As I sit to write this blog entry, I reflect on a simple question I was asked today
regarding the Boston Marathon explosions.
"Why are there so many acts of violence on innocent people
lately?" When I was in graduate
school, we were taught never to ask the "Why?" question because the
default answer was always "I don't know". The default answer to the question posed to
me could be that simple, "I don't know why there is a rise in violence." But, that answer is too simple and does not
pay the respects of reflection the question warrants.
As I await my deployment orders for Boston, I reflect to several weeks ago when I was
alerted to a shooting in the New Castle County Courthouse in Wilmington,
father of a man who kidnapped his three young daughters in 2007 opened fire
with a handgun at the New Castle County courthouse killing his former
daughter-in-law and her friend and wounding two police officers. This
came only a week after a Wilmington Police Officer was shot in the face while
performing a traffic stop. These
stories fall under the shadow of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings,
the looming nuclear attack from North Korea, and the outcry for gun control.
I often worry my blogs may not be politically
correct or accurate to both sides of a debate. I attempt to give my opinion in a logically
thought out manner by researching the subject matter and compiling a list of
pros and cons. This topic has touched
too close to home for me to remain completely unbiased. My reflections on the topic of violence
have to be from my viewpoint because of what I do and who I am. As a trauma therapist, I am often called
upon to help victims and families of violence to cope with the situation and
begin the healing process. I work
closely with Law Enforcement, Fire Service, and Emergency Medical Personnel to
provide comfort and aid to those affected by life's tragedies. And, when the needs arise, I help Law
Enforcement, Fire Service, and Emergency Medical Personnel find peace and
healing as life's tragedies inevitably affect them as well. I am ever vigilant of what affects me
emotionally, physically, mentally, and even spiritually during these crisis
calls. I immediately reflect back to my
recent deployment to the Sandy Hook
Elementary School shootings. I posted a
picture I took of a memorial in Sandy Hook, CT. In the caption, I wrote, " I have been trained to counsel people during tragic
times but the overwhelming sorrow is indescribable. I have told people
throughout my time here it is normal and healthy to cry. As my heart hurts, I
find myself crying with the ones I have provided comfort. I hurt for them, not
as a professional but as a father, a son, and a human. God bless these tiny
souls so they may find peace". I
cannot be completely unbiased to the subject of violence. I can give facts, which are easily
researched, but I have to give my opinion as well.
Currently,the United States has
substantially more mass shootings but the same percentage of psychiatrically
suffering patients than any other nation. We have more
firearms in our country than in any other comparably developed nation. An
individual in the United States is about a hundred times more likely to die due
to the discharge of a firearm than in any other Western nation. Our government's response to these undisputed
facts is the need for gun control or a ban on assault weapons. Opponents of this action post feverishly
about the second amendment and how no one will take their guns away from
them. Meanwhile, two homemade bombs are
detonated at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon killing two and injuring
dozen more. The issue of violence in
our society has little to do with whether Joe Politician and Joe American can
agree on what is designated as an assault weapon. In an instant lately, our rights as US
citizens have been taken away not by our Government or legal gun owners, but by
individuals who are not playing by society's rules.
When violence strikes without warning it
can leave lasting scars not only physically, but emotionally as well. Whether it is a terrorist attack or some
domestic threat, watching innocent people being directly affected by violent
actions pulls at everyone’s heartstrings. Fear can be a debilitating emotion, and how
you cope with that fear is as important as the safety measures you take. After a frightening
situation, overwhelming danger or a sudden loss of security, you may experience
what is commonly called “post-traumatic stress.” Even a perceived or imagined
threat of violence or danger can be as
emotionally disturbing as a real one. When we experience an event as life
threatening, it shatters our basic assumptions about ourselves and the world we
live in. We
all handle traumatic events differently. It is not unusual to feel hyper-alert or jumpy,
to have difficulty going to sleep, or to feel any number of physical or
emotional symptoms. I believe the surge
in the rate of violence has left us all questioning ourselves and our
common thread in many terrorist attacks is how people respond after the
incident. According to the American
Psychological Association many people who have witnessed these events “may go
into a state of acute stress reaction.” In this
state of acute stress reaction, we are not able to make proper decisions or
judgments. We are not able to fully
control our thoughts and our emotions.
With this said, it would stand to reason the US Society has be bombarded
with debilitating violence over the past several years leaving us afraid,
angry, emotional, and fatigued.
