Making sense of a senseless act of violence…

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This blog post was written by Pooja Shah, PsyD.


On Friday December 14, 2012 we as a nation were once again shocked as we heard of another senseless act of violence. 

So…how do we make sense of what happened? How do we start to acknowledge how we were impacted? And most importantly, how do we protect the surviving victims and prevent this from reoccurring?

 It’s during times like these, that we all strive to find meaning. We begin to question our lives, our beliefs, country, our humanity and ourselves. 


 On December 14th, 2012 a tragedy occurred in Newton Connecticut. The weapon used was a gun. On December 15th 2012 a similar tragedy occurred in Chenpeng Village, China, 22 children were harmed. The weapon was a knife.

How is it that two such similar crimes can occur at two ends of the world? What we need to look at are the similarities in the individuals that commit the crimes. The most important similarity to acknowledge is the difficulty both individuals had with mental health.

In the wake of such tragedies we ought to acknowledge and discuss mental health care. Even today many individuals hesitate and shy away when it comes to accepting help for mental health difficulties. Whether it is something like difficulty at work or something like major depression or developmental difficulties we are all impacted by mental health difficulties. Many of us believe we can manage our difficulties while others struggle with admitting they have difficulties. Often we feel that our own difficulties cannot compare to others, or the difficulties our loved ones are experiencing on a daily basis and therefore believe it is important to help others rather than helping ourselves. But just like on a plane we have to remember to always put on our own oxygen masks first, than help others.  Instead we overlook this common element that is most important to address and attempt to understand.




In reaction to this incident we see many fighting against gun control and gun control advocates use this tragedy to forward their agenda. We see anger with the loose laws around gun control. But ask yourself, does that in itself make sense of the whole thing? Will that in itself keep this from happening? The answer is no.

People who have experienced something similar will have mixed reactions. Some will become angry, others isolated and some depressed. Others may just need someone who can pretend nothing happened. Whatever the case, if you know someone who has experienced something like this in the past, now is the time to reach out and be sure they are doing okay. Supporting and empathizing with each other on a constant basis is what we has humans, as Americans, as a society could do in hope to prevent future occurrences. However, instead we become fearful. We feel like we are intruding and feel uncomfortable bringing it up. Often all they need is for us to be okay with being uncomfortable in order for them to feel comfort.

Others will try to justify such incidences as something that was meant to be or will never happen to them. This may be their way of protecting themselves and their own fears. Understand that fear is neither an answer nor a solution. Those that know someone who is fearful should ask them, what are they most scared of, it helps to talk about it. For these individuals it is important to explore your fears and understand what is inevitable, but to learn ways to not allow the inevitable to keep you from living your life.

Whatever the reaction the common thread is that we are all trying to make sense of it all. It is hard to explain why or how someone can do something so tragic. We will all have our own way of trying to understand, always feeling as though we will not get the answer. Unfortunately we may never get the answer. But we can all start by exploring our own difficulties, our own reactions, and our own fears.

Thoughts and prayers go out to the families of Newtown and Chenpeng.