We've all heard about the heartbreaking attacks perpetrated across the globe over the past few weeks and months. In the wake of so many acts of violence, it can be a struggle to hold on to your empathy. Perhaps you're among the thousands who just feel they can't take any more, can't bear to listen to another interview with a grieving parent, or stomach the gruesome images on the screen.
In the aftermath of a tragedy, it can be hard to stay in touch with compassion and hope. It becomes increasingly more difficult to remain connected and grounded as witnessing human carnage just becomes too much to handle.
Instead, we sometimes become numb. This kind of numbness is different from apathy. It is self-preservation. It is one of the extraordinary things about the human brain. In the face of trauma, our brain has the capacity to protect us from horrific events.
As we listen to the news and view images of unthinkable acts, this coping mechanism—dissociation—is both our friend and our enemy.
A few key words bring us back to an all too familiar pain: Sandy Hook, 9/11, Columbine, Boston Marathon, Virginia Tech, San Bernardino. These atrocities were committed in the United States alone. The list goes on and on.
These attacks have been not only against human life but against the human spirit. Sometimes numbness is the only thing that allows us to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Yet we also feel a sense of commitment to honor the truth of what has happened. To respect each individual life. In efforts not to become callous, we challenge ourselves to remain educated, engaged, and to stand in solidarity with the victims and their families. But this sense of obligation can lead quickly to feeling overwhelmed. Will anything we do ever make a difference? What are we supposed to do?
I don't know what the global solution is, but I do know that in between numbness and despair there is a place called hope. It's important to remember that hope is a verb, and sometimes we have to actively fight the tide to reach it.
When we find ourselves being pulled toward either numbness or despair, balance grounds us. It is how we stay connected to our true feelings, while also maintaining a healthy distance from the emotional turmoil.
Here are seven tips from the American Psychological Association to help you hold onto hope no matter what: