The Trauma of Terrorism
The recent attacks in Paris, Beirut, the Russian airliner and the subsequent threats to New York, Washington DC and the Cities in Europe have once again brought the trauma of terrorism to the fore front. It is a traumatic event obviously to those that were directly impacted but it impacts the rest of us as well. It creates secondary post traumatic stress in many who were not directly impacted but impacted by hearing about it, seeing on the news or triggered by it from other events in their own lives. The easiest way for most Americans to understand this is to think of the 9/11 attacks, almost every American alive at the time can tell you where they were and how they felt when they heard about the attacks. People often discount this and believe they shouldn't be affected but don't forget the purpose of terrorism is not just to create chaos and mayhem in one place, they are trying to create terror and fear in all of us. They are attempting to put society as a whole into our survival instincts of flight, fight or freeze. We can see this in the reactions of people around the world. Some are cancelling long standing plans to travel to Paris or New York and this is a freeze response or a flight response. Many are in fight response angry at all Muslims even though the majority are peaceful men and women not linked to radicalized portions of their religion. Many of us are just frozen worried about the fate of the world and afraid to take any action. All of these responses are normal and understandable but I would argue that each response gives the terrorists what they want, and in essence they win. I have found some measure of trauma resolution on social media. An interview shows a father and son at a memorial in Paris, the boy is 3 or 4 years old and tells his father we have to move because of the bad men. The father explains that there are bad men everywhere but look at the flowers on the memorial, that the flowers are there to remember the lost. The boy looks at the flowers and the candles and asks if the flowers and candles will protect us from the guns. The father says yes and if you watch the boys face you see his fear go away. What a beautiful scene of trauma resolution. We know flowers don't literally stop guns but the father is using the metaphor to show that we will not allow them to win by keeping us in fear, we will remember the lost and move forward in love for each other not hate and fear. Another Facebook post from a man that lost his wife and is left alone to raise their 17 month old child. This man has every reason to fear or hate but what he put on his post is I will not give you the gift of my hate because that is what you want. I will raise my child and we will remember my wife. This man exemplifies trauma resolution, he will not sink into his fear, he will make a purpose out of this tragedy and raise his child. I encourage all of us to learn from these examples and not allow these terrorist the gift of our terror or hate. To come together and show love and compassion and not allow them to win even the smallest battle in the fight for our humanity.
Thomas Pecca, MA, CAS, CSAT, CTT
Registered Mental Health Intern