Avoiding traumatizing and triggering imagery is nearly impossible with our current use of social media, and the internet at large. It’s likely you’ve seen some disturbing imagery and video related to the Christchurch shootings. Without any thought, quite automatically and with just a couple of clicks we can share anything that comes up on our timelines and newsfeeds, and someone has no doubt shared imagery that came across your screens.
When we’ve viewed something as devastating as the video of the live broadcast of the murder of 51 people (and injuring and terrorizing countless others), we cannot unsee it. The video and still images will without doubt impact us. Do we truly want to lose our own humanness, to become desensitized to such atrocities and scroll past them onto images of tantalizing lunches and cool new things?
What to do when we’ve viewed such devastating and life altering images:
1- Pause. Stop scrolling and switch off the phone and other devices through which the pictures were viewed. This prevents us from viewing further disturbing images as well as ensuring we do not share them, without thought.
2- Take some deep slow breaths. When we witness something distressing we automatically find ourselves in fear/anxiety mode and reacting “survivally.” In these moments we cannot engage our brains’ prefrontal cortices (responsible for decision making) as these are often times disengaged when our amygdala (the emotional brain) is in charge.
If we remain calm then both parts of the brain will remain connected and we can make more effective healthy and useful decisions. Take some deep, calming breaths to physiologically reconnect yourself.
3- Assess. Without being judgmental, and even if judgement and self criticism arise let them pass through you without assigning any value to them, and answer the following questions:
• What it is that moved me to look at, watch and even seek out such imagery?
• How do I now feel having seen them?
• How can I help myself overcome the impact on me of seeing these images?
• In the future, how do I want to handle the situation if the option to watch such imagery arises again?
Some Do’s and Try-Not-To’s to help you deal with the impact of what you’ve seen:
-Express emotions, take the opportunity to review the experience(s) within yourself and also with others – let family and friends share in your grief.
-Be honest about your needs and express them clearly to your family, friends and work colleagues.
-Take time out. Maybe skip some activities. Rest, sleep, think and be with close family and friends. Grieve.
-Try to regain routine and some sense of normal as soon as you can after the initial period of intense acute distress
Try Not To
-Bottle up feelings or avoid talking about what has happened.
-Let your embarrassment stop you or others from having the opportunity to talk.
-Expect memories and feelings to disappear; they may take some time to go or at least reduce in intensity.
-Forget that others will be experiencing similar feelings to you.
For the future…
These videos and images need to be viewed by a handful of professionals to learn from, but this is not the job of all of us. Vicarious and secondary traumatization are real. First responders such as police, paramedics and rescue workers know this all too well. Ideally avoid watching and sharing such imagery. And be open and honest (with yourself and others) about the impact of news that you hear and see.
He who believes in Allah and the Last Day must either speak good or remain silent.” -The Prophet Mohammed (Rated hasan by Muslim)
Be careful about what you share. Not only do these images harm us individually, but they can also embolden copy-cat actions and further encourage extremist and twisted points of view.
Please process what you have viewed, don’t let it bubble within you, harming you too.