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How September 11th changed us: Taking our power back

Posted by Admin On September - 7 - 2011


By Dr. Dan Collins


Just like the day when President Kennedy was assassinated, everybody remembers exactly what they were doing when those four hijacked planes snuffed out nearly 3,000 lives on September 11, 2001.

It was personal. In the initial seconds, there was confusion. Perhaps, it was just a tragic accident. But as the morning of 9/11 unfolded, it became crystal clear. This was no accident. It was terrorism – cold and calculated.

Emotionally, there is a big difference between falling down the steps and being pushed down the steps. Collectively, we were all “pushed down the steps”. Intention makes all of the difference in the world. Our psychological injury from 9/11 comes, in large part, because it was the terrorists’ plan to harm us.

Defiantly, we have survived. But personally and culturally we would never be the same. We were unavoidably changed: scarred, dazed, traumatized. Psychological and emotional trauma leaves an indelible mark. It alters the way we see things. Trauma changes the way we take in the world. Here are a couple of the key ways that the overwhelming stress of September 11 continue to affect us:

1. Can’t Balance Your Emotions – Ten years after the initial attack, we may still find we may find ourselves experiencing moments of what I call the four useless emotions of trauma: panic, worry, rage, or despair when confronted with information related to 9/11.  These emotional responses are useless because they never help us to identify helpful ways of handling our reactions to what happened on that fateful day in a balanced and rational way. Instead, trauma puts us on edge and prompts us to over-react. Specific to September 11, another emotion that surfaces is an irrational fear of people of the Islamic faith tradition because the terrorists claimed to be Muslim. We may also take the emotional extreme of being so affected by our feelings about 9/11 that we hit the “emotional off switch” and numb out. We can tell when this happens when someone detaches to such a degree that they seem to not care.

Taking Our Power back – We take our power back by taking away the terrorist’s greatest weapon: fear. We can choose our emotions. Instead of fear, we can choose compassion, keeping us connected with the best in us and others. We can even use anger effectively. While rage is an out-of-control emotion, anger can be effective when used to affirm a boundary which says, “I won’t tolerate being violated with aggression”. We can also choose determination, an emotion which enables us to keep moving forward in a positive direction. We can choose to not remain bottled up with toxic emotions. We can identify responses that work, like not taking the “hate bait”. We can be wise enough to not confuse the distorted perspective of terrorists with anything remotely resembling the nobility of devout faith. True faith replenishes life.

2. Can’t Tell Time – When people have been overwhelmed by trauma, they tend to live in the past. Some people have a hard time getting over what happened to them regarding 9/11 because they keep re-experiencing their pain through nightmares, flashbacks and intrusive thoughts. Think of 9/11 nightmares and flashbacks as “instant replays” of our trauma. Intrusive thoughts occur as we are engaged in almost any activity and our mind “changes the channel” to something 9/11 related.

Taking Our Power Back – We take our power back by realizing that the way out of trauma is living in the present. Trauma confuses the past with the present. We can heal powerfully, as we acknowledge the tragedy of September 11th, but give new life to ourselves as we affirm that 9/11/01 is over and September 11th 2011 is a new day with a whole new story and we get to write it!

Dr. R. Dandridge Collins, known as “Dr. Dan”, is author of the bestselling book, The Trauma Zone: Trusting God for Emotional Healing. More information: www.drdancollins.com. Email: drdan19@comcast.net. Phone number: 215-768-8512.

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