While people never tend to forget tragic or horrendous
events, easing the feelings that are associated with these traumas can be mitigated
by taking specific actions in your life. The following tips have been compiled
from the Kansas State Cooperative Extension Service, University of Illinois,
American Psychological Association and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Provide direct help in dealing with the disaster - Help an elderly
or homeless person who is affected by the disaster. Volunteer by helping your
fire department or police department during their times of need. Many
communities have Community Emergency Responder Teams for neighborhoods. This is
a good way to help in times of need. If you are removed from the situation give
blood or money to charitable organizations that are helping with the relief
Talk and listen - Sharing feelings with others,
especially family, friends and neighbors, helps people deal with and overcome
anxiety and feelings of helplessness. On the same token, listening can help
others cope with these same feelings. One of the best ways to help is to lend
Identify your feelings - Understanding
your feelings can help you realize that you are feeling the effects of stress
and sympathy. Knowing yourself can help you cope with the abnormal situation
you might find yourself in.
Show by words and actions that you care - Act. Don’t be
afraid of doing the wrong thing, or offending someone, just try to help in any
way you can. A word of support or a helping hand goes a long way to encourage
other people who are also trying to cope in a difficult situation.
Realize that you are not alone - When it comes to
terrorism, realize there are numerous law enforcement and government agencies
that are trying to prevent and solve the problem of international terrorism.
Knowing that you are not alone in this situation is an important step in
dealing with your fears.
Get back to your daily routine as soon as possible - You might not be
able to do all of the things you once did, but trying to get back to some sense
of normalcy is important in the healing process. Make sure you also maintain
good sleeping and eating habits.
Realize that not everyone heals at the same pace - Don’t be
judgmental if you have found your way out of the emotional pitfalls of a
disaster, but your spouse, son or neighbor is still feeling the pain.
Remember you have overcome obstacles in the past - Try to remember
what you did in other difficult situations and see if those skills can be used
in the current crisis.
Limit watching the news - Watching the
same event time after time will not help you in the healing process. Collecting
important information is important, but watching just for the sake of shock is
Avoid major life decisions - When people are
under stress or bereavement they cannot make logical decisions. Immediately
after a traumatic event is not the time to change careers, move or change your
relationships. Give it time, and then make the decision.
Keep helping - The disruptions caused by a
traumatic event may continue for a long while. Recovery may take even longer.
Friends, family members and neighbors will need regular acts of kindness and
understanding to maintain their morale and put their lives back together.
Life surely has its ups and downs. Whether you lose a friend, a promotion, a significant other, or you just fail at achieving a goal, the anguish of disappointment can be devastating. Whether the disappointment is in us or in someone else, the overall feelings of disappointment are akin to the grieving process. Personally, I believe we can work better at grieving the disappointment with others versus the disappointment with ourselves. For me, being disappointed in myself leaves me feeling out of sorts, lost, and, dare I say, vulnerable. It's often a reminder of how fragile life and the human experience is as it pertains to the loss of confidence. Disappointment can kick you squarely in the teeth leaving you dazed and confused. It is never a good feeling, but, with the right direction, you can recover from the feeling. The feeling of disappointed is also a part of life. Do we need disappointment? Well, maybe. I think we all need a modest level of disappointment to achieve a greater sense of self discovery. I believe a feeling of disappointment in ourselves can lead us eventually to a path of greatness.
Paulo Coehlo once wrote, “When you find your path, you must not be afraid. You need to have sufficient courage to make mistakes. Disappointment, defeat, and despair are the tools God uses to show us the way.”
We all make decisions in our lives which may turn out exactly the way we planned or go up in flames. Those decisions often lead to feelings of success or feelings of disappointment. As Coehlo suggests, the ability to recover from a mistake may turn out, in the end, to be exactly what we need. Have you ever been presented with a challenge knowing all the results would not be desirable? Have you ever had to make a decision which you knew had the potential to create disappointment in others and in yourself? Sure you have. We all have had those moments. We have all had those moments of shear dread of making an impactful decision which could lead to disastrous results or tremendous disappointment. But, as Joel Olsteen said, “You must make a decision that you are going to move on. It won't happen automatically. You will have to rise up and say, ‘I don’t care how hard this is, I don’t care how disappointed I am, I’m not going to let this get the best of me. I’m moving on with my life.”
