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in Uncertain Times
Students at GMU
are likely to have a variety of responses to the uncertainty of terrorism and war. For some students
this is an unfamiliar situation. They've never had to deal with these conflicts and may feel anxious and out-of-control.
Other students may have directly experienced war or terrorism here or in another part
of the world. For these students, the current threats may bring new feelings, as well as, revive reactions to past experiences.
While we are all being affected
in some way with these threats, many students who have family and friends living overseas may find it difficult to concentrate and manage school
and other responsibilities.
Other students, with family and friends who've been called upon to participate in a
war, may also experience similar difficulties. In general, we can expect that anxiety, as well as other feelings, will be higher for students, even though they may not attribute it directly to the threat of war or terrorism.
this time, it's helpful to be observant of how students
are doing. Are you seeing changes from how they usually function. Perhaps they're withdrawing from activities or friends, not attending classes
or work, not getting schoolwork done or performing at a lower level, having difficulty in their relationships with peers.
Students who have difficulties on a more on-going basis may be particularly vulnerable to changes and increased difficulty in functioning during these times.
Steps That You Can Take When You're Concerned About a Student
- Take some extra time to contact and talk with the student.
- Strategize with the student to get to a better place. Some strategies include talking with others, setting
small goals for getting work done, exercising, eating well, getting sufficient rest, maintaining a routine and avoiding overexposure to anxiety-producing media.
- If you're concerned for a student's ability to maintain safety for him/herself or others, call the Counseling Center
for a consultation on how to proceed. If the Counseling Center is closed and you feel the situation requires an immediate response, call University
Police at 703-993-2810. For life-threatening emergencies
call 911 on or off-campus.
- Encourage the student to talk about how he/she is handling responsibilities and other parts of his/her life. Give the student support to have a variety of feelings and reactions
- Help the student to identify strategies that have been effective in the past for managing difficult and uncertain
- Help the student to apply some brief relaxation skills such as deep breathing, listening to a relaxation tape, taking a break from routines and reducing known stressors.
- If you're concerned that the student is having a difficult time carrying on with his/her life on a regular basis or that
feelings of helplessness, depression, anxiety or anger are getting in the way, encourage the student to make an appointment at the Counseling Center for a confidential consultation. Students can call
for an appointment (703-993-2380) or walk-in to SUBI, Room 364.
to Your Own Personal Needs
It would be easy
to put significant time and energy into helping students without taking time to assess how we're doing personally. The possibility
of war and terrorism will have an impact on each of us.
to take some time to look at how we're doing in handling these stresses. Are we recognizing our own limits and taking steps to reduce cumulative stress and re-energize ourselves?
Are there strategies we recommend to students that we can use for ourselves?
Tips for People Living with Mental Illness In Uncertain Times
With ongoing military
action in Iraq and the continuing terrorist threat here at home, Americans are experiencing many powerful emotions.
For most people,
the intense feelings of anxiety, sadness, grief and anger are healthy and appropriate. But some people may have more profound and debilitating reactions to the war. This could be
especially true for those who live with serious mental illnesses, such as:
to remember that everyone reacts differently to trauma and each person has his or her own tolerance level for difficult feelings.
When confronted with a crisis, a person with a mental illness may experience the symptoms of his or her disorder or see new ones emerge.
who have experienced this say that there are warning signs. Here are some common warning signs of an oncoming relapse:
- Stopping your usual routines, such as attending school or joining family activities
- Changing your sleeping pattern or eating habits
- Not caring about your appearance
- Difficulties with your coordination
- Lapses in short-term memory
- Experiencing mood swings
- Feeling out of control or very agitated
- Thinking about suicide or violence
- Doing things that make others think you’re out of touch with reality
- Hearing or seeing things that other don't
- Being unable to let go of an idea, thought or phrase
- Having trouble thinking or speaking clearly
- Deciding not to take your medications or to follow through your treatment plan (missing appointments, etc.)
