Grief and Acceptance, Denial and Desensitization #VegasStrong

by Kassandra Lamb

I’ve dealt with grief over big and small tragedies the last few weeks, and worries over near misses. First there was Hurricane Harvey hitting close to where my son now lives, then Hurricane Irma taking out large chunks of my own state of Florida. Then Maria laid waste to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

dog

My sweet Lady. She loved walks.

And right between Irma and Maria, my dog suddenly became ill and died in a matter of days. She wasn’t that old, only about 7 (we didn’t know her exact age as she was a rescue dog) and she’d always been healthy. So it was quite a shock.

I felt a wee bit guilty that I was mourning a dog when so many people were dealing with much greater losses than a middle-aged pet.

But she was a real sweetie and she kept me company all day as I sat at my computer writing stories.

Among the stages of grief are denial (sometimes taking the form of numbness), anger and depression/sadness. I’ve certainly felt some of all of those feelings lately, about the bigger tragedies of the storms and the smaller one in my own home. I’ve choked up as I’ve watched the news, the houses reduced to rubble, and when I’ve thought about my sweet girl so abruptly taken from me.

And then 58 people were killed by a madman in Las Vegas, and so many more were wounded.

And I felt almost nothing. My brain and heart shut down. I didn’t feel the horror of it or tear up during the news. I didn’t think about it off and on all day, for days afterward, as I did with Sandy Hook and the Boston Marathon bombing.

Indeed, I resisted writing this post and almost gave in to the temptation to let the lighthearted post we’d intended for this week to run as planned.

When we don’t have any more emotional energy left for shock, horror, grief, we go into a different kind of denial. It’s called desensitization.

The bad stuff has become normalized.

Study after study has found that this happens to children exposed to violent media, and especially to those allowed to play violent video games. They become more fearful, more convinced that something bad will happen to them, but at the same time, they become desensitized to violence.

It no longer horrifies them. And in the case of video games, violence become conditioned to trigger excitement and a sense of achievement. Kill off all the enemy and you are rewarded. You then advance to the next level, where the challenges are harder and the violence is often gorier.

I’m not going to get into the whole guns issue, although I am a proponent of “reasonable gun control,” as are the majority of Americans. And I certainly believe that mail-ordered kits for turning semi-automatic weapons into automatic ones need to be banned.

But the preserve-the-purity-of-the-second-amendment-at-all-cost advocates do have at least one good point. Guns don’t kill people.

Crazy people with guns kill people.

And the biggest problem is that it’s not always that easy to tell when someone is crazy enough to pick up a gun and go after strangers. The Vegas shooter showed few signs of this level of craziness. His friends and acquaintances say that he wasn’t spewing radical ideology or conspiracy theories. And his girlfriend claims she had no idea he was stockpiling highly lethal weapons.

But what is being hinted at now is that he was into video games.

As a psychologist, I believe that violent media and video games, in particular, are one of the reasons (not the only one, by any stretch) that we are seeing so much senseless violence in our society.

Now I know a bunch of people will immediately claim that they play video games and it hasn’t turned them into violent maniacs. My son, who is a priest by the way, is one of them.

He’ll tell you that having Batman destroy the Joker in his superhero video game is just his way of blowing off steam.

And for people with stable psyches, this is true. The games don’t do them any harm. But for people who aren’t so stable, these games desensitize them to violence and plant ideas in their heads about ways to get attention, to express their pain and anger at a world that they see as letting them down or doing them wrong.

For this reason, I think banning violent video games is as important if not more important than any attempt to control guns.

Is this inconveniencing those who enjoy these games and who are stable enough to not have ill effects mentally from them? Yes, it is. I’m sorry, but your entertainment is less important than our society’s safety.

Is this stepping on the first amendment rights of the companies that design and sell these games? Technically yes, but their complaints won’t really be about freedom of speech; they’re about profits. Are their profits more important than turning the tide away from senseless violence in our society?

We put restraints on porn, seeing it as having “no socially redeeming value.” We need similar restraints on violent media.

And let me paraphrase another argument that has been stated before. Just as our founding fathers lived in a world of one-shot muskets, they used riders racing through the night yelling, “The British are coming!” to communicate. They never anticipated automatic weapons that could mow down a crowd nor mass media capable of transmitting images and sounds instantly into everyone’s homes via the TV and Internet.

Yes we need to tread carefully as we do so, but I believe we do need to place some reasonable, sane limits on free speech (as we already have regarding porn, falsely yelling “Fire” in public buildings and making physical threats against the President of the United States—which is treason, by the way).

Before those few INsane people among us destroy our country while exercising their rights.

Oh, and in regard to the other word in the title, acceptance. It’s supposed to be the final stage of grief, the goal of the grieving  process. But I don’t think we want to reach that stage when it comes to mass murder. That’s not something we want to accept.

We need to stay angry and horrified until we find solutions!

But I am close to acceptance in my grieving for my dog, close enough to get a new one. And so as not to end on a total downer, here’s a pic of my new pup.

new pup

Our new doggy. He was named Benji by the people at the shelter but doesn’t answer to it yet. So we may change his name. Any suggestions?

