Traumatic Grief and the Colorado Movie MassacreThe horrendous events in Colorado at the opening of “Batman Dark Knight Rises” has shocked a nation and brought a community into incredible and traumatic grief. Yet besides the national buzz over better security, terrorism and gun control, the survivors of the horrific event are facing other questions. Questions that are beyond the the historical event but questions that challenge their very reason of existence.
While Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other symptoms of complicated grief may not affect every survivor, there is a good bet that out of the 58 injured and hundred present that many people will experience these issues.
Traumatic grief is usually caused by a universally and objective heinous action that cripples the mind’s ability to process the grief in a normal fashion. It is simply to horrible to imagine. Under its prerequisites are listed sudden deaths, personal encounters with death and deaths that involve intense violence. Like 911, school shootings and other acts of terrorism, the Colorado movie massacre fits all descriptions of an event that will cause traumatic grief for survivors.
What are the Survivors Feeling?The survivors of this shooting are probably feeling an array of different symptoms of grief. All people grieve differently due to subjective elements that make a person unique. How these subjective elements fuse with an objective event such as this shooting cannot be predicted. However, if traumatic grief is present in certain individuals, one can safely bet there are basic psychological reactions that are occurring within the survivors.
With all severe emotional trauma noted psychologist, Robert Neimeyer, notes that survivors will be unable to remove various images of the carnage that took place in Colorado. The traumatic events will flood the brain and vivid memories will stamp themselves to the brain. These memories will settle in the Amygdala of the brain and will be awakened without conscious control when various senses or stimuli are reminded of the event. This puts the person in a persistent state where vivid memories can flash back before one’s eyes without any control.
Robert Lifton, an expert in the effects of traumatic grief on people, points out that people can face these demons and seek healing or fall victim to the overwhelming nature of the event and fall into a pit of psychological numbing. Psychic numbing is a dissociative phenomenon where the “crucial components of the self are simply unavailable to the ego”. Psychic numbing involves the mind becoming paralyzed to healing and change. The scars of the event or simply too horrible for the mind to comprehend and, in defense, the mind cuts itself away from these images. Through this, the cognitive images and the feelings associated with them are severed and unfaced.
In addition to this, the survivors may also be facing a death imprint. A death imprint is a drastic and intimate dance with death that leaves the person in a state of anxiety. The event, how one acted in the event and how it all unfolded haunt the person. The survivors in Colorado may well indeed feel helpless as the event replays over and over inside their mind.
Some may also experience death guilt. The survivors may feel they could have done more. As young children were shot, adults may feel guilty for ducking errant bullets. Adults or friends may feel they should have covered or shielded a love one from the spray of gunfire. Instead of blaming the incarnate demon and madman who opened fired upon the helpless population, those trapped in death guilt only see their own perceived inaction-which i in no way their fault.
How Do They Move On?
This is the ultimate question. Some will blame God, lose faith, while others will find faith. Some will show resiliency, while others will be afflicted with traumatic grief. Ultimately, the pain of this event will be a continued process that will never completely go away. Those that will recover will learn to live with the pain of the event in a healthy fashion and reconstruct meaning in their life. As Neimeyer points out, one must find new meaning to life and reconstruct one’s past, present and future life with the traumatic event. They must learn how this event plays a role in their life. It can never be left in the past, but it does not have to dominate the future. While this process will be life long and “acceptable” notions of adaptation may vary among survivors, one can only hope through prayer and blessings that these victims can somehow find wholeness. Grief counselors will without a doubt be called upon to help these people find this wholeness.
While reconstructing new meaning to one’s life is imperative, many people will respond with emotion and follow the various phases of grief in their healing. One way to connect the traumatic event with the present and future in a constructive way is for survivors to create a survivor mission. This mission may be through activism and can be utilized to help one face their suffering and find love and future wholeness in their life.
Ultimately this event will not only scar the survivors and the families of the deceased but will also scar the United States and its citizens for years to come. A place of entertainment, escape from stress, and a place of security has forever been breached and this will have ample reprecussions on the mental state of the country for decades to come.
If you are interested in traumatic grief or other grief related sources, please review the program.
(Information was found through the studies of Neimeyer, Lifton and the text ‘Transfiguring Loss” by Jane Maynard)
Please also review our certification program in grief counseling.
Mark Moran, MA, GC-C, SCC-C