- Feeling unable to enjoy things that are usually pleasurable
- Being unable to make even routine decisions
can have different warning signs, so be aware of anything that seems out of the ordinary for you. If people around you notice changes, listen to what they say. You could be totally unaware of changes in your behavior. Be sure to report any changes, especially any talk or thoughts of suicide or self-inflicted injury, to your doctor or treatment team.
Even in uncertain times such as these, you must take an active role in managing your illness. Continue to follow the treatment plan you’ve developed with your doctor or treatment team.
- Take your medications just as your doctor prescribed
- Keep your therapy appointments
- Avoid alcohol use
- Don't use illicit drugs or any that aren't prescribed specifically for you
- Keep a journal or diary
- Have prescribed laboratory and psychological tests
- Stay connected with or get involved in a support group
- Report any signs of a relapse to your treatment team
To get through the current crisis, take advantage of the people and tools that are available to you:
- Involve family and friends. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Keep your doctor and treatment team informed about how the war is affecting you.
- Make contact with self-help groups and support organizations that help people with serious mental illnesses and related problems.
- Access peer support and other programs, ranging from drop-in centers to housing, employment and recreational opportunities,
that can help you better manage your illness.
- Learn all you can about your illness and what you have to do to move to recovery.
- Use the computer to get information about your illness and to contact and exchange views and experiences
with others who share your experiences.
- Stay in touch with your spirituality, if you find that comforting. Be optimistic about the challenges that lie ahead.
Find what works for you. The process of moving toward recovery, especially in times or war or crisis, isn't a simple one. Stay fully involved in the process by following your
treatment plan and seeking the support you need, when you need it.
The National Mental Health Association has several
resources available to help you and others cope with our ongoing national crisis, including fact sheets on post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, coping with loss, helping children handle war and other topics.
To obtain this information, go to www.nmha.org/reassurance/anniversary/index.cfm or call our toll-free line 800-969-NMHA (6642).
Cancer Support - Sharing Feelings
Some in the family
are able to absorb the impact of diagnosis sooner than others. This can create clashing needs as some wish to talk and some need to be private and introspective.
Verbal and nonverbal
clues help determine when is a good time to discuss the illness and how each will learn to live with it.
If family members
can't help each other, other emotional support systems are available in the form of groups or professional counselors.
The person with
cancer has the primary right to set the timetable for when he or she is ready to talk. Others can encourage that readiness through their love and continued presence.
Talking may include
expressing anger, fear and inner confusion.
False cheeriness - the "everything will be all right" routine - denies the person with cancer the opportunity to discuss fears and anxieties.
uniqueness of each person, positive test results or good response to treatment is true support, both valid and valuable.
The person with
cancer needs family or friends as a constant in a changing world. "I'm here," offers great reserves of support.
whole family suspects the truth before the diagnosis is made. Someone recognizes the symptoms, or the family doctor seems overly concerned. Nonetheless, hearing those words - tumor ... cancer ... leukemia - we're stunned as we never may have been
in our lives.
It's often impossible to take in the diagnosis immediately.
We hear it, but somehow we don't believe it. This is normal. People's minds have a wonderful capacity for absorbing information only as they're ready to accept it.
All of us may
not operate on the same emotional timetable. One of the family might feel the need to talk about the cancer before the others come to grips with it. Each of us has to decide when we are ready
to talk; none should feel forced to do so.
creates clashing needs - some need to talk; others need to be private and introspective or even to shut the whole subject out of their minds for a while.
The desire to respect privacy may be pitted against an equal need to get the whole thing out in the open.
In some families
everyone becomes overly considerate of everyone else's needs for time to adjust. Instead of meeting anyone's needs, everyone avoids one another, building walls just when they ought to be opening doors to communication.
to let the person who has cancer call the signals for when it's time to talk. But, it is always helpful to look for clues
to determine when might be a good time to discuss the cancer and how to live with it.
