themighty logo

The 'Little-T' Trauma of Another Mass Shooting


I woke up this morning to the news of the shooting in Orlando. It immediately sends my brain into a tailspin. I scroll through my newsfeed and see post after post about the shooting. I feel the pressure of tears behind my eyes. My stomach has clenched into a telltale knot of worry and anxiety.

I am driven to do two things. The first is to begin obsessing, reading everything I can find, watching the news coverage.

The second is to remain willfully ignorant of the situation. This is a self-preservation tactic. It is the easier of the two options. Sometimes, I wish I could actually do this. I can appreciate the statement “ignorance is bliss.”

So now here we are. Another scar on our collective psyche. Another opportunity for people to re-entrench themselves in their beliefs, whether related to guns, terrorist or LGBTQ issues.

“Big-T” Trauma is what the families are going through. The first responders and the other individuals who were at the night club are victims of “Big-T” Trauma.

But we, you and I, are experiencing “little-t” trauma. Every time something like this happens, we are re-traumatized. We each handle it differently. We use it to reinforce our world views; we use it as a call to action; we choose to turn our heads and go about our lives, paralyzed by our impotence.

Sandy Hook left me devastated. At the time, I was working as an elementary school counselor and had children around the ages of those killed. I obsessed about the details. I was desperate to determine what triggered the attack. I cried. I couldn’t sleep. I read every article about the victims and the shooter I could find. It only magnified the anxiety and existential depression I felt.

I felt helpless then. (And after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. And the Boston Marathon bombing. I could go on.)

I feel helpless now.

“Little-t” trauma is like the saying “death by a thousand paper cuts.” Each event, each “little-t” trauma, has a cumulative effect on our mental heath, on our sense of community and safety, on our ability to see the nuance and relate to our fellow humans.

I’m left only with questions. I’m sure they will keep spinning in my head. Has the frequency of “little-t” trauma increased the prevalence of mental health disorders in our country? How does this repeated exposure to “little-t” trauma impact our society’s future? As a counselor, how will I support the “little-t” trauma my clients will come to me with over the next weeks when I am still reeling from it as well?

None of this helps the victims or their families. It doesn’t stop it from happening again.

I believe that humans are inherently good. I believe that we can get through this. I can’t let the effect of this trauma leave me believing that I am helpless. I’m not. You’re not.

Right?

This post originally appeared on The Mind Matters Blog.