How to manage your trauma reactions in relation to gun violence & assault
by Janina Scarlet, Ph.D. Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Author of Superhero Therapy, Harry Potter Therapy, and Therapy Quest.
Podcaster on Superhero Therapy and Harry Potter Therapy
Being a girl is not easy. Especially now. In addition to the typical adjustments and changes that we do talk about, there are also the factors that we often might not talk about. These factors often include traumatic experiences, such as violence and assault. It seems that almost on a daily basis there are news of yet another mass shooting or another girl or woman who was assaulted. Whether you have experienced assault or gun violence yourself, had ever known anyone who had, participated in a mass shooter drill, or watched the events related to school shootings unfold on the news, chances are that these might have affected you.
Many people might experience nightmares after experiencing or learning about assault or gun violence. Other people might experience a sudden change in their mood, for example, getting easily upset, angry, or losing patience with others. As a result, they might not want to be around other people or be afraid of being alone. Some people also report being on the look-out for danger wherever they go, such as movie theatres, malls, and concerts.
If you feel this way, please know that you are not alone. Many other people feel the same way you do. There is nothing wrong with feeling this way. It is your survival mechanism coming on board to protect you.
Why does this happen? If you have ever experienced previous traumatic events, such as assault or abuse, the experience or the possibility of gun violence can reinforce a belief that the world is an unsafe place. On the other hand, if previously you believed that the world is a safe place, learning about or experiencing assault or violence can drastically change your beliefs about the world, making you feel unsafe.
When your beliefs are such that the world is unsafe, your body might react to protect you. Your heart will start beating faster, your breathing will start to become shallower, your vision might become a little blurry, and your hands might become cold and clammy. As uncomfortable as these sensations are, all of these effects are actually helpful at keeping you safe. Your pounding heart is sending more blood toward your vital organs and making your brain think faster, getting you ready to fight or run away if you need to. Your fast breathing is allowing you to take in more oxygen into your lungs, and your blurry vision is allowing your eyes to focus on the most crucial information to keep you alive. This anxiety is your very own superpower, your very own Supergirl suit ready to protect you at the moment’s notice.
Sometimes we might feel ashamed of our struggles with our emotional experiences. There is absolutely no shame in what you are going through. Anybody in your situation would be feeling the same way. The more you talk about how you are feeling, the more you are likely to see that many other people are also going through the same thing. By sharing your story, you might inspire others to do the same. By opening up to others, you can create a meaningful life-saving dialogue. Please know that you are a superhero. Don’t forget your cape.
If you or a loved one are experiencing a mental health crisis, call the suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line: 741-741.
To find a mental health professional in your area, type in your zip code on PsychologyToday.com.
About the author
Dr. Janina Scarlet is a clinical psychologist and the author of Therapy Quest, a revolutionary self-help book which combines therapy with an interactive fantasy quest. For more information go to: www.superhero-therapy.com or follow @ShadowQuill