Recovering from disappointment is not an easy or desired task. It takes internal power to rise up and move ahead. The power has to come from deep inside. Deep inside the place you reserve for the most daunting of tasks. It is within that place you live and thrive. You must face the truth of being embarrassed and ashamed of yourself and know these feelings will hopefully pass. Develop a sense of humility and be honest with yourself and others. Even if the ultimate honesty is painful, put it out there and be exposed. Be vulnerable. Be human. The worst thing that happens is you make the wrong decision and you lose what you had. The best thing that happens is you make the right decision and gain something valuable. Either way, it is much better to face the possible disappointment head on. Once the decision is made and everything has been exposed, the results of the decision will happen and you deal with the consequences whether they are good or bad. Life is measured by both the disappointments and the successes. Take the risk of losing something to gain something. Take the risk of disappointment to feel joy, happiness, and freedom. Being burdened by disappointment only allows you to wallow within sorrow. Be free to express yourself and move on. If a person is disappointed in you, apologize and move on. You will make mistakes in life. Sometimes huge mistakes, but acknowledge the mistake. Apologize for the disappointment and move on. We are not perfect beings. We can't be perfect.
Remember, life is a journey. During this journey, we will stumble and fall at times. We will not only make mistakes, but we will create disappointment. Take a moment and acknowledge the journey. It may be helpful to listen to the words of Thomas Jefferson, “If I am to meet with a disappointment, the sooner I know it, the more of life I shall have to wear it off.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
In my practice, I have seen the hurt, pain and sorrow of many people. I have watched, sometimes in shear horror, man’s inhumanities to man, but I have been intrigued, and somewhat mystified, about the power of forgiveness. Humanistic Psychologists contend forgiveness is achieved when compassion replaces the desire for revenge. Compassion replaces the desire for revenge? Really? What does that mean? On the face value of it, something must happen inside of us to change, but what makes the change? People who have a higher sense of self esteem and self value seem to fair well with forgiveness. Religious or spiritual people seem to forgive more readily than nonreligious people. People who have higher emotional stability forgive quite quickly, but Dr. King speaks of something deeper, something a little more profound than just having a self esteem. He speaks of the power of love. The power to develop and maintain the capacity to forgive someone based on our knowledge of ourselves and the power to love.
So, what is forgiveness? To the best of my ability, I have not found one truly universal definition. Christians, Buddhists, Islamic, Muslims, Catholics, and Hindus all have different definitions of the concept of forgiveness. It wasn’tuntil the 1980’s did the Psychology community embrace the concept of forgiveness, but even us theory driven mental health practitioners cannot decide on one true definition.
So what? Who cares? Well, we have all been hurt by someone. We have all been made to feel small by another person. We have all had feelings of being unloved, mistreated, disrespected, embarrassed, admonished, or just “unused” as if we are put on a shelf by people and not had any type of attention. So, does this desire of revenge breed from these times of being hurt and in pain? Sure they do. We think, “I will get them back” or “I will hurt them as much as they hurt me”. I have a hard time with those thoughts. For me, those thoughts just don’t stick. Those thoughts just don’t stay long at all. I’m not really sure why, it just happens that way. If we look at the benefits of forgiveness, we can just say that it is healthier to forgive quickly rather than hold a grudge. By being able to forgive, we can lower blood pressure; we can lower heart rate; we can lessen depression and anxiety. On a spiritual side, we can become closer to our higher power; we can find peace. On the humanity side, we can develop stronger bonds with people; we can develop intact, healthy relationships; we can feel good about being around and with others.
