The Aftermath of Columbine High School
Article ID: 2312
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 5,995
Times Read: 23,544
Posted: April 5th. 1999
Times Viewed: 23,544
The tragedy that occurred at Columbine High School yesterday affected us here at TWV very deeply. Horror, depression, outrage, shock and disbelief became intermingled with empathy, compassion, tears and sorrow as the scene unfolded before our eyes.
There were some joyful moments as friends and family were reunited after many stress filled hours. But with that came the terrible realization later on in the day that some families may never have such an opportunity. Our thoughts and blessings go out to these families.
I struggled over whether to address this situation on the TWV site or not. The news media will be taken over by eye witness accounts, family stories, legal commentary and political discourse about this situation in Colorado for many days and weeks to come. So, some people may feel that they have been subjected to more than enough information about this tragedy already and perhaps came here to read about something different.
But then I reflected again about my own reactions to this event and I do not think that I am alone in feeling the way that I do. So if you have heard enough, please feel free to go on to something else. It's okay. I understand...
Secondary Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome:
Yes, there is such a thing. It affects not those who were directly involved in tragedies, but those who witnessed the events. Through television, that is probably many, many people today.
The pagan community has a very large number of healers and empaths. Witnessing such events-even those thousands of miles away-can cause certain reactions in such people. They become distressed, anxious, sad, depressed. They can also feel guilty.
Guilty? Why would they feel guilty?
Because these empathic people may feel that they have no real right to feel so deeply about something that did not directly involve them. After all, it does seem rather selfish to be all upset sitting in your living room when there are the families and friends of these young victims who are in such terrible anguish. We don't them personally. Perhaps it is shallow for us to "impose" on their very personal grief? Yet, you do feel the pain. Do you have the 'right" to feel like this?
Yes, you do if that is indeed how you feel. Empaths and healers DO feel another's pain. That gives them the ability to be able to heal and help others from the inside out. It's what they do and how they do it. If you are a healer or an empath, it is not only okay to feel connected to these victims and their families, it will help you to work your healing magick for them. Don't feel guilty. Take your feelings and do what you do. Send that healing out to those who may need it.
When your 'work" is done, be kind to yourself. You may suffer from what is known as 'compassion burnout'. This affects healthcare workers and therapists, hospital personnel and law enforcement officers after the initial response to the emergency is over. That's normal, too.
Responses to Community Violence:
People are often left in shock after random violence rocks their world. They feel a loss of control and trust, a sense of foreboding-and perhaps worst of all-they must now face the stark realization that all of the terrible things that they honestly believed could never happen in their town just did happen.
Community violence is different from natural disasters.
"Natural disasters are uncontrollable and unpreventable, but community violence is the product of people's actions. Even though most survivors of community violence are innocent victims, they may feel guilty, responsible, self-blaming, ashamed, powerless, or inadequate because they wish they could have prevented the violence even though it was beyond their control."
"The damage caused by natural disasters is accidental. Community violence involves terrible harm done on purpose, which can lead survivors to feel an extreme sense of betrayal and distrust toward other people."-(National Center For PTSD fact sheet)
Witnesses often report various symptoms:
"Very disturbing memories and feelings of reliving the violence.
Flashbacks or nightmares, in which they unintentionally act violently in order to protect themselves.
Feeling indifferent to their own or other people's suffering because they feel emotionally numb and cut off from others.
Increased arousal, startle responses, and hyper vigilance (feeling extremely on-guard or in danger).
Feelings of betrayal and anger from being exposed to violence in what should be their "safe haven." (ibid)
Ways of Coping:
Survivors and witnesses of community violence struggle with many vital personal issues:
These are practical things that anyone can do. You may not be able to avert an emergency, but it sure helps to know where all your friends and family are-or how to find them quickly- if something does happen.
- How to build trust again (issues of power, empowerment and victimization).
