Feeling Their Pain and Processing Our Own

By Jacki Post Ashkin, LCSW-C

It happened again. Another mass shooting. This time, 19 children and two teachers, looking forward to starting their summer break, have been murdered – shot and killed in a Texas elementary school. As parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, friends, and as human beings, we are all struggling to understand how violence of this magnitude continues to happen in America’s classrooms. It comes quickly on the heels of the tragic slaying of ten at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York. We see the unimaginable grief and shock on the faces of the families whose precious loved ones were taken from them suddenly, brutally. Their pain and trauma touch our lives. They touch our souls. We struggle to find meaning, but how can there be meaning in acts so senseless?  

A lot has been written for parents, including by JCS, on how to help children process what is happening and help them feel secure. But as adults, how do we process our own fears and emotions surrounding the repeated senseless violence – the sadness, anxiety, anger, horror?  

A colleague, Rachael Abrams, LCSW-C, CT, offered some guidance after the 2018 killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Maybe her suggestions can offer us ways to comfort ourselves and each other in the face of yet another unspeakable experience. 

  1. Process your feelings. Issues of this magnitude, particularly when it comes to the safety of our kids, can weigh heavily on us. It’s important that you process whatever it is that you’re feeling with a trusted family member, friend or professional, particularly if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or anxious. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, you aren’t going to be able to take care of your children or anyone else you care about.
  2. Limit your access to news and social media. We live in a world where live news is available 24 hours a day on television, news updates are regularly pushed to our phones and news fills the feeds on our social media accounts. It’s hard to separate from the news, even when you make a concerted effort. Technology is wonderful in that it keeps us connected and keeps us current. Like too much of many things, oversaturation can be harmful. Just as you would limit screen time for your own children, know when it’s time for you to take a break.
  3. Take action. Taking action is personal and can mean different things to different people. It isn’t enough to stand by idly – if you’re looking for change, waiting for someone else to take action isn’t an option. Talking to those in your community who share the same values as you is a good place to start. Figure out the best place to begin it may be your neighborhood, your school, your local government or your place of business. Remember that even small steps can make a difference.  
  4. Pay attention to what your kids are doing and who they are doing it with. Have regular conversations with your own children about your values and your priorities, specifically surrounding safety and violence. Know who your kids are spending their time with, what they are doing and where they are doing it. Remind your kids that violence is unacceptable and model positive ways of resolving conflicts in your own life. When encountering acts of violence directly or second hand, process the situation with your kids.  Talk with them to understand their perspective and give them the tools to empower themselves and speak up.
  5. If you see something, say something. We hear this all the time, but sometimes neglect to follow it. If something doesn’t feel right, look right, or seem right, it’s worth a second look. This includes anything you see in person as well as on social media. Do not second guess your own instincts. Reach out to those in positions of authority with these concerns.
  6. Know your resources. Do your research to know what support is available in your community both for yourself and others. This includes, but is not limited to, mental health resources, law enforcement support and community action groups.
  7. Be present. Acts of this nature serve as a reminder to live our lives to their fullest and cherish each day we have. Do your very best to be present in the moment and not let fear overcome you. Keeping your own routine as regular as possible will help you maintain balance and prevent you from acting out of fear.
  8. Be kind. In our current society, it seems kindness sometimes takes a back seat.  Make sure kindness and compassion are values your family strongly upholds each and every day. Set a good example. Remind children that an act of kindness can make all of the difference and ensure that your family is living in a way that embodies this value. Being kind is simple, costs you nothing and can have a ripple effect in society.   

When violence like this happens, again and again, as difficult as it is to feel the flood of emotions, at least it means we have not become desensitized to the tragedy. We can never accept it as normal. First, we must care for ourselves and the ones we love and people we may never even meet. Then we ask ourselves, what else can I do? 

Jacki Post Ashkin

Jacki Post Ashkin, LCSW-C is Director of Community Connections at Jewish Community Services.

Jewish Community Services (JCS) is dedicated to providing programs and services that help people of all ages and backgrounds achieve their goals and enhance their wellbeing.

To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.

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