Coping with Crisis

In the last few days I’ve talked to people who have been shaken by the deadly shooting in Las Vegas. Mass shootings have a devastating psychological impact. They affect those who are witnesses on the scene, as well as family and friends of victims, first responders, and others who witness the events on news and social media. If you, or someone you care about is struggling in the aftermath of a trauma, here are some suggestions for coping.

  • Talk about your feelings with others. It is normal to have complicated feelings about a traumatic event. You might have heightened thoughts or feelings about previous trauma, and this is normal. You might also feel anger, vulnerability, despair, numbness, or other painful emotions. Some people also experience physical changes, such as difficulty sleeping, poor concentration, lack of appetite, or irritability. This is also normal, and should gradually resolve within a couple of weeks.
  • Pay attention to self care. One of the most important things you can do is to turn off social media and news about the event. While you may need important updates in the wake of a crisis, don’t immerse yourself in media coverage as this only adds to the difficulty of processing the event and moving forward. Instead, try to focus on life-affirming activities. Take a walk, listen to music, play with your pet, or share a meal with friends. Try to do these things even if you don’t feel like it at first. The benefits are worth the effort.
  • If you have the ability, do something to help such as donate blood, or donate to a fundraising effort for victims. You may also decide to put your effort into advancing social change by joining with others who are working to make a difference.
  • Seek professional support from a counselor or other medical professional if you find that your symptoms are worsening, or if you don’t feel better in a couple of weeks. There is hope, and you are not alone.

No One Can Make Another Person Change

Remember that no one can make another person change. It is normal to come to therapy hoping that you can get your partner to change, and hoping that if you can tell your side of things in a persuasive enough way, your therapist will see who is at fault, and agree that the best way to solve the problem is to get your partner to change. Unfortunately, if both of you are coming to therapy with this mindset, there is only one winner—the one the therapist sides with. As you can imagine, this means there is also a loser, the person the therapist doesn’t side with.

If couples therapy is focused on getting one person to change, that person will likely either disengage from therapy, or make a superficial change that doesn’t last. When that happens, you both lose. That’s why it’s not in your best interest for your therapist to take sides.

How Does Change Happen? Change happens when a person decides a change is necessary in order to reach a goal they want to achieve, uphold a personal value, or make their life better in some way. In short, change happens when a person wants to make a change for their own personal reasons. Making changes in your relationship will require you to identify what you want to change about yourself in order to improve your relationship. If both of you do this concurrently, and it’s based on values or goals that you share as a couple as to what you both want in your relationship, then you will likely have the most successful outcome. Sometimes, only one person wants to participate in therapy. If one of you changes, this can also sometimes change the system enough that the relationship improves. But if change in one person doesn’t trigger enough change in the relationship, it is also possible that the person who is doing the work to change will decide that the relationship doesn’t support their goals and values. So, the takeaway here is to approach couples therapy thinking about how you want to change yourself, not how you want to change your partner.