You have been shaken- and if you have children, they have been shaken by this, too. You will want to find ways to discuss the situation with them. This requires a delicate balance. You do not want to promise them "it can never happen here" (which, as we saw in Colorado, is a promise that no one can keep) because you would like them to be aware that these things CAN happen. On the other hand, you do not want them to be constantly fearful and anxious all the time because this is not healthy either.
- Seeking meaning in life apart from revenge or hopelessness.
Neither a "If that was my kid, I'd blow those suckers away" approach (violence in response to violence is not really solving anything) or a "There is nothing anyone can do" fatalism is going to help you or your child move forward.
We may never understand why evil and hatred and violence exist. But it doesn't help to spread more of the same around the globe either.
Look to Nature for answers. Talk with your Elders and Priest/esses. Work up a coven ritual for the protection of yourselves, your homes and your schools. Do your own magick for the healing of those complex factors that contribute to violence in your own way.
If it helps, send a card to the grieving families. Hug your family every day. Send them off to work or school with loving words.
Encourage your children to report situations that they feel may be threatening. Do the same to your supervisors at work. Usually somebody knew something before these violent acts occurred, but either did not take it seriously or didn't want to "snitch somebody out." Parents, talk to your child's school administrators about their policies, procedures and plans.
- Regaining trust versus being trapped in feelings of guilt, shame, powerlessness, and doubt.
Talk it out. Listen patiently and nonjudgmentally as each person talks about how they feel about what happened.
Avoid offering direct advice other than encouraging him or her to find healthy ways--such as exercise--to cope with stress.
- Finding realistic ways to protect yourselves, your loved ones, and your homes and community from danger.
Talk with your family about what you would do in a similar (Goddess forbid!) situation. Can all family members reach each other at any time of the day? Do you all carry identification on you? Do you have a designated meeting place in case you can't get back to your home? Do you have recent photographs of all family members? Know all the license plate number for your vehicles? Have emergency numbers by the phone and in your wallet?
Help community leaders to join together to:
- Develop violence prevention and victim assistance programs.
- Help religious, educational, and health care leaders and organizations to set up relief centers and shelters.
- Help to provide direct psychological services. Start a 24-hour crisis hotline plan (a circle of folks who are willing and able to man the phones and pass along information and advice) with your friends or coven in case it is needed.
- Develop and provide education and referrals for children at their schools. Work with your child's teachers. If you are professional counselor, volunteer some time.
- Provide organizational consultation to government, business, and healthcare programs affected by the violence.
There are no easy answers. Many people struggle with the urge to "fix it." We will undoubtedly hear about the calls for stricter gun control and for increased security in schools, the banning of black/identifying clothing in favor of school uniforms and the need for the publication and distribution of even more guidelines or lists of "warning signs."
While some moderate external controls may certainly become part of a broad based plan to reduce violent acts against people, they are not really a satisfactory solution in and by themselves. They may be a lid over the boiling pot, but unless the heat is turned down, even a hefty lid will not keep the pot from eventually spilling over.
The reasons that rage, frustration, anti-social behavior and alienation exist are complex sociological problems. Why some people take these emotions out on others while others do not is even more of an unknown.
Helping children with anger management, encouraging them to establish a connection with (or empathy for) others, and the caring intervention for those in trouble must come early on in a person's development. Just about all the experts agree on that. But what form this training should take and who is responsible for it is still being debated.
Pagans- with their almost universal belief in both the power and the responsibility of the individual- may want to start with themselves and their families to develop strategies to handle anger and deal with frustrations. From there, we can move on to our covens and groups and then outward to our greater communities. Our empaths and healers can offer insights and healing techniques. Our covens and groups can provide support and ritual.
The problems that will eventually boil over and result in violent behaviors and acts come from both within and without. So must the solutions be a combination of moderate external controls and internal healing. We may not know exactly how to do this, but it is too real a threat to our children's-to all of Gaia's children's- future not to try. As an individual, as a parent, as a human being...
I know that I-as an individual pagan, as a parent and as a human being-am praying today that I never have to write a column like this again.
April 21st., 1999
The Witches' Voice
Location: Tampa, Florida
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