The learning and healing possible in the face of this tragedy is huge – even limitless. But the deeper the inner learning and healing within each person, the broader and more expansive will the communal healing be. People have talked with me and written to me acknowledging how important it is for us not to look outside to find others to blame — other people, other policies, other laws, other organizations. People have reached out to me and asked me to remind people how important it is for each of us to look in the mirror and ask How have I contributed to the violence in our world?
So as you follow your own grieving path in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Tragedy, I invite you to read on. I urge you to let this in to the depths of your being . . . and to let it lead you and all of us to deeper healing.
Perhaps one of the deepest issues brought forth by the tragedy in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, last Friday is that of safety.
It is something we all have experience with, consciously or not, whether or not we can put it into words. Am I safe? Am I not safe? And it brings feelings up for us way deeper than we even realize, far more intense that we’re used to, and so much more raw than most of us have yet built the capacity to feel.
In this day and those to come, we absolutely need to be aware of and allow ourselves to feel how unsafe it was in the school last Friday . . . for children and adults alike. We need to allow ourselves to grieve deeply for the lack of safety. We need to grieve deeply for all those affected, both right next door in Sandy Hook and all over our world. I don’t imagine a person in our world could go unaffected by this tragedy – whether they’re aware of it and feeling it consciously or not. We absolutely need to help create safety in the Newtown Schools and schools all over the world as we go forward. As well as in our homes, neighborhoods, churches, malls, movie theaters, and more. We need to pull together to create real safety in our world in the future.
But creating real safety is an inside job. It is something we do from the inside out. So, a huge part of doing that will be to look in the mirror at ourselves. And to search and examine our own relationship with safety. To explore how some of our past efforts to be safe have perhaps led us to act out in ways that ended up creating unsafety in the world around us.
When 9/11 occurred, many of those who didn’t look within, either lashed out and blamed others for the intense ancient feelings they were themselves feeling, the ones that had been triggered by the actual event of 9/11, or . . . they started floundering inside themselves, not knowing what to do with so much feeling, and not even knowing that the deepest and most intense of the feelings triggered were from long, long ago in their own lives. The Sandy Hook tragedy holds the same dangers and the same potential opportunities for healing.
What is being triggered in us by the lack of safety we experienced during the Sandy Hook tragedy, making this experience even more intense and raw than it is in the current day? Is that even possible? You might ask. Yes, anything in our past that is still alive within us needing to be dealt with, grieved, and healed, will once again be evoked by something similar in our current day’s experience. And if that experience in our past was in our childhood, when we were small and vulnerable, innocent and helpless . . . we have not only our adult feelings to work with but also the feelings of that little child who was unsafe back then. That unsafety and all the feelings related to it, are still alive within us today, whether we know it or not. And even if they are buried, they will somehow be awakened by an emergency of unsafety today. But until we’re aware, they will be awakened without our realization that they are from another time so long ago.
So, for example, if you experienced a mother who yelled at you, a father who smacked you, an older sibling who held you down or any other experience of unsafety – physical, mental, or emotional . . . Friday’s events probably triggered the feelings you had back then and added the very real feelings you had then to the very real feelings you have in the here-and-now in response to Friday’s tragedy. That’s a lot of feelings. What to do with all these feelings?
That’s part of what we need to learn and develop in order to heal violence in the first place.
For if, as children, we had been taught what to do with our feelings while safely feeling them . . . there might be no violence in our world today.
What to do with all these feelings?
First . . . know that what you’re feeling isn’t just in response to today’s lack of safety. You’re feeling a double dose or a multiple dose of feelings related to lack of safety, some of them those of an adult, and some of them those of a child.
Second . . . do not bury the feelings – neither the ones from today, nor the ones you buried long ago that have risen again.
Third . . . do not act out on the feelings. You need to find some safe way to simply feel the feelings . . . without taking action on them. Defending yourself against those feelings is not going to make you safe. In fact it may well make you less safe in the long run. For example, isolating yourself from all people isn’t going to solve the challenge related to your feelings of unsafety, especially your feelings from long ago. Or barricading yourself behind doors with 10 locks on each, is not going to make you feel safe in relation to the unsafety you experienced as a child, even if you live in a dangerous neighborhood and it does help you feel safe in the current day. Or learning to box today is not going to make you feel safe back then when you were small; the child still alive inside you didn’t feel safe and doesn’t feel safe today. He or she needs real help to work with and through what the child inside you really needs for healing. In addition, learning to box today may actually make you unsafe today, despite your best intentions. What if you think boxing makes you tough, tough enough to defend yourself against feelings of unsafety. And what if that tough defense – and even that boxing skill – leads you to strike out at a shooter . . . only to be gunned to death? Then it wouldn’t save you from feelings of unsafety, or from real danger, either.
This is, in my experience, what happens with our defenses . . . although we create them as children to help us stay sane and alive, as we grow and age and hang on to those defenses, the defenses themselves end up co-creating the very thing we were using them to defend against.
So fourth . . . get the real, skilled, sensitive help to safely and with great care and compassion dissolve and transform your defenses, while at the same time building your capacity to feel the feelings you were originally defending yourself against.
Fifth . . . learn for yourself, through your own healing, that the help and healing we all need is much deeper than the help that offers quick fixes, bandaids, and efforts to control our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. All those things can do is give a stop-gap illusion that ‘the problem’ is fixed. ‘The problem’ isn’t just on the surface. ‘The problem’ is just something we can control.
For if we just live in the illusion that control solves the problem . . . we do the same thing we did long ago as children when we created our original defenses. While believing, just as we did back then, that we’ve solved the problem. And still the feelings remain buried within us. And still the feelings haunt us. And still the feelings are there inside us waiting for something to trigger them, and perhaps ignite them into some form of explosion.*
Most people call this mental health and focus on the thoughts and behaviors and fixing the symptoms. Many think medication is the solution. And with today’s financial, insurance, and pharmaceutical issues, most people believe they have to settle for a few short sessions and medication. Many people think of it differently than I do. I think of it as emotional health and healing the real wounds and feelings to the root. So what I’m saying is . . . don’t settle for the shortcut. There is no shortcut. Keep looking till you find a way to get the help to the root.
Sixth . . . share all of this with others in your life, your community, our world. And advocate for it in whatever ways are right for you.
But first and most important . . . look in the mirror. Go within. Find the healing you need and don’t stop until you find a way to heal to the root. It will take us all doing this to truly heal violence in our world.
* If you want more help understanding this, you can read about it here on my blog: https://judithbarr.com/blog/
You can hear about it on my archive of audio and video interviews: https://judithbarr.com/audio-video/
You can invite me to come speak to your group. You can come for a consultation. This is part of my calling — to help people really understand this and start living it. And this is part of the heart of what we need to do to heal violence . . . to reweave our society from the deep place of building our capacity to feel and heal.
© Judith Barr, 2012