Eitan D. Schwarz, M.D., D.L.F.A.P.A., F.A.A.C.A.P.
CLINICAL ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, FEINBERG SCHOOL OF MEDICINE
Copyright © 1998 Eitan D Schwarz. All rights reserved. This handout may be copied and distributed only for non-profit educational use.
Q: Is it usual for families and communities to go through changes after traumatic violence? How about nations?
[What America is going through now illustrates a phase in recovery from violent trauma. We offer below an approach to understanding this process and an example of a prescription for coping and healing that can be generalized to all survivors of violence.]
Like individual men and women, families, communities and nations injured by violent traumatic events commonly evolve patterns of recovery that can lead to resolution and healing. America, recovering from 9-11, is in the midst of such a process.
This national response is an aggregate of the reactions of the many individuals who have been impacted so personally by the violence of 9-11. A process has been unfolding: Initial shock and disbelief was first followed by an outpouring of community unity and support, then a series of strong steps that seemed to promise restoration of safety and eliminate threat, and then a period of seeming complacency.
Now America is experiencing another common, necessary, but very risky phase. It is struggling to come to terms with vulnerability while also searching for causes and fixes. With the grandiose power of hindsight, Americans are wondering how their trauma could have been prevented and are agonizing over how they might have failed themselves or had been let down by officials who should protected them.
But Americans must be cautious. This can be a destructive time. We already know from school shootings and other violence how this phase of recovery can bring out the worst in people, destroy their self confidence and faith in family and community, sow divisiveness, and strain or even wreck relationships, communities and families.
America must understand that it is precisely the intent of terrorists to destroy by terrifying, disrupting, shaking confidence and sowing divisiveness. Americans must realize that their recovery is necessarily going to be incomplete and imperfect. The very real ongoing threat of more terrorism to come will keep the US vigilant and worried. Americans must realize that they will never recover the illusion of invulnerability that had blessed them for so long.
Americans are now challenged to get to the next phase of recovery — accepting vulnerability without succumbing to excesses of cockiness, cynicism, passivity, helplessness, complacency, self doubt or scapegoating. Now more than ever, Americans must strengthen and actively affirm and practice their belief in the goodness of their nation, its communities, and its families and offer support to free people elsewhere struggling with similar violence. Americans must support each other and their leaders. Leaders must act wisely, firmly, and with a clear, unwavering vision at home and abroad.
Most importantly, Americans must not allow violence or the threat of it to destroy their faith and confidence in what makes them unique. Especially as national holidays commemorating American war dead and independence approach, Americans should unite to treasure, celebrate, and take pride in their nation as history’s noblest and most successful, truly the best hope of mankind.
5/22/02 © 2002 Eitan Schwarz. All rights reserved