When Bad Things Happen to Innocent People

Bad Things Innocent PeopleAt least two different heinous crimes of violence involving a group of innocent people have recently been reported in the news: one was in a synagogue in Philadelphia and the other was in a country music bar in California. This is just 13 months after the Las Vegas massacre that took the lives of 58 people. Each day seems to bring new reports of violence in your hometown, or in the nation, or overseas.

It can be overwhelming to listen to this news and not be consumed with these horrific events of violence. Often, in times like this, we experience sadness, grief, fear and even anger. These are all normal reactions to unbelievable acts.

How do we cope with this? How much news can we take in without going under, or into a dark place? Or do we need to shut everything out instead? If you are wondering about this, you are in good company.

And how can we spare our children from hearing about these horrific acts of violence? The answer is, we can’t. Very likely, kids will be talking about this in school, and sometimes teachers may feel compelled to lead these discussions. Either way, it’s important for parents to be able to frame these violent events in a way that makes sense to young people and does not exaggerate or worsen their fears.

You Can’t Escape Violence In The News

Sex and violence sell. Social mores limit sex in most news media, but violence has free rein. In his 1989 New Yorker article “Grins, Gore, and Videotape – The Trouble with Local TV News”, journalist Eric Pooley coined the phrase “if it bleeds, it leads”. That adage is still true today. And with 24-hour news channels and shorter news cycles, news media need ever-increasing amounts of violence to report.

We Can Be Overexposed to Violence on The News

AJ Willingham of CNN reports that it is very possible to get overexposed to negative things in the news. We can actually be traumatized by watching too much negative news. Signs of this trauma may be a difficulty in pulling away from the Radio and TV news or newspapers. Or seeing the negative images in your mind repeatedly.

Dr. Pam Ramsden, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Bradford in the UK, states in the same article that “some individuals are left with post-traumatic stress and must be professionally treated, others are affected a short time with acute stress disorder.” She further states that symptoms of overexposure mimic trauma symptoms often seen in first responders, such as firemen, police, ambulance attendants, etc.

It’s important to self-monitor how much exposure you are getting to negative news. Otherwise, overexposure can cause one to isolate, lose sleep, overeat or under-eat, and to begin to obsess over the negative details.

Ways to Cope in Difficult Times

  • As in any time of emotional stress or grief, it is important to be around friends or family for support. Don’t isolate.
  • Limit your exposure to the news. At times like this, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with negative events.
  • Get plenty of rest. If over time you continue to have difficulty sleeping, speak to your doctor.
  • Sometimes taking positive action makes us feel better and more in control. For example, organize a fundraiser to help the affected families.
  • Seek professional assistance if over time you seem to have symptoms of anxiety, anger, fear, sadness or overwhelm.
  • Pay attention to your own needs. Get plenty of rest, and eat in a healthy manner. Limit your alcohol or drug intake.
  • Jerry Weichman, Ph.D., a Newport Beach psychologist talked about coping with acts of violence. For example, he suggests staying in the present. Too often we become obsessed with the future possibility of bad things happening. He also recommends staying in our five senses to ground us: touch, smell, sound, sight, and taste will reorient you to the present where there is no danger.

You need to heal over time. Stay busy and connected with friends and family. The time will pass as it always does. Bad things happen in the world, but we always find a way to move forward. Sometimes it is by taking action in some way or helping others, but always by taking care of ourselves.

Talking to Kids About Violence in the World

  • Be available to your children to talk about the violence that is upsetting them. Try to get them to talk about what they see and hear, especially on TV.
  • Try to limit their exposure to the news, especially when violent events have recently occurred. But it is also important to encourage them to talk about things that are scary to them. Ask about what they saw or heard. Also ask about how it made them feel.
  • Reassure them that they and your family will be OK. When children are exposed to violent acts they become fearful that it could happen to them or their loved ones. They also need to be reassured that things will get better.
  • Especially in times of violence on the news, limit their exposure to fictional violent programs on TV.

Remember, the trauma from these violent events for most people will fade over time. If it doesn’t, and your thoughts seem to stay in those moments, don’t be afraid of reaching out for professional help. Trauma from over-exposure of the news is a real thing.

Click HERE for more information on speaking to children about violence.

Click HERE for more information on dealing with violent acts in the news.

About Susan Saint-Welch

Susan Saint-Welch LMFT has counseled couples and individuals for many years on issues such as dating, marriage, family drama, coping with difficult times, improving self-image and living the life you love. She provides psychotherapy for clients in California and Dating, Couples and Life Coaching for clients outside California through secure video conferencing. She has published numerous articles regarding these issues on her website, on YourTango.com and on MSN.com.

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