Signs such as
apparently idle conversation, more time than usual spent with other family members, or even unusual nervousness might indicate
that a person wants to talk but doesn't know where to begin. Yet, facing cancer together makes it easier. It eliminates the
need for pretense when there are so many important matters to get on with.
As you talk, you
should try to be sensitive to what family members or friends say,, how they position their bodies and whether or not they make eye contact.
These clues suggest whether the conversation is serving a purpose or driving someone you care about into hiding.
Some people can't
adjust their feelings and can't help each other. Not all families can be open and sharing and a crisis is a difficult time to be adjusting family patterns. Nonetheless, the situation may not eliminate
the need to air feelings.
This is the time to turn to one of several sources
outside the family for emotional support. These are described in the chapter "When You Need Assistance."
Consider Your Needs
When cancer is
first diagnosed, some people can absorb only the most basic information and even that might need to be repeated. That's normal. We each have the right to digest information and to determine when we are ready
for more, when we're ready to talk about what we know or want to know.
If others in the
family want to talk about cancer before you're ready, try to postpone the discussion without rejecting the person.
appreciate your concern but not yet. I can't talk yet," for example, suggests that the day will come when you'll be ready to talk. Taking care of your own needs, which are great, while trying to recognize the fears and anxieties of those you love isn't easy, it's true.
The period right
after diagnosis is often a time of anger, fear and inner confusion. You might need to sort out conflicting emotions before you can express them. Or, you might find yourself lashing out, wishing to find a target for anger and frustration.
Often it's those closest who bear the brunt of these outbursts. You don't want to hurt them, but you may be angry that they will live and you might die. Perhaps you assume that they'll understand and endure the rage.
have feelings, too. They may lash back, expressing their own anger and hurt at your outbursts, at the possibility of losing you, at the burden of new responsibilities or at their powerlessness to change the reality of the disease. As you express your own feelings, try to remember that others need the same release.
The Family Adjusts
The period following
diagnosis is a difficult time of adjustment for family members. Each has to deal with individual feelings, while trying to be sensitive to those of the person who has cancer.
Being part of the family doesn't mean you can make
people talk about their feelings before they're ready, but you need outlets, too. There are ways to encourage openness. Be ready to listen when others are ready to talk and let your continued presence show your support. But remember, the person with cancer gets to set the timetable.
If the decision
is to talk, you may find yourself the target for a lot of anger and frustration. It's easier to tell yourself that you aren't the cause of this hostility than it is to accept this. You know you should respond with patience and compassion, but sometimes you answer anger with anger. Even these exchanges can have value if everyone learns through them to share feelings.
The opposite of
anger may be false cheer. In trying to bolster the person with cancer, you may actually cut off his or her attempts to express
feelings. Remember that lifting the spirit doesn't mean hiding from the truth. Sensing despondency, some people rush in with assurances that "everything will be all right." But everything
isn't "all right."
If you insist
it is, you deny the reality of the patient's world. In response, he or she may withdraw, feeling deserted and left to face an uncertain world alone. Without meaning to, you've abandoned the one you hoped to help and set up patterns that can be difficult to change just when support is so important. Although the cancer may be controlled, the gulf between you may endure.
It may help the
one with cancer to know that you share the same fears and anxieties about the uncertainty of the future. People who honestly share these feelings find they can hold them to the light, better accept that the future may be questionable and turn more readily to fulfilling the present.
This is a very difficult period, but if you can share
the difficulties, you'll find there are more good days to enjoy together. And you are less likely to be devastated by truly difficult ones.
There are ways
to find hope during periods of despondency or despair. We all need to remember the individuality of each case. We tend to get caught up in statistics and averages, but no two
cancers ever behave exactly the same way.
Each individual has different genes and an immune
system, a distinctive will to live and an urge to fight. These can't be measured on charts or graphs. No one can offer any
of us "forever," but there are good prognoses; with an increasing number of cancers, the outlook is good for a lifetime free
You can look to
promising test results and to treatments that have been effective in many people before. Even if the future is guarded, there
may be another remission, good days, comfortable nights and shared experiences. These are real beyond any statistics. The
enjoyment of life's gifts constitutes living, not the number of days we are given in which to enjoy them.
