A sock misses the hamper and lays on the floor unnoticed.
A child shouts into their headphones during an X-BOX/ Wii game, the sound reverberating through the house.
A shopping cart partially blocks the aisle at the grocery store.
These are examples of silly little things that we have encountered time and again with little to no reaction. Usually we pick up the sock, ask our kids to tone it down, and gently move the cart aside. But in the days and weeks following a trauma, these “silly little things” can trigger strong emotions. We may scream at our child, forcefully confiscate the offending electronic device, or shove the shopping cart down the aisle; shocking not only the witnesses of our actions, but ourselves as well. But, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA) this post trauma behavior is not unusual at all.
According to the APA's website, “ It is common for people who have experienced traumatic situations to have very strong emotional reactions. Understanding normal responses to these abnormal events can aid you in coping effectively with your feelings, thoughts and behaviors, and help you along the path to recovery.”
Included on the website are behaviors that a Grief Counselor at Reed Intermediate indicated that members of our community might experience at heightened levels – what I described to my family as exponential emotional response.
“Feelings become intense and sometimes are unpredictable. You may become more irritable than usual, and your mood may change back and forth dramatically. You might be especially anxious or nervous, or even become depressed.”
“Interpersonal relationships often become strained. Greater conflict, such as more frequent arguments with family members and coworkers, is common. On the other hand, you might become withdrawn and isolated and avoid your usual activities.”
During the past two weeks we, individually and as a community, have moved through an expanse of media, hundreds of pilgrims offering their support and sharing in our grief, and a sea of memorials. Now the media is gone, support is shared through letters, e-mails and phone calls, and the memorials are gently being dismantled. Physically the streets of Newtown will look as they always have and our routines will fall into place as the holiday schedule yields to work and school calendars.
As we fall into these routines, it will be our reactions to the “silly little things” that remind us that we have all been traumatized - individually and collectively -and that our responses and periods of healing are as unique as each individual who calls Newtown home.
For me, visiting APA’s website , www.apa.org/helpcenter/recovering-disasters.aspx, has helped me understand my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and guide discussions with my own family as the need arises. May this site serve to support you and your family as we look toward the hopes and promise of a New Year together.