Hurting Hearts in the Face of Tragedy

The shooting in Aurora has affected a lot of people.  Hearts are heavy holding the pain of so many losses all at once.  That it was in a movie theater only intensifies the emotions some are feeling.  People were just out having a good time, enjoying something they loved.  It’s one thing to be shot in a gang infested area of a city, but a movie theater?  The tragedy snatches any thread of safety people were starting to feel again post 9/11.  For some, the intense loss of life is stirring up past trauma.  Know that all of these responses are normal.  We hurt when others hurt, that’s how we’re wired.  The sadness and hurt move naturally from others to ourselves and our own experiences.
It’s helpful at a time like this to connect with others and share your pain.  My post, “Community Even in a Line at an Airport” is a reminder that talking about our experience with others gives us a place to acknowledge the emotions we’re feeling.  It’s important that those with whom we share are encouraging and allow us to be where we are at.  This is not the time to hear, “The shooting isn’t about you so get over it.”  That statement invalidates your experience and is shaming.  Sure, you may not have lost a loved one in the tragedy, but that does not mean you can’t be affected.
Talk with others about what you are feeling.  Is it fear, sadness, anger, or perhaps a mix? What is connected to the emotion? Is it tapping into your own experiences of helplessness, victimization, or fear of death and separation?  If you are able, identify your connection to the emotion you are feeling.  In most cases you can validate the emotion.  If you weren’t at the theater but you go to a place that feels like you were, you are probably creating a story and your emotion is only following distorted thinking or perhaps you are experiencing a post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) flashback.  With distorted thinking, be aware of it, name it and remind yourself what is true.  In cases where that’s not helping, find a counselor so you can work through it.  If you are dealing with PTSD and you are unable to recover from the flashback, work with a counselor to process your trauma.
Those who don’t need a counselor can process with others.  Talk about your experiences, what you’re feeling, and why.  Refrain from taking in too much information on the shooting.  It’s been over a week now so it’s not as prevalent on the news which helps.  There’s really no point to re-traumatizing yourself again and again each time you turn on the television so be kind to yourself and don’t turn it on.  In general, television watching puts your brain in a low-grade depression state so it’s really best to limit your exposure to tv anyway.
Take this experience as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and to connect deeply with others.