Manage psychic reactions to terrorism


Unfortunately, news of terrorist attacks is becoming more and more frequent and current, just bring your mind back to a few days ago to see before our eyes the massacre at the Manchester concert and the attack on London Bridge.

Every day we now live in fear of hearing news of new attacks and facing everyday life is sometimes heavy, even provoking in some cases panic reactions even in situations once experienced as neutral, as in the case of the false bomb alarm in our Turin, where a really harmless stimulus caused panic in the crowd causing many injuries.

We are faced with a war where the enemy is "among us", often integrated into our society, born and raised in our Europe, not easily identifiable and all this only increases our sense of helplessness, fear and loss. It is precisely on this characteristic that terrorism relies, as well as clearly on the unpredictability of the attacks.

In recent years we have been increasingly exposed to such events and this makes us experience one frightening feeling of loss of control, in a society where instead the search for almost total control is pursued at the highest levels;

after all, the security of being able to control reality has always been at the heart of the needs of the human being, precisely by virtue of the fact that what we cannot control creates anxiety and fear. Using Popper's words "Man is born with a propensity to seek regularity in the sequence of events that surround and involve him".

Not to mention those who have experienced such terrible events up close and miraculously escaped unscathed; in these cases the feelings of anger, pain and fear can be very important and disabling. We find ourselves living more and more in an "armored reality", in which those that were previously for all of us moments of leisure or simply moments of life, today turn out to be super protected situations (or at least considered as such), where the presence mass of armed forces and controls, on the one hand reassures us enormously, but on the other it does nothing but confirm to our mind the potential danger of the situation in which we find ourselves.

But how can we adaptively manage our reactions to these terrible events if we have been involved in them or if the mere thought of having seen them anguishes and limits us? At a strategic level, we can give general indications of primary importance:

  • Avoid avoiding: when unfortunately we are hit in an unpredictable way by such strong events or we experience them through television and journalistic news, what often comes naturally to us (what in the strategic field is defined as an attempted solution) is to avoid situations that we believe are risky . For example, we can begin to give up travel, avoid crowded places, concerts, thus creating a situation that is protective for us at the moment but which in reality does nothing but increase our sense of fear and anguish in the long run.
    The first avoidance does nothing but pave the way for subsequent avoidances, until our life will be truly invalidated, and moreover ending up following the very logic on which terrorism is based (spreading terror in people and not letting us live in free way).
  • Coping with fear: fear when looked in the face becomes courage, fear avoided becomes fear panic. After such events, one of the possible reactions is to get stuck in fear and not face it because of the fear of being sick again. But in this case, the trick is to allow yourself a daily space where you can experience all the fear experienced, look the enemy in the face to win the battle and thus be able to experience what we call the "paradox effect" so the more I call my fears the more these they go away, or touch the ghost to see it vanish. In other words, the ancient stratagem of "extinguishing the fire by adding wood" is used, the more I feed the fear, the more the mind refuses to do so and my organism inhibits any psychosomatic reaction of excitement and relaxes, as if by magic.
  • Indulge in the pain: the pain felt for the loss of a loved one or for having experienced a risky situation for our life can be very strong and almost unbearable. The person very often would like to cancel it, avoid it, pretend not to hear it, but doing so does nothing but extend its duration and increase its intensity.
    In the words of Robert Frost "if you want to get out you have to go through it", That is, it is necessary to immerse oneself daily in the pain experienced, to give it a precise space, to ensure that it can flow, decant, attenuate.
    A journey that is sometimes very painful, but necessary, to ensure that our mind does not remain "frozen", stuck in that situation, and can instead go further, overcome the trauma, gradually distance ourselves from it. Only in this way can the present return to being lived serenely and we can sometimes come out of it even stronger than before.
  • Channel the anger: anger is also a very frequent emotion in relation to terrorist events. Anger for the people who were victims, anger towards the attackers whose logic we do not understand, anger even just because we no longer feel free to live our daily lives. The anger felt can sometimes be disabling and lead to negative outcomes, but on the contrary it can be a powerful lever of change, which if well channeled can lead us to improve ourselves. It is therefore necessary to drain the anger felt, to give an outlet to this sometimes disruptive emotion, in order to regain control and come out better.

The traumas and wounds for each of us, as well as the way people react to such events, are a kind of cognitive challenge. The outcomes of these traumatic situations can in fact range from various types of disorders (the most frequent are panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, which require different therapeutic treatment protocols), to a return to normality, up to even to an increase in skills and personal safety.

Often in the latter case we speak of resistance, but from our point of view in this case there is a further step forward, in which resistance becomes resilience, i.e. the person not only resists the shocks of life but even gets out of it more. strong and with better adaptive balance.

Managing or overcoming a difficulty does not always evolve in a developmental path, some people can get stuck in fear or trapped in anger and pain; the difference is called resilience. In other words, the ability to withstand a critical event makes us resilient, but the ability to use the negative energy that overwhelmed us to transform it into new life energy makes us resilient.

The positive news is that this important characteristic that not all individuals seem to have is not inherited at birth: one can become resilient thanks to the combination of personal characteristics and specificity of the context, which when combined together produce it.

Resilience arises from what we call "adaptive flexibility", that is the ability to accept fragility and the emotions experienced, going beyond rational linear thinking, and adopting non-ordering logics that allow us to make ourselves soft and avoid breaking (Nardone , 2013).

In conclusion, we want to take up the words of Martin Luther King "you may not be responsible for the situation you are in, but you will become responsible if you do nothing to change it".

Dr. Francesca Luzzi (Official Psychologist-Psychotherapist of the Strategic Therapy Center)


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