Your thoughts on violent media and video games? (Note: Please keep it civil. And I know I touched on gun control but I don’t want to debate that. Everything that can be said on that subject has already been said, on both sides of the fence. And I’m still depressed enough that I just don’t have the energy to go there.)

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

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11 thoughts on “Grief and Acceptance, Denial and Desensitization #VegasStrong

  1. K.B. Owen

    Kass, I had no idea your pup had died! I’m so sorry. Your new pal looks really cute! I love how the tail is wagging so hard in the pic that it’s blurry. As far as names, Sherlock Holmes’ dog (well, it was a loaner, who appeared in a couple of stories) was named Toby.

    As far as your main topic, I’m glad you wrote it. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a single meaningful thing to add to that particular conversation. I feel as if I’ve had this discussion with people so many times now that the well has run dry. 🙁

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      I hear you about the well running dry. That’s a good way of describing what I’m feeling (or not feeling).

      I named a character’s dog Toby so not sure I want to use that, but maybe I’ll call him Sherlock…hmmm.

      I took a series of pics while he was standing still (sort of) and if you click through them fast it’s like animation, it looks like his tail is wagging. 🙂

      Reply
  2. shannon esposito

    I’m with ya…I don’t have the energy to go there, either. Everything seems like it has been debated and argued to death and nothing is changing. I’m so numb and so… disillusioned, I guess. I feel like our humanity is going backward instead of evolving. I’m beyond horrified. Beyond depressed. There are no words for the state of our world. I know I’m not alone, I guess is the only saving grace. But thanks for the good news… congrats! What a cutie pie. It’ll probably be easier to name him once you see his personality.

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      I’m mostly hanging out at my computer and trying to ignore the craziness, and praying really, really hard that this too shall pass.

      Hmm, I could call the new pup Cutie Pie… 🙂

      Reply
    2. K.B. Owen

      I hear ya, Shan – and talk about the “desensitizing” new normal we’re dealing with, this is nuts. It’s so overwhelming. Which tire fire do we address today? Ugh.

      Reply
  3. Vinnie Hansen

    I am so sorry for your loss of your dog–on top of everything else! “Benji” looks very sweet. I hope he brings you much joy. I like the name Benji or Toby.

    And like you, Shannon, and K.B., I don’t even want to talk about these tragedies. I feel sick and a bit anxious about the state of the world, especially the threats of climate change (we have fires raging in the North Bay now, where we have numerous friends).

    Reply
  4. Kassandra Lamb Post author

    Thanks, Vinnie. It was quite a shocker to lose Lady so quickly.

    We saw the fires on TV. Scary, scary stuff. Praying they don’t take too many homes, and no lives.

    Reply
  5. Lynn Kelley

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your dog, Kass. I remember when you got her. Wasn’t it after the loss of your other dog? It’s hard to lose our beloved pets, especially when it happens so fast. Your new pup is adorable. I like the name Sherlock!

    Excellent post about grieving and the various stages. I gave up playing video games about 28 years ago. My hubby woke me up one night and said I was grinding my teeth so loudly, it woke him up. He asked, “What were you dreaming about?”

    “I was dreaming I was one of the Mario Brothers and I was jumping over all the obstacles.” So my gaming days came to an end. I haven’t kept up with the violence of video games, but I’ve heard about them. Super Mario Brothers was pretty mild, not even violent, and look at how it damaged me. Haha! I think you make a good point about putting restrictions on those games, but unfortunately the restrictions would likely only apply to kids (aren’t there restrictions already?) and adults like the Vegas shooter will still be able to play violent video games.

    Youngest daughter and her new hubby moved to Vegas the day before the shooting. Very unsettling when I heard about it on the news. I called her and was relieved she was asleep at home. I would like to think that although we may become somewhat desensitized from all the tragedies, somehow we are becoming more aware and finding new tools and strategies to deal with it and, in turn, help and comfort others, and prepare for the future. I think it’s a good idea to pray ahead of time because we might be so caught up in whatever is happening an forget to pray. It also gives me peace. Whatever gets us through it, right? We’re writers. Our imaginations can be pretty creative as far as what we write and how we deal with life circumstances. So hope is still at the top of my list of coping skills.

    Reply
  6. Kassandra Lamb Post author

    Oh my! Your daughter had just moved there!?!? So glad she was too exhausted to be out and about.

    My son moved to Houston one week before Harvey hit. No damage, thank God!

    I hope we come up with better answers to all this violence soon. Currently, if I am remembering this correctly, there are parental advisory warnings on violent games and kids can’t buy them themselves, but adults can, and then give them to kids if they are so inclined. Sadly I know some parents who have done this.

    I used to be advocating for greater restrictions against children using these games. Now I think we need to get rid of them completely. Vegas has shown us that they are a danger to society in the hands of adults as well.

    Reply
    1. Lynn Kelley

      I’d be perfectly fine if they get rid of violent video games. As the games evolve and become more and more realistic, I think they will become a terrifying training ground and the farthest thing from a game.

      Reply
      1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

        I think that’s exactly what they have already become, Lynn, a training ground for violence for those who are unstable to begin with.

        Reply

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