There are safeguards
against hopelessness even if there is no real cause for hope. You can still provide reassurance of continuing love and comfort. At times, "I'm here" may be the two most supportive words you can say.
Listening, Sharing, Being Yourself
There are different
ways in which you can be important as a family member or friend. You can listen to expressions of feeling or act as a sounding board for a discussion of future plans. You can help focus anger or anxiety by helping to explore the specific causes - drug reactions, the job situation, finances and so forth. This may be what is
needed - someone to listen, to react and absorb the patient's outpourings, not necessarily to "do" anything. It's a difficult role, but it can be immensely
There is a more
passive but equally difficult role. Some cancer patients view theirs as a private battle to be fought
alone with only their physicians as allies and they prefer to fight their emotional battles alone as well. But they need family and friends for silent support, as respite, shelter or an island of normality.
It can be draining to provide "safe harbor" from a day in the clinic or nights of sleepless panic. It can be a struggle to be forced to plan an evening out, to ask friends in or simply to stand by with wordless support. However, there may be times when this is what's needed most.
Many people think they don't know "how to act" with people with cancer. The best you can offer is to be natural, to be yourself.
Let your intuition guide you. Do what you comfortably can do; don't try to be someone you aren't. This in itself is comforting. Dealing with cancer entails enough mystifying changes without having to adapt to a new you.
How Do I Navigate Uncertain Financial Times?
There is no doubt that we live in uncertain times especially financially. We honestly do not know
where we will be as a nation just a few weeks from now. That is an incredibly
scary thought for many people who stand to lose a lot of money if things continue to get worse.
So, is there something we can hold on to that
will help us navigate uncertain times? What
can we learn from the past that can help us today?
Stay the Course.
This cliché is so incredibly used that it works against the one who utters the words.
But it is true nonetheless. Those who refuse to panic and succumb to fear
are those who look long term and see that on the other side of the valley is a mountain.
Many people who have lost everything have
come back to re-claim at least part of what they lost. And they learned something
in the process: life is not all about money or material possessions. In fact, a struggle is not a bad thing. It can help bring
to the forefront a new resolve and vigor to make things better. This is a principle
upon which our great nation was founded. It might be time for us to re-learn
Value the Real Investments. We tend to forget that our loved
ones and relationships with people are more important that the amount of money we have in our 401k or other investments. We lose sight of the impact of our actions upon our own children and what that impact
has when it comes their turn to make important choices. We look past teaching
opportunities and hope that maybe they will pick them up somewhere else.
It is time to begin to think differently. Yes, our money is important. Yes, it
is a great system that we have to help us prepare for our futures financially. But
let us return to the better part of life – that of our families.
Do Not Count Us Out. America
is a strong nation. No matter what our enemies say about us. We have the drive and resilience to come back even stronger than before when faced with adversity. You do not have to look any further than 9/11 to validate that belief.
Even if we were to lose everything, American
would be the quickest nation to turn around and come roaring back. The reason
is because the enterprising spirit is still alive. People who have a determination to make changes for the better and improve on what we have are still alive and well.
That is a truth that will help us see through any hardship. No matter
So, stay the course, value right things, and look to the future. Our best days are ahead of us.
Students need skills to cope with uncertain financial future
Sunday, November 09, 2008
By Kellen Henry
the iPod generation, some things will never be the same.
