- May 11, 2018 Social Justice
By Jenny Beatrice
Tragedy. Terrorism. Violence. Cruelty. Injustice. The images are constant and the stories are graphic in the news that comes to us from across the globe and down the block. Although we may not be personally involved in these incidents, studies show that repeated exposure through the media results in negative effects comparable to, if not more than, those who experience the trauma first hand.
“We need to know the news, but it brings us face-to-face with trauma, and so we, too, have to cope,” says Sister Jean Abbott. Sister Jean is an expert in trauma therapy, having worked with survivors of war and torture for more than 30 years. She has heard unimaginable stories from her clients. But she does not diminish the effects the 24-7 negative newsfeed can have on our well-beings.
She says, “When you see babies blown apart in Syria on TV, it’s gut wrenching. Then you see an advertisement for Jell-O. That has messed up our minds a bit. Messed up our hearts. We become numb. We experience callousing of our hearts.”
Sister Jean says numbing can result in avoidance, social withdrawal and detachment, often as a reaction to the sense of helplessness and hopelessness that we may feel. “The trauma comes when there is no action you can take, no input you can have. You sit there with it,” she says. “It’s deadening.”
So what can we do to cope when we feel like we can’t absorb any more of the suffering in the world? How can we turn our despair into hope? Sister Jean gives us some suggestions.
“You’ve got to face the pain, but you’ve got to face your own power, too,” Sister Jean says. “The pain of trauma gives us the energy to do something.” One way to “do something” is to use your voice to speak up for issues you feel passionate about.
A current example comes from the student activists against gun violence at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. “The kids are fighting back for two things—that change happens and that they don’t get calloused. They’re almost beating their fists against that callous that is growing up. We should encourage their response because we need to foster that within ourselves.”
Another way to take action is quieter than demonstrating, but just as meaningful. “Thoughts and prayers” have become a hollow statement in our vernacular, but believers know that prayer is powerful. Sister Jean suggests connecting our intentional prayer with one small act of kindness. “Action gives life to the prayer and prayer gives life to the action,” she says.
Take a Break
Traumatic stress can cause physical, behavioral and emotional symptoms such as fatigue, sleep issues, sadness, anxiety and fear. Sister Jean notes another warning sign. “We are really in trouble when we can’t laugh. We’ve got to know when to take a break and laugh,” she says. Reducing media exposure and watching or doing things that bring joy is a way to regain balance.
Make a Connection
Foundational to the Sisters of St. Joseph is the desire to form loving relationships. When it comes to trauma responses, life-giving relationships are the most powerful healing tool. Sister Jean suggests inviting a friend or someone you admire to dinner. This type of authentic, personal connection is what keeps us grounded and helps us to grow.
“Recognizing and relating to another person makes you different,” says Sister Jean. “And sometimes it makes you want to be different. Sometimes it makes you want to take steps that you might not have thought of. It’s a process of seeing, reaching, being and becoming. Relationships will bring us further down the road than anything else can.”