COPING WITH TERRORISM
Terrorism threatens a society by instilling fear and helplessness in its citizens. It seeks to hold a society or government hostage by fear of destruction and harm.
When terrorist acts occur, people generally look for ways to cope with the acute stress and trauma. Terrorism evokes a fundamental fear of helplessness. The violent actions are random, unprovoked, and intentional, and often are targeted at defenseless citizens. Trying to cope with the irrational information that is beyond normal comprehension can set off a chain of psychological events culminating in feelings of fear, helplessness, vulnerability, and grief.
Xenophobia -- fear or hatred of strangers or foreigners -- can be heightened under a terrorist threat and can become a social and psychological danger. The fear generated by terrorism can be exacerbated by a population's diversity if there is distrust between groups, categories and classification of citizens. People need to recognize that diversity in a population is often an opportunity for unity and strength. There are members of our diverse society who have experienced past terrorist incidents. The knowledge and experience they have gained from surviving and coping with these incidents can make them a valuable resource on how to cope and how to offer assistance to others.
Who Is Affected?
After a terrorist attack, many people are impacted. People who have experienced the trauma often fall into the following categories:
What You May Experience Following a Terrorist Attack
People who have experienced or witnessed a terrorist attack may go into a state of acute stress reaction. You may feel one or all of these symptoms:
Coping with the Trauma
Helping Children Cope
Listen very carefully to what your child is asking or talking about. Usually, their fears are specific. Clarify his or her concern before trying to answer.
Answer questions that have not been asked. Do not overload the child with information they may not be able to process at this time. This can be very confusing for a child.
Answer questions calmly. Your child will reflect your mood and your visible emotions.
As much as possible; do not show your child anger or other strong negative emotions about the incident. Your child will expect you to be sad, and it's OK to share that.
Call on others to give you answers if you are not comfortable with your immediate answer. For instance, children may ask why God allowed such a thing to happen. Contact a spiritual advisor and ask for an appropriate response.
Use phrases like "the good die young" that can lead to questions like "haven't I been good?" or "if I'm good will this happen to me?"
Assure your child that the people in charge are doing everything they can to ensure that we will be safe, whether it is in an airplane or a building or just walking down the street.
Make guarantees that such a thing can never happen again. Words like "never" or "always" should be used very carefully because small children trust that this is a promise from you. Don't promise anything that you, personally, cannot deliver.
Explain that we do not know what causes someone to treat us with such violence. Emphasize that we should always try to talk things out with other people instead of resorting to hurting them in some way.
Discuss possible military responses to the event in front of or with a young child.
Please try to limit your child's exposure to media coverage of the event showing scenes of violence. Encourage your child to watch their usual TV programs, especially those on pubic TV.
Feelings and Reactions
Children express their feelings and reactions in different ways. Your acceptance of this will make a difference to how your child recovers from the trauma. This means accepting that some children will react by becoming withdrawn and unable to talk about the event, while others will feel intensely sad and angry at times and at other times will act as if the disaster never happened. Children are often confused about what has happened and about their feelings. However, don't be surprised if some children don't seem to be affected by what they have seen and heard. Not everyone has immediate reactions; some have delayed reactions that show up days, weeks, or even months later, and some may never have a reaction.
Talking About What Happened
If you or your children are having trouble coping with the terrorist attacks, consider seeking help from a psychologist or other mental health professional. There are many ways to feel traumatized by terrorist incidents. Psychologists and other licensed mental health professionals are trained to help people cope and take positive steps toward managing their feelings and behaviors.
Information from the American Psychological Association And The American Red Cross
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Designed by Jerren Saunders
Last Updated: June 12, 2002