Many teens and young adults,
raised on gadgets and designer goods, are facing their first economic downturn, and with it, an increasingly unpredictable
Students at Independence Junior High School in Sophia practice
The Game of Life Twists and Turns. The West Virginia Treasurer’s Office offers the game to middle and high schools as
a fun exercise to learn about money and finances.
hile their parents cope with falling home values and grim stock returns, American
youth lope toward the job market with fewer opportunities, more debt and less certainty about how to manage money, according
to some financial educators.
rom my standpoint, almost halfway through college,
it's kind of scary because I'm not sure what the job market will be," said Wes Sherrill, a sophomore at the University of
Charleston. "What I expected in terms of salary and opportunities are completely shot now."S
who studies finance and business administration, said he saves money from his part-time job and thinks carefully about his
spending. He's already trying to develop skills and make contacts that will help him after college.
lot of kids turn a blind eye, and that can come back to bite you. We have to open our eyes to look at the
hammer that's coming down. It's going to continue to beat us," he said.T
are struggling with rising costs and worries about immediate financial concerns such as bills, groceries and gasoline, instead
of saving for the future, according to Qvisory, a nonprofit advocacy group for young adults.A
Qvisory study from July found that over half of the respondents age 18 to 34 years old reported having credit card debt. About
57% said they pay only the minimum amount of their card payments monthly, racking up interest charges.C
redit card debt can be a major struggle for many young people, leaving them in trouble beyond their college
days, said Dr. Robert Bliss, an associate professor of business at UC.
t's a vicious
cycle, and restraint can be very hard for people who are 20 years old, when there is pressure
from peers to keep up," Bliss said.C
helsea Ray, also a student at UC, does not
have a credit card. But nearly all of her friends do.R
ay, who studies finance and
heads the UC Students In Free Enterprise club, said today's young people need
to spend with discipline and learn from the recent market bailout.
an excellent wake-up call. People my parents' age financed and refinanced and refinanced their debt," Ray said. "They can't
pay it back now because they could never afford it in the first place."H
young people don't learn wise financial practices from their parents when their parents stay silent.
oney is often a household taboo. People don't sit down and show their children, 'This is our budget, this is
where the money actually goes,'" said Justin Southern, communications director for the West Virginia State Auditor's Office.O
ver the last decade, state and federal offices have begun to stress financial principles as part
of academic and technical education.T
hrough West Virginia Jump, the state chapter
of a national financial literacy group, teachers can now spend a week at Finance University where they learn from business
professionals for free.T
hings such as stock market games and online flash programs
have helped pique interest in learning about money. A
financial component is also
now a required part of high school civics classes, and many financial literacy materials are available to teachers for free.S
till, students are not retaining information as well as educators hoped. Nationally, their scores
on Jump's biannual survey of financial literacy have sunk or stagnated since the organization started in 1995.H
igh school students across the country answered only 48% of questions correctly this year, a
drop from 52% correct in 2006's survey.S
tudents at Independence Junior High School
in Sophia practice The Game of Life Twists and Turns. The West Virginia Treasurer’s Office offers the game to middle
and high schools as a fun exercise to learn about money and finances.
n West Virginia, students from 10 randomly selected high schools answered only
51% of the questions correctly in the 2008 Jump survey.
hose numbers are actually
better than the national average, but 51% is not very good. It's still failing
," Southern said.T
is that policymakers, educators and businesspeople in West Virginia can join together to promote consistent financial education
as part of the public school curriculum.I
n January, President Bush created the President's
Advisory Council on Financial Literacy to monitor personal financial education.W
the U.S. Treasury department, the council is sponsoring The National Financial Challenge this month, for the second year.
Students take the challenge
online between Nov. 3-26, aiming for top honors, like with the Presidential Physical Fitness Award.O
n the state level, the Treasurer's office is implementing its NetWorth program, which is a long-term strategy
to present financial literacy information for K-12 students, bridging the gap between the textbook and the pocketbook.D
espite low scores, there is evidence that young people are reacting to the fears
of a recession. Keeping a budget may be a change for these staple buyers of the retail industry, but paying $4 a gallon for
gas and increases at the grocery store have caused them to scale backs in other areas.Q
found that about 73% of the 18 to 34-year-old survey respondents have changed
their habits by staying home more often. About 70% are using more coupons and spending less on music and clothing.
