|Getting Back to Work After Traumatic
6 Tips for Regaining a Normal Life Without Loss of Caring or Compassion.
© 2001, C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.
1. Be aware that you, your employer, your employees, your
co-workers and your customers or clients will be experiencing symptoms
common to anxiety disorders and acute or post-traumatic stress disorders.
Such symptoms include feelings of restlessness or being on edge, being
easily annoyed, sleep loss or disturbance, feeling inexplicably tired
even if you've slept well, having difficulty concentrating or remembering,
muscle tension, aches and pain; feeling in a daze, feeling disconnected
from people or environment, or having a sense that familiar things or people
aren't quite real. So pay close attention to your feelings and behavior;
take time to be gentle with yourself and everyone else. The first step
to gaining or maintaining power in any situation is to gain or maintain
control of how you feel and act.
[Learn more about trauma and about controlling anxiety
Trauma Information http://www.trauma-pages.com/pg5.htm;
Trauma, Anxiety, Fears, and Psychosomatic Disorders - Psychological Self-Help http://mentalhelp.net/psyhelp/chap5/;
Health Education: Stress,
Depression, Anxiety, Drug Use http://www.teachhealth.com/;
2. In addition to the symptoms of anxiety and traumatic
stress, you may have to deal with grief and major loss. This is true
even if you are not a victim, not related to a victim or not even acquainted
with a victim of the event. There are events that touch entire nations,
or perhaps the entire world, exactly the same as if the victims were friends
or relatives. Since I am writing this at the time of the terrorist
attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, this is certainly one
of those times. You may already know that grief and recovery from
grief go through the stages of shock/denial, anger, bargaining, depression
and acceptance. The stages can't be skipped or rushed, but they may overlap
and you may go back to uncompleted tasks of earlier stages while working
through later ones. Also, to work through the stages of grief, the
grieving person must be an active participant -- you must actually involve
yourself in intentional recovery. Time does not heal all
wounds. Loss and grief cannot be handled alone and in silence. Everyone
needs a community of support. Make sure that you and those you work
with talk openly about your shared experience of loss. Bring professional
help into the workplace if the reaction to the loss is obviously disruptive.
[Learn more about recovering from loss and grief...
and Bereavement World Wide Web Links http://www.grief.org.au/internetl.htm;]
3. Know that it is normal and healthy to seek reassurance,
stability and familiarity. You will want to go back to business,
daily routines, concerns and issues (large and small) that were important
to you prior to the traumatic event. Many people feel guilty about
that. Don't. It is exactly what everyone needs to do to recover.
It in no way diminishes the importance of who or what was lost. Indeed,
it honors the dead that you refuse to allow to have more taken from you
and/or your community. Getting back to normal is just another way
of fighting for your life.
4. You probably feel a need to do something, anything,
to contribute, to be part of the solution. In a national or community
crisis people with the requisite skills for rescue or medical treatment
volunteer in large numbers. Those who can give blood stand in line
for hours to do so. Journalists forgo sleep and rest to bring news,
information and informed perspectives from experts to feed our hunger for
understanding what's really happening and why. When the traumatic
event is of local or personal interest, friends, extended family and immediate
community members rally to find out what they can do. No one wants to stand
by and watch helplessly. This, too, is wonderfully healthy.
It combines compassion with empowerment. The more you find to do,
no matter how small, helps raise your own sense of power and control in
the world and that of everyone else around you. The key to
helping yourself and others is this: when you can't do what you want, do
what you can. Sometimes most of what you can do is symbolic, such
as in the current national crisis when the vast majority of us are displaying
the U.S. flag, lighting candles or holding candle-lit memorial services
in small groups. Such acts, whether or not performed in the public
eye, help tremendously. They motivate and inspire everyone participating
and everyone the participants contact. The effects of small acts
multiply outward. Remember also that if you are already striving
to return your life and work to normal, you are contributing in that way
to restore your community to normal. That is a contribution in itself.
[Learn more about opportunities to personally contribute
on a personal, local or national scale...
You Can Help (washingtonpost.com) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A25271-2001Sep13.html;
News Full Coverage-Emergency and Relief Information in Wake of Terrorist
Attack On U.S. http://dailynews.yahoo.com/fc/US/Emergency_Information/;
The stop violence
project: reduce violence and suffering, promote a just peace http://www.stopviolence.com/]
5. Know that some events and people are beyond our understanding
-- and should be. Be aware that understanding is not necessarily
a way to control or remedy. We can profile a typical terrorist and enumerate
his characteristics, the background experiences that formed his thinking
and the specific thought processes that make up his viewpoint. Yet
we cannot really understand him. It's like the Holocaust. Will we
ever understand how someone could herd men, women and children into gas
chambers, poison them and then burn them or dump them in massive common
graves with corrosive chemicals to disolve the remains? Or keep them
in concentration camps, enslave and torture them. We've been trying
to figure out that mindset for over fifty years. We do know many
reasons why various people around the world hate Americans. We do
know how we have contributed to or caused their perceptions. We hope
we will never truly understand how they get from blaming us for their conditions
to believing it's ok to try destroy our people, our cities or our economy.
