashbacks, or intrusive memories. If you find yourself jolted by a picture in the paper or have a nightmare, consider that such reactions are the mind and body’s way of assimilating an incomprehensible event into your life experience.
Strategies to deal with them include:
Numbing and Avoidance
Numbing is a response to trauma that involves physical and psychological shutdown. Like the other responses to trauma, it is actually a functional way to survive in the face of overwhelming danger. When numbing persists, it often unfolds into avoidance and isolation as an attempt to avoid triggers of traumatic memory or intolerable feelings of loss, grief or pain.
The problem with avoidance is that it leaves a person alone with the trauma. It does not allow for the sharing, diluting, normalizing or integrating of a traumatic event.
Strategies to deal with numbing and avoidance include:
Access You Coping Skills
In the aftermath of trauma, it can feel as if you are frozen in time with the trauma. The past seems gone and the future seems impossible. It is really important to reach behind the wall of trauma to your resiliency traits because they still belong to you and they are what you have drawn upon in life to cope in situations of pain, disappointment, adversity and even loss.
Catastrophes such as the Denver movie shooting darken our world as they take life and assault the freedom to enjoy a movie, to live with a sense of safety.
As individuals, families, communities and cultures, we go forward together needing to bear witness, mourn, bond, pray and play. Together we have strength and hope.
Depressed woman photo available from Shutterstock
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