oung adults are the most of any demographic to be pulling back this year. They're concerned
about how they'll pay for things," said Ellen Davis, vice president of the National Retail Federation.B
ecause they have never faced a crisis before, they might be more timid than their parents and grandparents,
who have seen recessions come and go, Davis said.L
iving with moderation, said Sherrill,
the UC student, isn't the end of the world. Saving money can be the difference between a small and a large fry at a fast food
joint, buying things in bulk or only taking care of your own glass on a night out.
the long run. They forget about last Friday night when they bought a round for everybody at the bar. I'd say that it's a
fallacy that you can't have a good time. Be frugal and maybe have fewer good times," Sherrill said.A
lthough jobs might be harder to find and salaries might be lower, America's young people will get through the
looming recession with a little savvy, said Bliss, the UC professor. Unlike those their senior, they probably won't lose their
life savings, retirement funds or their homes if they stay out of debt.A
combined with education, could leave them better prepared for the future.
to turn around," Bliss said. "There's more good than bad for the future. There will be more oversight, more accountability
and new jobs, too."
source site: click here
by Susan Jeffers, PhD:
Finding Peace of Mind in a Very
and Emotional Complications
Each woman having an abortion may
experience different emotions before and after the procedure, sometimes years later. Women often have both positive and negative feelings after having an abortion. These feelings may include emptiness and guilt as well as sadness.
A woman may question whether she made the right
decision. Some women may feel relief about their decision and that the procedure is over.
Other women may feel anger at having to make the choice. Women who experience sadness, guilt or difficulty after the procedure may be those women who
were forced into the decision by a partner or family member, or who have had serious psychiatric counseling before the procedure
or who were uncertain of their decision.
Counseling or support before and after abortion is very important. If family help and support is not available to the woman, the feelings
that appear after an abortion may be harder to adjust to. Talking with a professional and objective counselor before having
an abortion can help a woman better understand her decision and the feelings she may experience after the procedure.
If counseling is available to the woman, these feelings may be easier to handle. Some medical groups do not recognize post abortion syndrome as a clinical diagnosis, however, some studies
suggest post abortion syndrome is a type of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Remember, it is your right and the doctor's responsibility to fully inform you prior to the procedures. Be encouraged to ask all of your questions.
Feelings, Thoughts, and Traumatic Events
The process of healing is dependent on understanding your feelings
and learning to manage them in ways that do not isolate you from others or otherwise harm you. But you cannot feeling those
feelings unless you first identify them. This process takes time, however; you'll need to be patient.
Very few people
learn about feelings unless someone in their lives took the time to teach them. But such a teacher would have first identified
the feeling by putting a name or a label on it. In addition, this teacher would have distinguished different levels of the
of the kind of trauma you have survived, it is critical that you learn what a feeling is and be able to give it a name.
What is a Feeling?
A feeling is
neither a thought nor an action, "I should have. . ." is not a feeling; it is a thought. Feeling angry at a friend or thinking
about hitting, cursing, or stealing from a friend. . .is not the same as actually acting on those feelings.
Feelings vs. Thoughts
and thoughts are not the same, they are often intimately related. Some feelings arise out of the way you perceive things and
the thoughts you have a as a result.
As you slowly
acquire more accurate, more concrete, and more rational view of what happened during the trauma, and why those events
occurred, some of the more negative feelings you have about yourself, others, and the trauma itself may change. However, certain
feelings will remain.
"think away" the trauma entirely by changing the way you think. But you can considerably reduce unnecessary and unfounded
self-blame, guilt, and anger at others by learning how to distinguish your thoughts from your feelings regarding the trauma.
The Characteristics of Feelings
feelings involve a physical reaction. Whatever the feeling, it is not "all in your head." Feelings often appear in combination-they
are more often complex than simple.
survivors, anger and grief tend to go hand in hand. Often guilt is involved as well. Humiliation, which is caused all too
often by the reactions of others who do not understand the trauma survivor's plight, can be a mixed feeling, involving anger,
hurt, and sadness.
also be contagious. Friends' happiness can be infectious. Unfortunately, it is just as easy to "catch" emotions that you are less than joyous.