Let’s get real for a minute here. Freud believed in a process known as“murderous impulses”- Our repressed desires to cause harm to others - A reaction which is purely from the Id and is fairly animalistic. When I was a kid, I loved to watch the nature shows. Still do. I would watch The Great White Sharks, The Lions, and all of the animals in their natural glory. Not once, not one single time, do I remember an antelope turning to the lion and saying, “Oh Mr. Lion I completely forgive you for eating my family and friends. I have now found inner peace for forgiving you.” Yup, never happened that way. Basically,that rage, the revenge, the absolute evil energy we have at times has to be driven by some unconscious, internal process, right? Well, my friends, so is forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a truly human act and feeling defined within the human context. For example, I was driving one day on the 95 through the Chester corridor in Pennsylvania. I will admit to having a bit of a heavy foot. Ok, I like to speed– a lot! Typically, I follow the blue signs instead of the white signs. I95 is a comfortable speed. 476 nearly destroyed the vehicle. Anyway, as I was driving, a gentleman in a rather small vehicle decided to cross three lanes of traffic (mind you, no one else was on the road besides our two vehicles at that particular time of the day) and get in front of me and my suburban. No worries, you say. Well, I was travelling at about 85 MPH and he was doing 2 MPH. I had to slam on my brakes to avoid plowing into him. Before I had a chance to react, he decided he wanted to get my attention, and I guess my approval of his IQ point status, by raising one finger in defiance to my evasive maneuvering. Basically, the man gave me the bird because I didn’t understand his internal thoughts of wanting to die that day. My reaction was fairly simple and straightforward. I blew him kisses and smiled. I almost immediately forgave his stupidity and dangerous way of driving. I started to laugh and continued to drive to my meeting in Philadelphia. Unbeknownst to me, the gentleman took great offense to my well wishing kisses and smile. He followed me to the parking lot of my meeting and jumped out of his vehicle in an attempt to justify his lousy driving habits. As he emerged from his vehicle, I took a good look at him. He was about 5 feet 6 inches tall and approximately 165 pounds. He had a slight build and was around 40 to 45 years of age. At the time of the occurrence, yours truly weighed in at 6 feet 2 inches and 240 pounds. I had an athletic build and 33 years of age and, if things weren’t complicated enough, a very proud Italian to boot. LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!!!!!! The gentleman, bounding from his vehicle, came as close to me as he needed to and questioned,“What the hell is your problem?” The phrase that starts every bar fights in the world. “Not a thing” I replied. “You blew a kiss at me after you almost ran me over! What the hell was that?!?!?” he queried. “I love you!” was my reply. The shear look of panic, horror and wonder was priceless. “What did you say?” “I love you and I forgive you. May I have a hug?” The little man jumped in his vehicle and sped away. I thought the parking attendant was going to pass out because of his uncontrolled laughter. Only humans have the capacity to forgive that quickly. Only humans have the willingness to let the hurt and the pain go. Only humans have the absolute choice to either stay angry or understand we can make the situation different through forgiveness.
What is the definition of forgiveness? I don’t have the foggiest clue, but I clearly have an understanding of the concept. Forgiveness is an empathetic approach in allowing humans to be human. People will hurt us. People will treat us horribly. People will not care. Trust will be broken. We will be rejected, betrayed, embarrassed, and insulted at times throughout our lives. It’s not a great way to look at life, but these things are truly human. Because of these things, we, as humans, become resentful, hate driven, angry, vengeful, and develop grudges for the sake of having them. The energy we expend on those emotions alone could power all of California for years. Those feelings give us the negative energy which we hold on to until we can act on them. Typically,these feelings are displaced and projected onto non offenders. Basically, we take this stuff out on the ones we love the most because we believe they will always be with us no matter what we do or say. To forgive these humans acts takes an enormous amount of energy from us. We have to stop the anger and hate and replace it with empathy, and dare I say it, love. You do not need to excuse the action; rather, you excuse the person. You make the conscious effort to view them as human. You protect yourself by letting go of the pain and the hurt. You protect yourself by being weary of the actions, but you forgive the person and move on.
Holding those negative feelings in will only cause further pain for however long you want to have them after the event. It is your choice and your choice alone to forgive someone. It is your choice to be consumed with hate, anger,and resentment or replace it with empathy, strength, and understanding. It is your choice to love, respect, and forgive yourself along with forgiving the other person. Do we have the rite to hold onto these feelings of anger, hate,and resentment? Of course we do! But, it is also our rite to allow ourselves to live and enjoy life.
True forgiveness starts with taking responsibility for our own thoughts and actions. We can only truly forgive others by first understanding we are human as much as they are human. I guess this is what Dr. King is saying. Love yourself, so you can love others. Forgive yourself for being imperfect, so we can forgive other’s imperfections. If we replace hate with compassion, we will ultimately be better people in this lifetime and for many lifetimes to come.
“Regrets. I had a few, but too few to mention”.
Those simple words so eloquently sang by Frank Sinatra in his classic hit “My Way” have, for some unknown reason, echoed in mybrain for as long as I can remember. I often speak to patients about regret as the “shoulda, coulda, wouldas” or the“I wish” followed by the “I will” phrases. Call it what you will, regret plays a very integral part in how we perceive ourselves as people. Have you ever thought to yourself, “I should have bought that suit”, “I wish I was 17 again because I wouldn’t make those stupid mistakes”, “If I only invested my money wisely instead of buying stock in Enron”? Of course you have. We all do. It’s as natural as thinking about what you would like for dinner. What regret does to us emotionally is a whole different state of affairs and the reason for this blog.
