Making Sense of Tragedy, Growing Stronger #ctshooting

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.


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.

Family Hug

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.hugs
  • 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.

Photos by catanomade and markwy (via Flickr)

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11 Responses to “Making Sense of Tragedy, Growing Stronger #ctshooting”

  1. Sandy Aguilar   July 23, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    Great insight. A tragedy/violence is inevitable and it can happen to anyone. However, the best weapon to this inevitable happenings to one’s life is the love and support of people around them.

  2. Dr. Ducharme   July 22, 2013 at 8:02 am

    Thank you, Samantha for your comments. And thanks for referring this post to your friends.

  3. Samantha   July 22, 2013 at 6:33 am

    I really find the last tips which are about taking care of yourself and the kids useful and effective. Indeed, it is really important to show to your kids how much you love them every single day. I will surely refer this post to my friends.

  4. Elaine Ducharme   July 20, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    Thank you for you comments, Anna. We all send our prayers to the families of the victims.

  5. Anna Johnson   July 20, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    A terrible tragedy indeed Elaine, one cannot begin to understand what is going on in the mind of people who do this.
    It is just random, wanton violence without reason and not even a ’cause’ to blame it on.

    They may have been ‘socially deprived’ or whatever other excuses are used but they know difference between good and evil and that is what they truly are if clinically sane, which often seems the case.

    This type of event seems to happening the world over, not just in the US, and seems to be becoming horrifyingly more frequent.

    God bless the friends and families of the victims, and may those innocent souls killed rest in peace forever.

  6. D. Kim Hamblin, PhD   December 27, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    There is an excellent article on the Medscape newsletter about mass shootings: “Mass Shootings and the Ethic of the Open Heart”, by James Knoll, MD. He says in a more articulate way the things I would say and doesn’t say some I would. 1) Such incidents are not predictable. 2) There is no “mental health system”; the closing of large state hospitals, most of which were inadequate, was followed by the release to a “Community Mental Health” system that has really never existed. What was developed was underfunded and poorly staffed and could not meet the needs of even those who would seek help. Alabama just closed a small state hospital in my home town (Montgomery) and left provision of services for seriously mentally ill patients who were in and out of the hospital to the community system with no provision for expanding outpatient services or providing for group homes or any other resource to help those who repeatedly stop their medicines, relapse, and have no other support system. These patients will wind up in jail for petty offenses because there is no other place for them and no available treatment in a reasonable time. 3) Movies, television, and video games have become increasingly violent with poor parental awareness or response and no real sense of responsibility on the part of the producers. 4) These acts of violence are over-sensationalized by the media (beyond the need for an informed public) and given hours and pages of coverage that make it clear that anyone who commits such acts will receive a national stage and a long running production. 5) While there is no legitimate need or use for assault weapons in the hands of the average citizen, many will continue to point at a piece of the second amendment taken out of context as giving them the right to “bear arms”. Even if there is legislation to ban or control assault rifles, Adam Lanza could have done the same damage at close range with an automatic pistol and a pocket full of loaded clips. 6) though in retrospect many of the perpetrators of such crimes have shared characteristics, most with these characteristics don’t commit violent crimes. The “why?” lies in the heart of the perpetrator (well, some in our society), and only when there are notes, journals, or other materials left behind, do they become remotely understandable. Prevention? Like Dr. Knoll says, if the potential mass killer “leaks” in some way and someone hears and has the courage to come forward and say there is a danger, these acts will continue to occur and we will continue to be mystfied.

  7. Dr.Ducharme   December 19, 2012 at 11:40 pm

    It is incredible how we are all connected .may we all work together to make this world a safer place. And may we all cherish our loved ones and each other.

  8. Dr. William Kirkley   December 18, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    People want to believe that if they can only understand why this happened, then they can move on. This is not true. We need to focus on the children that died, their families/classmates, and the community. Specifically, how do we support the children and families as they face the unimaginable task of grieving, which in this case is very complex. The living victims of this tragedy must embrace their pain and learn from it. This will require enormous courage from them and genuine support from us. As therapists, we have a big challenge ahead of us. Even in Colorado I have already encountered significant connections between a young client and one of the victims. God bless all your efforts.

    • ymyb   December 18, 2012 at 4:01 pm

      Thanks for your comment and the work that you do to help people get through these tough experiences. -Angel