Tuning into Your Feelings
Some of your
feelings may be at the surface of your awareness and thus easy to identify. Others you may have to dig for. Some signs of
suppressed feelings are muscle tension, physical pain with no medical cause, depression, ennui or boredom, agitation or anxiety,
dizziness, and involuntary urges to overeat, overspend, abuse alcohol or drugs, or hurt yourself.
It is important to keep the following in mind:
- Feelings are neither good
nor bad, right nor wrong; feelings just are, they exist. You need not, and should not, judge yourself negatively just because
you have or don't have a particular feeling.
- Feelings don't last forever.
No matter what you are feeling, eventually it will lift and another emotion will take its place.
- When a strong feeling
comes, you do not have to act on it. All you have to do is recognize it and feel it.
- The process of getting
at your feelings is important. Try not to block it with excessive self-judgment; save that for your behavior, not your feelings
and thoughts. Your actions affect other people. How you feel and what you think is no one's business but your own.
In the same
way that it's necessary to feel your emotions to be able to have a fully realized life, you'll need to remember your trauma in order to heal from it. You may already remember more than you want to of the experience, or you may remember
very little of the actual event.
In either case,
one of the principal tools . . . is to reconstruct that happened. What you'll find is that, as the healing process progresses,
your perceptions of the event change as you discover and learn more about the factors that make up your PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress
You need to record what you currently remember about the trauma. It's important to be as detailed as you can. Include as many graphic and sensual details as you can remember, including sights,
sounds, smells, tastes and how things felt when you touched them.
The details are important not because they are
or were traumatic in themselves, but because similar details in your present life may be triggers that produce intense emotional
- and even physical-reactions. You may even be
organizing your life to avoid confronting similar details in the present.
Self-Blame & Survivor Guilt
event that occurred to you is important in itself. Also important, however, are your attitudes toward that event. Whether you have survived one trauma or several, your beliefs about why the trauma occurred and the way you judge your behavior during and after the traumatic episode are going to heavily influence the degree to which you
continue to suffer.
Do you blame yourself for the traumatic event? Or do you fault yourself for some of the ways you reacted, or didn't react,
while the trauma was occurring? If you do, once again, you're not alone. It's not uncommon for trauma survivors to blame themselves in some way, large or small, for the event itself, its negative outcome, or both.
Origins of Self-Blame & Survivor Guilt
arises in part from the fact that powerlessness and helplessness are two of the worst feelings any human being can experience. Yet being and feeling powerless or helpless in the face of great danger is the
very definition of trauma. However, people prefer to think that they're able to control their lives, so it is easier to blame themselves for negative events than to acknowledge that sometimes life is unfair or arbitrary and innocent people can be victimized for no reason.
to maintain a sense of being in control you may view yourself, rather than chance, as responsible for one or more aspects of the trauma - perhaps for all of it. In this way, self-blame can be a means of regaining the power that was lost during
the traumatic event.
Survivor guilt is something other than just compassion for those who have suffered more than you. It's also a way of saying. "If I had suffered more, you would have
suffered less." Such thinking isn't logical, but it makes sense emotionally. It can be a defense against the pain you feel at seeing others
hurt. With survivor guilt, the idea is that by punishing yourself, you can undo the damage, or at least keep bad things from happening
It has one
additional aspect - gratitude. It's difficult to accept being grateful that it was someone else who suffered. However hard this feeling is to face, it is nothing more
than expression of the natural and vital instinct for self-preservation.
Accepting Guilt Feelings
If you suffer
from self-blame, respect it. Even if you yourself or others can easily see that the self-blame is irrational, you need to respect your feelings. When you feel guilty, others may open their mouths wide with disbelief. But your task, at least
for the moment, is to simply recognize your own emotion and not disparage it.
you'll need to examine any guilt you feel, both to see how closely it matches objective reality and to determine exactly
where the responsibility for the event truly lies.
