Tag Archives: grief

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.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

A Nation Grieving, Let It Not Divide Us

I had planned to post on Monday about the Christmas Blues, with helpful survival hints for those who are sad rather than happy this time of year. Now the whole nation is looking at a sad holiday, and a post on grief seemed much more appropriate.

Yesterday, we experienced a tragedy that had grown men weeping unashamedly in front of television cameras–priests and first responders, friends and neighbors of those who had lost children, and even our political leaders.

I heard comments from both sides of the political fence calling for a discussion of “sensible” gun control. (NOTE: this is NOT a post about gun control!) While I have very mixed emotions myself on this topic and know as a psychologist that the issue of violence in our country is much bigger and far more complex than that, I pray that such discussions can occur and remain civil. I doubt my prayers will be answered, and not just because it’s such a political hot potato.

I fear that this tragedy will add to the divisiveness in this country, rather than heal it, because of grief.

There are two very important things to know about grief. One, it is quite illogical and messy, and two, it happens in stages.

Grief blows our sanity out of the water, temporarily at least. People say and do crazy things when they are grieving, and everyone grieves in their own way. Please keep this in mind, not just for yourself, but as you listen and respond to those around you. Don’t take the crazy things they say or do too much to heart, and try not to react to them if they are aimed at you. And give yourself permission to think crazy thoughts, but try not to act on them.

Sadly, we will probably see an increase in suicides this holiday season, beyond the normal up-tick.

Grief happens in stages but the stages don’t always follow a set pattern. Almost always there is shock, numbness and denial first. That is where most of us are today.

Often but not always, the next stage is anger. This is the one that concerns me regarding political discussions. We can pray that our political leaders keep their cool, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.

But I am hoping that those of you reading this may avoid some bad experiences this holiday. I would suggest NOT having political discussions with friends and relatives (even ones you think will agree with you, because maybe they won’t; remember, grief is illogical).

Why do we get angry when we grieve? Because we humans have an innate need to find order in our world, to have things make sense. And when something doesn’t make sense, we get pissed off. When we are grieving for an individual loved one, we often get angry at them for dying on us. This is, of course, highly irrational and makes us feel horrible about ourselves, so we often suppress that anger.

Just one problem with suppressed feelings. They don’t go away. They just go underground and come spurting out in other directions.

This is what so often causes family fights over inheritances. It’s not really about who gets Mom’s antique dresser. It’s about ‘I’m angry at Mom for dying but can’t admit that, so I’ll take my anger out on my siblings.’ This of course, is operating subconsciously. Consciously, we really believe that we’re pissed because our siblings (who are also pissed at Mom but can’t admit it) are being so insensitive and selfish.

In this case, I don’t think we’ll have trouble admitting we’re furious that this tragedy happened, but we need to be very careful about where we point that anger. When we’re grieving about something like this, that is so senseless, it is easy to fall into the trap of finger-pointing so we can, one, find an explanation for the unexplainable, and two, have an outlet for our anger.

The next stage in grief is often depression. And the big problem with depression is that it changes our perception filters. When we are depressed, the world and life seem much worse than they really are. This can turn normal grief depression into a downward spiral. Again we need to let ourselves feel the pain and sadness so that we can get those feelings out of our system. But we also need to look for reasons to feel hopeful, and to remind ourselves of the good things in our lives and in our country.

Our nation is flawed, but it is still a great nation! We need to work together to fix the flaws.

Another stage of grief is often bargaining with God. This is more likely to happen when we or someone we love is in the process of dying. We ask for more time or beg for a trade. Take me, not her or him. After a death, this can take crazy forms and can get mixed in with the anger. We may demand answers from God, again looking for order and explanations in a not always orderly world.

This tragedy at Sandy Hook will have many questioning their faith. I have no answers for them but I pray that they find answers that ease their hearts and souls. For myself, I keep reminding myself that we all have free will. This tragedy was not God’s doing; it was the act of a human. As my husband posted on Facebook last night, “Today even God is weeping.”

Sépulcre_Arc-en-Barrois_111008_12

Sépulcre Arc-en-Barrois (photo by Vassil, Wikimedia Commons)

The progression through these stages of grief is not smooth and linear. It is messy and cyclical. We often go through them several times, in varying order, before we reach the final stage (and sometimes even after we’ve reached that stage).

The final stage is acceptance. In individual grief, this is the point where we come to grips with the loss and begin to truly move on. With regard to tragedies like this one, it’s more about we put it aside and stop thinking about it and get on with life.

Honestly, I hope we never get there with this tragedy. It is not okay to accept such senseless killings. We do need to figure out ways to make our society less violent. I have no answers to this myself, but I pray that we can find those answers in a civil and cooperative manner. Our country is better than this!

Please feel free to leave comments below regarding grief, but know that comments on either side of the political issues involved will be deleted. I do NOT want to have a discussion at this time about gun control or the causes of violence in our society. Right now, we need to band together and help each other grieve.

I will post the Christmas Blues post later this week. Then we will be on a semi-hiatus. We will have a couple light posts on Christmas traditions in some interesting, and warm, places, so our readers can do some vicarious traveling over the holidays. Posts on more serious topics will resume mid-January.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb