When Personal Horrors Become Family Disasters

     Unfortunately, bad things happen sometimes.  Some of those bad things are forces of nature: hurricanes, mudslides, tornados, earthquakes, and disease.  While life, death, loss, and injury are horrendous experiences to deal with, psychologically we are somewhat more philosophical about these encounters with horror because they aren’t “personal.” 
     “Personal” horrors, on the other hand, include intentional harm to the body, soul, property, psychological well-being and reputation of another for political, egotistical, or financial gain – or for the simple pleasure derived from having the power to destroy.  These experiences turn out to be more difficult to cope with, because they are not seen as “the stuff that could and has happened to anyone.” 
     In addition, there is great compassion and sympathy for those struck by nature, while a profound fear of helping is the general response to personal attacks on an innocent party, lest one get caught in the sights of the evil-doer.  Therefore, the support necessary is often less in size and strength – which adds ongoing injury to the already damaged person.
     The evolution of talk radio and television news from information to confrontation, as well as the loss of any ethical foundation of print media (newspapers and magazines) and the unleashing of anonymous venom on the internet and blogs, have served not only to destroy reputations with undocumented vicious gossip, but have lowered the level of discourse and civility to an unbelievably dangerous level. 
     Decent folks who wish to serve their country in the military, politics, social work and other public arenas, become fodder for indecent attacks based upon ideology, with the sole purpose of eliminating their voices and ability to function. 
     Gone is the civility of negotiations, arbitrations, discussions, and debates. 
     Soon, only the indecent will reign.  Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, etc., have only to wait; we are destroying our own society.
     Our American society is becoming alarming ugly and dangerous.
     How does a family and its members survive?  It is difficult – and sometimes barely possible.
     When bad things happen the first reaction of most family members is a kind of  “shock,” in which people seem not to be that upset – it is more a reaction of disbelief or a sense of not really comprehending the situation.  Once the truth and reality become tangible, that’s when the pain, grief, hurt, fear and anxiety set in.  If the situation appears hopeless, and the people involved feel helpless to protect themselves or their loved ones, a horrible depression infiltrates every bone of their bodies.
     This is a critical time for a family.  It is at this time that intervention by meaningful intimates is absolutely crucial.  It is at this terrible time that people often contemplate direct or indirect suicide: driving a car over a cliff or overdosing with some dangerous medication.
     Family members might turn against each other; imagining that they alone are really feeling the pain and that the other doesn’t really understand and can’t help.  When the enemy is nature or an evil-doer, it is often difficult or impossible to get revenge or justice.  That concern alone sometimes leaves people lashing out where they can: on family.
     What most folks truly need at a time like this is three-fold.  Number 1: complete support and expression of understanding for the magnitude of the painful situation.   That means you don’t placate, minimize, patronize with fairy dust, try to distract with cheerful activities, or attempt to whitewash with “perspective,” like there is worse happening in India.
     Instead, you need to hug and acknowledge that this is, indeed s**t and they are justified to be feeling every horrible feeling they’re going through.  When, for example, people call my radio program telling me of their horrendous emotional state in reaction to some horrible assault, I tell them, “That is a reasonable response to an unreasonable situation.”  In other words, you validate the truthfulness of their perception and response. You must validate the truth of their reality or you run the risk of making them feel “more crazy.”
     Number 2: you must make sure they get some food for strength and sugar in their blood stream to avoid headaches and deeper depression; you must get them to sleep even if it means temporarily using sleep medications (over the counter types if at all possible), and depending on their level of despair, make sure they are watched just in case a temporary despondency might lead to them hurting themselves.
     Number 3: you must get advice for a “game plan” that deals with the situation.  This gives the family member “hope” and relieves some of the “helplessness.”  This stage of reaction is usually associated with anger; that anger has to be controlled and focused in a positive direction – one that will not add to the problem, but will ultimately approach justice.
     Our society has become, as I said earlier, a meaner, harsher, and more dangerous place than ever before.  I don’t know what can turn it back.  I mourn for the America that was the safe haven of the world.