Monday, April 22, 2013

Boston Bombs and Fear

I saw the story flashing on TV when I was rushing into a store the other day to pick something up.    My quick glimpse of the TV told me that something bad had happened, but I didn’t want to stop and learn more.  I wanted to get my errands done and I certainly didn’t want to deal a world change like the one on 9/11.   I was conscious of the fact that I was choosing not to see, that my response was avoidance.  I didn’t want to know that something else had happened to make my world feel less safe. 

It took me a long time to recover from 9/11.  I, like many, initially felt shock and disbelief. My anxiety, sense of vulnerability and obsessive news watching seemed normal under the extraordinary circumstances. Yet, somewhere which in me, I also sensed my reaction was too intense.  My sense of dread and restless hyper-vigilance seemed extreme. The trauma associated with 9/11, which was horrific in and of itself, left me feeling more fragile because it awakened an older trauma, the fearful feelings that characterized my early childhood.   I grew up in a very anxious household and saw behaviors and heard beliefs that characterized the world as a dangerous place.   So 9/11 awakened that old dread which had been lying dormant;   just the right triggers, the twin towers, crashing in fire and smoke to the street below, brought my dread to life.

And so it is that we can all have our unresolved traumas of the past be triggered by the present horror.  Luckily, as a practitioner of EMDR, I was able to work through my unexpected reactions to 9/11.   I knew that getting help from a colleague who also did EMDR, would help me put to rest some of those fearful reactions I had had to the 9/11 tragedy. As I finally sat down to look at the news of the injury and destruction in Boston, I was relieved to know that I had not gone back to that hyper-vigilant state.   I could feel appropriately distressed, saddened, and fearful but not stuck reliving a part of my past history.   The past can overlay the present and confuse our sense of reality, as it had done to me when I experienced 9/11. 

Viewing the news of the Boston bombings, has made me realize once again how children, too, can have fearful experiences from the past be triggered by a current event, or even by something they see or read in a book. Often, children’s fairy tales cause them to take in examples of evil intent.  In the safety of imagination we can help them begin to deal with this.

We can begin by acknowledging that as there are wicked witches, predatory wolves and folks who trick young children in fairy tales, there are similar people and events in real life that are scary to children.  When children have scary experiences in these situations, it is helpful to encourage them to talk about them.  We can’t shelter them from these experiences.  But neither do we want to overwhelm them with our attempts at helping them.  Getting the right balance is important.

 It is best to control, with discretion, what children hear and see of frightening events.  Again, balance is the key here.  Both what they are exposed to, and the magnitude of their exposure, are important.   Our media, trying to fill up time, repeats in endless loops tragic news and horrific disasters.  Children don’t’ need to be continually exposed to these images.     Nor do they need to hear all the details pertaining to the event.   They don’t need to know about how bombs are made or what’s in them.   They don’t need to suddenly fear backpacks or be nervous about running a race.  Yet, if they do show signs of fear or anxiety resulting from inappropriate exposure, it’s important to sit them down and hear what they feel and what they’ve heard and make corrections or reassure them.

Above all, it’s important to help them to express their own sense of fear or vulnerability.   Fear is an uncomfortable but essential emotion.   It warns us when we’re in danger; when our emotional or physical well being is in jeopardy.   So, it’s important to listen to children when something in a news story makes them fearful.  Let them talk about whatever they’ve become anxious about even if it seems senseless to you.   Children lack our knowledge of the world and they are not cognitively sophisticated enough to take the long view or keep thing in perspective.   Young kids, especially, are concrete, here and now thinkers.  So take their concerns seriously.   When you encourage kids to talk, it helps make the fear less intense.   Hidden fears just grow and magnify. Children can fall into puzzling behaviors that don’t seem to make sense to us.   They might become avoidant, no longer enjoying activities that were previously fun.   Taking the time to listen and reassure can help regulate children and reduce fearful behavior.

Kids also can benefit from knowing specifics: for example, what the authorities are doing to figure out what happened. We might explain how this knowledge can help us know how to avoid a dangerous situation in the future. In this process, we should be realistic and acknowledge that bad things do happen. And that sometimes people act in ways in order to hurt others. And as we begin to teach children about real dangers, we need to help them learn perspective, but also that goodness and cooperation exist as well.

So with the Boston bombing, it’s helpful to tell children about the generous help that arrived quickly. Tell them about the emergency services that went in right away to pull people to safety or get them to medical care. Horrendous acts undermine our sense of safety, especially that of children, in major part because these acts are usual and unexpected, and not the rule. Helping children with this perspective can reassure them. As can telling them about the many acts of bravery and cooperation that happened in the face of danger, including those that occurred right after the bombing. Talk about courage in general. Make up stories about what you would have done or what some favorite action hero would have done. And you can also ask your child what they may have liked to have done if they could have had been there with all the power and resources they needed.     

I've listed of couple of trauma resources below. 

Coping with Disaster Resources

· Explosions  (section on After an Explosion)



· Disaster Distress Helpline (24/7 phone and text)

No comments:

Post a Comment