Because to understand in that way, we need to be able to think like them
-- which is too ugly to contemplate.
Here is the best way I know of to help you understand
why it's dangerous to deeply understand terrorism: think of all the forms
of violence we already encounter fairly regularly in society. Think
of hostage-taking during robberies, kidnapping, school shooting sprees,
"going postal" at work, gang warfare and driveby shootings, so called "hate
crimes" like gay-bashing, domestic terrorism like the Oklahoma City bombing
and most common of all, road rage crimes. Because we see those events
coming from more "ordinary" Americans, we feel we understand them a little,
but the great majority of us shy away from thinking of ourselves as capable
of having such viewpoints or doing such deeds. Look a little deeper,
think of road rage -- is there any one of us who drive who hasn't
experienced it? Do you like feeling so angry and hateful that you
could just smack that idiot who just cut you off and made you slam on your
brakes to avoid an accident? Can you really morally justify harming
or killing another human being because you felt scared about something
you thought could have happened but didn't? If you are even trying
to hold on to your anger or find a justification, you are walking the same
dark path that a terrorist takes to get to his mental and emotional destination.
[Learn more about all kinds of violence...
stop violence project: reduce violence and suffering, promote a just peace
6. Accept that some events are unpredictable and out of
our control. Although it may seem like a paradox, acknowledging the
ways in which we are powerless is an important step in the restoration
of a sense of personal safety and personal power and being able to prepare
for the unexpected. Helplessness, safety and personal power are key
issues in individual psychotherapy. In fact, they are key issues
in business and career counseling. So what I say here applies to
personal, business and community crises equally.
The essential point to remember is that there is only
one thing you ever get to control: yourself. How and to what
extent you control yourself determines what influence and impact you can
have on others and on your environment. The person who realizes that he's
the only one in control of him and acts always upon his own choices becomes
very powerful. Not only is he the most free of the influence of others,
but also he is most influential upon others. The self-controlled person
is admired and sought-after as a leader. He is also intimidating to the
insecure. The shining example for us in these last few days is the
report that on the terrorist-seized airplane that crashed in western Pennsylvania
the passengers and crew, in full realization of their impending death,
chose the manner of their death by fighting back and regaining sufficient
control of the aircraft to assure it would crash where it would do least
harm. They could not do everything they wanted, but they did everything
they could. And what they could do was accomplished by maintaining
control of their own thoughts, feelings and actions.
Furthermore, there is only one thing you can predict
with any accuracy: what you can and will do (assuming you are exercising
control of yourself). Since we cannot control other people, the best
predictions of future events and what to do about them are just good guesses.
We have long known that airports are among the most vulnerable points for
terrorist activity -- it has happened many times internationally.
We have a history of airplane hijackings from the 1960's. Remember
the "take me to Cuba" string of events? But while we can predict
that extortionists, madmen and terrorists will try to hijack aircraft or
bomb airports and we can tighten up security, the sheer number of places,
flights and people makes it impossible to accurately predict and prevent
any particular event. That does not mean we are helpless to protect
ourselves. Or that we have no outlet for our anger and anxiety. Quite
the contrary. The moment anyone accepts the unpredictabily of life,
the necessity of self control and the responsibility for making his own
choices is the moment he becomes empowered to acquire the skills to protect
himself and others in a wide variety of situations. While I cannot
tell anyone exactly what skills he or she in particular will need to regain
that sense of personal security and power, I can tell you that people accomplish
it every day. One example is a woman who has been raped and who is
able to overcome the trauma by learning self-defense skills and counseling
other women who are victimized.
[Learn more about terrorism, counter-terrorism and personal
protection in dangerous situations...
Counter-Terrorism Page; http://www.terrorism.net/sitemap.asp;
Web Directory Terrorism Articles and Reports
Links to self-defense, personal
protection, security and safety sites. http://www.defendu.com/links.htm
We are AWARE
Web Directory - Crime Prevention http://directory.google.com/Top/Society/Crime/Prevention/;
Get back to work with focus and confidence. Get
back to business with determination. Live a full life. Take
the business trips you need to take. Take the vacations you had planned.
You can't hide from those who would do you harm. You can only deprive
yourself and others of benefits from your work, your support, your rightful
place in the community. You are no less safe today than you were
before our national tragedy -- in fact, you are safer because you are more
aware of the risks you were already were taking and now you can better
prepare yourself and help your community put better safeguards in place.