Feeling Safe In An Unsafe World: Processing normal reaction to abnormal events
October 17, 2017
By Russell Correa, Ed.M., LMHC (guest blog writer)
During my professional career, I think I’ve facilitated close to 1,000 hours of trauma debriefings. Here are a few remarks from the last debriefing I did.
“I felt like the shooting was never going to stop.”
‘I haven’t slept since the shooting. I’m scared. Every time I hear a loud noise I jump and look around.”
“I don't feel like I am ever going to feel normal again. I don’t feel safe anymore.”
What was the event these people were referencing? While it may elicit an immediate association with the horrific shootings in Las Vegas a few weeks ago, the tragedy I was leading a session for was the shooting that took place at Hollywood International Airport in January of this year. Five people lost their lives that day with numerous others injured by gunshot wounds. Now this event seems like it took place so long ago.
Whatever your politics are with the conversations that take place after these events, I think we can all agree that in the immediacy of these tragedies, we are not only saddened by the event itself, but also by the sheer number of these events (which seem to take place so often now that we forget ones that took place in our own backyard just 10 months ago). Honestly, it seems like every other week we are dealing with a new
tragedy that impacts our sense of certainty and belief about the world and the communities we live in.
As a mental health professional, it’s important to understand what these psychological and physiological impacts can be. From a young age, we all tend to form a psychological assumption of safety that gets threatened when we witness horrific events in our world, even if they don't directly impact us. Think of it this way - whenever a mass shooting takes place, do you experience any of the following:
Anger and feelings of disillusionment
Excessive attention to the news
Sadness and grief
General fatigue and lethargy the days after an event takes place
Withdrawal from your normal activities
Anxiety about your own safety or the safety of family members/children
Changing your daily activities or planned events out of safety concerns
Concern about how to talk to your children about these events
For employers – employees walking around the office in a daze or seemingly off their game; having a hard time being productive or completing tasks
While these are all normal reactions to abnormal events, it is important to be aware of these feelings and take action before they have a long-term impact.
Here are some things to consider in order to take care of yourself and the people around you.
1. Acknowledge your feelings about the event. Whatever your feeling is, it’s okay. Anger. Grief. Sadness. Cynicism. Hopelessness. Vulnerable. I always find myself walking around in what I call an “emotional fog” in the days after. As humans, we are wired to feel pain and empathy for others when they experience pain and hardship.
2. Do something active to cope. Take action to soothe your feelings and express your anger. Talk to other people, donate money, or volunteer for a cause that you believe in.
3. Don’t overestimate the personal danger. When mass shootings happen, the horror of the event makes us overestimate the likelihood of this type of event happening to us. Try to get out of the “fight or flight” alarm response and take a step back so you can logically evaluate the likelihood of personal danger.
4. Don’t minimize other people’s reactions. Don';t feel like you have to have a perfect response. Sometimes, when people share their feelings, we feel like we have to say something and it’s usually a canned response that minimizes and diminishes their reaction. It’s okay to just let people speak and release the energy. Be a listener.
5. Talk to your children. These can be some of the most difficult conversations to have with your kids but they are important ones. As a parent, your job is to create a safe space for your kids while teaching them some of the realities of our world. My general rule here is to modify the message based on your child’s age. For older kids, you can be more direct about what is happening. This is also a great opportunity to hear their voice and opinion. For younger kids, focus the message on safety and avoid lots of specifics.
6. Develop a sense of urgency related to family and friends. This may be common sense but do the things you want to do with your loved ones. If there is a conversation you need to have with a family member, have it. If there is something you always wanted to do with family, do it. Don’t wait until next week, next month or next year.
7. Take a break from the news. Staying frozen and fixed to the TV or surfing the web for hours can add stress to your body/mind.
8. For employers – Don’t pretend that it’s business as usual after a tragedy. Show some patience for your employees and give them some space to process their reactions.
If you would like to learn more on this topic or had questions about my Consulting, Coaching and Training services, contact me at 786.457.5371 or
[email protected] You can also visit my website at zetaconsultingfl.com.
About Russell Correa, Ed.M., LMHC
As the Principal of Zeta Consulting Group, Russell Correa brings close to 20 years of experience as a licensed clinician, certified executive coach, HR & Management consultant and trainer to his work. Russell also serves as a board member for Allegany Franciscan Ministries, a funder of nonprofits in the Miami, Tampa Bay and Palm Beach areas.