A very good friend of mine once brought up the subject of guilt during a luncheon discussion. During the conversation, he stated, “Guilt and regret are two entirely different beasts”. I was intrigued as to where the conversation may go and to what point he may be trying to make. My friend originally hails from Manhattan and still has a very slight, but pronounced accent. He is also Jewish where I am Italian Catholic. Our conversations typically cover the “Do Not Discuss” topics, but we tend to always have the absolute best conversations. “Denny, my friend”. Before I continue I have to add a little something about this name he calls me. My father was always called Denny and I was always called Dennis. Don’t know why, but it had evolved that way. When my son was born, family and friends started calling him Little Denny and my Father Big Denny. I remained Dennis. There have only been two people in the world who have steadily and without fail called me Denny. One is my favorite great uncle and the other is my friend. I always know my friend is ready to say something profound when he starts his sentence with “Denny, myf riend”. I apologize for the slight digression from the point of the conversation. “Denny, my friend” he says with a slight twinkle in his eye and smirk on his face, “Us Jewish people have the corner on guilt”. “How so?” I immediately shot back with a raised eyebrow. “We are born into guilt!” He leaned back into his chair at lunch almost taunting me for a speedy retort. “Come on now” I started. “Us Italian Catholics have the corner on guilt!” “How so?” he replied. Please allow me to digress one more time. Apparently, I get a devilish grin when I am about to win a conversation. Friends and family have both stated I get this look of victory. I don’t see it but apparently it’s there. “Us Italian Catholics are conceived in guilt”. His jaw dropped and then we both let out a loud belly laugh. After a good ten minutes of laughter he stopped and said, “Yes, but neither of our people have the corner on regret. No people do!”
The very definition of regret is to feel sorry and sad about something previously done or said that now appears wrong, mistaken, or hurtful to others. So regret had to be a matter of perception before it makes its way in to the dark recesses of our brains and hearts? Wouldn’t that stand to reason? I don’t know about all of that just quite yet. If something is never pointed out to us as being wrong, we never perceive it as wrong. Let me explain by saying a little something about my daughter. My daughter is a beautiful red head who lives up to the fiery personality traits of all red heads. She tries to win debates and arguments by merely rolling her baby blues at you and stealing your heart. With this said, she is also a free spirit to the core. As a good father, I almost never say no to this child. So, when it came time to the question of, “Daddy, may I have a hamster?” I couldn’t say no to her. Besides, I set up an aquarium for her and she has kept the fish alive so I figured why not. A hamster would make a great starter pet for my baby girl. Well, Hammy, yes the hamster was named Hammy, didn’t have a good run of things. He, I’m only assuming he was a he, was on a mission of self destruction. He would eat his way out the cage, jump out of the daughter’s hand, bite into electrical cords, if there was crack for hamsters, Hammy probably would have smoked it. So, Hammy died. The daughter left the cage open one night and the crack addict hamster got out and bit into an electrical cord. I was heat broken for her. This was her first hamster and it died. I also realized she was partially to blame for Hammy’s demise because she left the cage open. I sat my daughter down to tell her the news. I mustered all the strength I could and said, “Baby, I have some very bad news. It seems as if the cage was left open last night and Hammy got out. I found him this morning and he was not breathing. It looked as if he died from biting into an electrical cord. I wish there was something I could have done to help him, but it was just too late. I’m so very sorry. I know this must hurt something terrible, I’m hoping some big Daddy hugs might help you to feel better.” I thought I did well. I think I even teared up a tad. The daughter looked at my with those big blue eyes and said, “It’s ok, Hammy was a brat. Can we get a new one? I want to name it Nibbles.” She showed not one once of regret for leaving the cage open. To her, she had nothing to feel sorry about. To her,Hammy was a brat and good riddance to him. Obviously, I do not intend for her to grow up with no sense of humility and compassion, but regret is very personal and individualistic.
I am certain we can make people feel bad for the things they have done, but regret does not apply to everyone. Forexample, before he was put to death, a Psychiatrist asked Ted Bundy if he regretted killing any of the women he brutally murdered. Bundy said the only thing I regret is getting caught. The only thing he regretted was getting caught?!? Wow! We all know murdering someone is wrong, correct? We all know murdering hundreds of people is wrong, correct? Well, for Mr. Bundy, those laws of morality just didn't apply. This is where our regret becomes our regret. We have to respect each other when it comes to what another person regrets in their life. If they don’t view something as regret, I would presume we can’t make them regret it. If they do regret something, I think it is our responsibility to help them through it.