Meaning in Trauma?
People come into counseling for many different reasons. They have traveled many different paths and have different motivations for seeking an extra layer of assistance. When counseling is initiated after a trauma or loss, one of the first and most difficult questions we often hear is:
- ……..do bad things happen?
- ……..did this happen to me, her, him, them?
- ……..did I fight so hard and lose so much?
- ……..did he/she/ they do what they did?
- ……..are bad people allowed to do bad things?
When tragedy occurs it is human nature to search for answers. We seek it from friends, family, religion and various ‘experts’. We have an inner belief that if we can ‘understand’ something, if it has ‘meaning’ or ‘purpose’ then we can somehow get through it better. The difficulty is that there is no singular WHY that will ever be ‘good’ enough to make it ‘ok’ to have lost a child, to justify a hate crime, to become homeless, to have a heartbreak or any other of the millions of losses, traumas and disappointments that happen on a daily basis. Those ‘whys’ are part of the grieving process itself, they keep us bargaining with the loss, pushing back and forth looking for reasons that are ‘good enough’ to explain why our world has changed. They direct our anger outwards (or inward) making us feel like we still have some power in a situation that has rocked our universe. They are part of the path from loss to acceptance. What one learns, however, is that it isn’t the whys that matter in the end, it’s the HOWs, WHOs, and WHENs.
- …….. do we hold on?
- …….. do we keep going?
- …….. do we find faith/ strength/ peace?
- …….. do we survive/ heal/ recover?
- …….. do we come back from….?
- …….. do we start again?
- …….. is pushing through?
- …….. is in our corner?
- …….. are our supports?
- …….. gives us encouragement or love?
- …….. becomes our reason to keep going?
- …….. will I wake up without tears?
- …….. will I catch myself laughing without guilt?
- …….. will I stop being afraid?
- …….. will I feel alive again?
- …….. can I put the pieces back together again?
Those are words we can do something with. They are the present and the future, whys keep us living in the past. Please understand that it is fully recognized that WHYs ARE IMPORTANT, they do matter and do need attention in order to prevent the same Whys from occurring over and over again. Undertanding whys can oftentimes keep us from repeating patterns and behaviors that can contribute to their existence. However, we cannot change a WHY that led to an existing tragedy, but we CAN become a Who with a How and a When. We can use that to change history from repeating itself and to find meaning and purpose in the world that we are left with.
Recently there has been far too much tragedy and loss, we have people coming into counseling sessions sad, stressed and overwhelmed by the losses and major tragedies in our own local communities. What was once part of the outside world has started to find it’s way into our inner universe. With last weekend’s mass shooting occurring only an hour away from New Castle in Pittsburgh I have been reminded of a major WHO from my childhood that had one of the best answers for our search for understanding. Fred Rodgers has said:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
He pulled it away from the WHYs and put it back on looking for healing in the present. We can get all too easily overwhelmed and wrapped up with the WHYs that we miss the WHOs that are helping, those that will hold our hand, take up our fight, and bare our pain until we are able to carry it ourselves. There are always helpers. In a world that has become both bigger and smaller with technology and social media those helpers can come from far and wide. In this most recent tragedy they included the first responders who were literally stepping into the line of fire to save lives, to treat wounds, and restore safety. They have included those lining up to donate blood, those personally reaching out within a community that has been rocked, those coming together from other religions to show support, and those speak up and to condemn the actions of hate.
In the midst of a world of whys and pain I would challenge every person to not just wait until tragedy strikes to look for the helpers; but to take moments in EVERY day to BE the helper, to seek help when needed and look deeper into what connects and makes us strong.