Boston Terror: We the Viewers – Coping
By now I think all of us know of the horrors that happened at the Boston Marathon on Monday. I’m currently in Florida and luckily (that I am aware) don’t know anyone who ran or attended the event. My son, who used to live in the area of the attack, had the job of contacting friends to make sure everyone was accounted for. They were all fine.
I know there is a possibility that someone reading this does not have favorable news. To you, I send my deepest hope for healing and strength of perseverance.
The rest of us have the job of learning just how much television to watch on the topic. Dissecting factual information from fiction and how we can help. None of which is easy.
The 24 hour news coverage concept I’m sure must have seemed like a good idea. My personal opinion is that it has done little to alleviate stress and much to exacerbate fear, anxiety and anger. News is no longer news but opinions, assumptions and exaggerations with some actual facts thrown in. As a relative of mine said, “Well, they have to fill air time with something.”
The Boston coverage has been on almost every station for the past couple days. Some reporters are more careful about keeping fluid in reporting facts. While others even when the two reporters standing are right next to each other at the scene report conflicting information as verifiable fact. Eventually the chaos of the devastating event works its way into our living rooms and lives. We react.
After 911, I was involved in post-trauma counseling and realized many people do not have the knowledge needed to screen themselves from becoming secondary victims. Nor did they realize the impact knowing, with or without watching coverage can have on their own lives. So, I came up with a couple guidelines I could hand out. I thought this would be an appropriate opportunity to re-look at this.
What you need to know: 1. Are me and my family safe? 2. Is there a specific plan of action I need to do to remain safe? 3. If I know or think I know someone involved, how do I find out? 4. Who can I contact to see how and where I can lend my services to help?
After you know the answer to these questions, the remainder of what you see on news reports is secondary. There is nothing wrong with secondary reasons but there is a time when you have to walk away from media reports to maintain your mental health.
When should you walk away from watching news reports: 1. You place your life on hold, afraid if you leave the report, you might miss a piece of important information. 2. You feel drawn or compelled to watch repetitive and more detailed footage of the event despite having seen it before. 3. You start arguing with family or friends over details as they are told in reports. 4. You have trouble eating, sleeping, thinking or are OVERLY upset or angered because of the images and statements.
There is something in the human condition that causes us to be drawn to explore disaster involving human beings. These are what I referred to as secondary reasoning.
So, possible secondary reasons you are watching the continuous reports…
- Need for survival: If I study this enough I’ll know what to do if it happens to me.
- Shock: I can’t believe this is happening. We watch over and over until it hits us, this is real.
- Desire for a reason why the event occurred: Part of survival thinking. I heard a lot of this thinking post-Katrina. New Orleans got hit because of…. (fill in ridiculous reason here). I don’t do that, so I am safe.
- Empathy and reactions from helplessness: Having faces to traumatic events connects us with our own fragility and humanity. Feeling helpless to change the unfolding events often causes both a passive and reactive reaction. Passive: I’m not there but if I pray hard, think hard, watch enough, somehow those people will know that I know and I care. I can’t do a damn thing to help. But I’m doing what I can. Active: I’m donating money, going to the scene to wrap bandages, cleaning up debris, helping people find loved ones, making coffee for first responders.
- Sense of community: Human beings need each other. Media is a way to bring us to locations and a larger community then our normal existence. In life-threatening situations, this intensifies. Average citizens on the spot become heroic helpers. We want to think we would be heroic helpers too.
- Justice /Revenge or both: We want the world to make sense. If we decide (see #2) that the people in trouble did not deserve what happened – someone has to be held accountable. We watch to make sure that happens.
As we gain more details and faces concerning the Boston Marathon tragedy keep yourself in check. If you start having symptoms listed above or others such as crying spells, anger outbursts, panic, nightmares or feel like it is happening to you, pull back. If you can’t or your symptoms worsen, it would be good to talk or journal about what you are feeling – and turn off the television! At least for large blocks of time.
Posted on April 17, 2013, in The Therapist is in and tagged 911, anger, attack, Boston Marathon, counseling, disaster, family, fear, healing, how to help, human, information, media, news coverage, reasoning, safe, television, terror, trauma, what to do. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.