Either in a journal or with sympathetic family
members or friends, discuss the ways in which you feel responsible for the traumatic event and/or its outcome . . . try not
to blame yourself for blaming yourself.
Self-blame and guilt are entirely normal following
any type of disaster or loss. You might state with some legitimacy that your actions contributed to the trauma's taking place or to its negative outcome. You may, in fact, have made a mistake, perhaps several mistakes. However, you need to view your behavior
from a trauma perspective.
Looking at the Bigger Picture
In trying to
understand your trauma, you can't look solely at your own behavior; you need a wider, more complete perspective. For example, like many trauma survivors, you may have forgotten or dismissed the conditions that existed at the time. If you feel partly,
or entirely, responsible for what happen to you, discuss it with understanding others. They should be able to help you get
a better perspective on your role in what happened.
"I Just Couldn't Think"
Some trauma survivors report that during the time of the traumatic event, they made decisions that, in retrospect, were
not the wisest. During a traumatic event, you were probably thinking to the best of your ability under the circumstances. However, the turbulent emotions and high anxiety levels that traumatic situations create sometimes interfere with calm, rational thinking.
In contrast, during a traumatic event, most people's
judgment is affected, to one degree or another, by the very real dangers involved in the situation and the strong fears such
dangers can produce. Furthermore, there may be biological bases for this "inability to think" under stress.
Because trauma is, by its very nature, sudden and overwhelming, people are often unable to adequately assess the situation, no matter how intelligent, brave, or physically fit they are. In addition, it's often difficult for trauma victims to even realize that the trauma
report perceptual changes in which time is altered and events seem to be happening in slow motion. Visual perceptions may
be modified so that people sometimes have a derealization - "out of body" experience, or at least feel that they are simply
observing themselves from the outside rather than participating in the traumatic event.
Another frequent perceptual alteration is a hysterical-like
tunnel vision that focuses on the trauma scene itself to the exclusion of the rest of the environment.
In this initial
state of denial and shock, it is easy to make "mistakes" or to act in a manner that later confuses you and causes you to doubt and criticize yourself.
conditions, errors in judgment are to be expected. Even people who make remarkably reasonable decisions under conditions of great stress later
judge themselves at fault when an unexpected event occurred that causes a negative outcome.
The original decision may have been the best decision
that could have been made, given the information and resources available, yet because of an unpredictable turn of events-which
frequently happens in trauma-people judge themselves as guilty.
guilt stems from the mistaken notion that people believe they could have known better and predicted the negative outcome(s). This "20-20 hindsight" is deceptive since no one can predict the future and you have to make the best decision
you can, giving the information at hand.
"Catch 22" Guilt
"Catch 22 guilt" occurs when none of the choices is acceptable
because all available courses of action have repugnant consequences and involve repudiation of some important value.
A Closer Look at Self-Blame
Some of the
explanations that people use that lead to self blame are
- I lack the ability to
make good decisions.
- I am not intelligent enough
to make good decisions.
- I am careless and fail
to take adequate precautions.
- I am impulsive and emotionally
- I am unable to learn.
- I am sinful or bad.
Having such negative feelings toward yourself can be very painful. However, no one is "together" all of the time. Eventually all of us, no matter
how competent or fortunate we may be, encounter situations that exceed our coping abilities. At that time, we just have to
do the best we can under the circumstances.
and low self-esteem stem from "victim thinking" - seeing yourself as having been totally helpless or ineffectual during the
traumatic event. You may have been victimized during the trauma, but that doesn't mean that you were totally passive or blameworthy.
Nor does it mean that you're totally unable to meet some of your present-day goals. It's important to begin to "re-frame" your perception of the traumatic
event to see that you did the best you could under the circumstances and that any negative outcomes were beyond your control.
1. Matsakis, A. "Thoughts, Feelings, and Traumatic Events." I Can't Get Over It:
A handbook for Trauma Survivors (2nd Ed.). Oakland, CA: New Harginger Publications, Inc., 1996, p.65-84