I am heartbroken, sickened and confused by the horrific tragedy that hit our Connecticut community on Friday. As a psychologist and a nurse who has spent more than 35 years dealing with trauma and death, I feel like I should have some answers about why and how this kind of event could occur.
But I do not. I don’t think anyone really knows what causes a human being to disregard the value of human life and kill his mother and 26 innocent children and adults before killing himself.
— APAHelpCenter (@APAHelpCenter) December 15, 2012
Mental illness isn’t the same as violence
What I do know is that we must all be careful about thinking that this type of behavior is typical of the mentally ill. Most people with mental illness are not violent. And acts of violence are not always committed by someone with a mental illness. That is really important to remember. This man may have suffered from some mental illness, but we don’t know the facts. Adam Lanza did show the world what evil looks like, and it is terrifying.
There is another side of this story. And this is the one we all must cling to and remember: Adam Lanza was one man. But, as a community and nation caring for each other, we are many more. After yesterday’s massacre millions of people from all over the world joined together with messages of condolences, prayer and offers to help. People from everywhere are connecting on an emotional level. And just maybe, this will help us all remember what is truly important.
We must work together to create a safe environment where we and our children can walk outside, shop in the malls, go to the movies and go to school without the fear of being killed. And I believe we will.
Bouncing back, moving on, growing stronger
We are a very resilient group. I am constantly reminded of this as I work with patients who have experienced horrible and repeated trauma as kids. I watch them as they work hard to break the cycle of violence in which they were raised, learn to nurture themselves and become healthy individuals, parents, spouses and friends.
It is true that some people are born with a lot of resilience. But, resilience can be learned. Being resilient doesn’t mean we don’t feel horrible pain. It doesn’t deny the grief and suffering. But being resilient means that, in time, we will bounce back. We will survive and come back stronger. We will use our experiences to create a better world for ourselves and others.
Tips to help yourself and children
Here are a few things we can keep in mind as we all try to cope with the tragedy and senseless loss of life we have just witnessed.
- Make connections. Reach out to each other. Go to group gatherings for prayers and support.
- Avoid seeing this crisis as insurmountable. Right now this may be very hard. It may help to remember how we survived 9/11 and other terrible events. We overcome because it is in our very gut to survive. And we owe it to our children.
- Take decisive actions. Doing things really helps. Make cards, cook meals, make a donation for the families who lost children and parents.
- Keep things in perspective. Remember, Adam Lanza acted alone. If we work together, we can accomplish so much.
- Maintain a hopeful outlook. Believe that good will overcome the bad. Look around you and you will see so many random acts of kindness being performed every day. Watch an inspiring movie. Even if it makes you cry, the tears can help you as you grieve this forrific event.
- Take care of yourself and your family. Hug each other. A lot. Try to eat well, get some rest and maintain some sort of routine.
But for now, join me in my thoughts and prayers that all of us, and especially the families directly affected by this, will find a way to heal. I also send thoughts for healing to the first responders, the men and women who ran to the scene to help and saw the unimaginable.