Your Reaction Is Normal

Yesterday saw one hugely traumatic event in Orlando and another event in Los Angeles that would be considered very traumatic if it hadn’t happened in such close proximity to the Orlando shootings. This trauma mostly affected a set of communities with a high exposure to trauma already.

As I watched my friends in these communities react to these traumas, I was struck by how many people were evaluating their own responses, often negatively. I’ll keep saying this individually to people in the words they need, but it’s worth saying generally as well. As someone with both a substantial personal and an academic background in how people react to traumatic events, I’m here to tell you that your reaction is normal.

  • When your feelings threaten to overwhelm you, that’s normal.
  • When you’re numb, that’s normal.
  • When your feeling are unchanged, that’s normal.
  • When you have to share your feelings with others, that’s normal.
  • When you have to intellectualize and analyze instead of emote, that’s normal.
  • When you are hyper-aware of everything around you, that’s normal.
  • When you’re confused and miss things as they happen, that’s normal.
  • When you have to have every piece of information available on the traumatic event, that’s normal.
  • When you need constant distraction, that’s normal.
  • When you have to talk about what happened, that’s normal.
  • When you don’t want to talk about it, that’s normal.
  • When you decide to take more risks because you don’t believe in safety, that’s normal.
  • When you decide to hole up and take fewer risks because you feel unsafe, that’s normal.
  • When you can’t sleep, that’s normal.
  • When you can’t do anything but sleep, that’s normal.
  • When you’re angry and shouty, that’s normal.
  • When you’re weepy, that’s normal.
  • When you’re withdrawn, that’s normal.
  • When you’re determined to find joy, that’s normal.
  • When you focus on taking care of everyone around you, that’s normal.
  • When you focus on yourself, that’s normal.
  • When your reaction changes abruptly, that’s normal.

If you find yourself reacting in ways that may cause you or another harm, that’s still normal. Even so, it’s worth reaching out for help, either to resources that specialize in trauma or to those who specialize in the form of self-harm or self-negation your reaction takes. That’s true even if you don’t think you deserve it. Feeling that way is a normal reaction to trauma as well, but that doesn’t mean we have to submit to it.

It is also normal for the reactions to trauma to linger for some people. We classify this as a mental illness because it’s not a change we desire and because it is one we can treat, but that doesn’t make it a strange reaction. It’s fairly common, and we have some basic grasp of how it happens. It isn’t weird if the trauma you experience results in PTSD.

Your reaction is not weird or wrong as long as you respect the boundaries of the people around you. It is you figuring out how to cope with the enormity of what happened long enough to take it all in and find out what life looks like on the other side of it. Everybody has to do that.

There is no one way to experience trauma. Everyone has different prior histories of trauma. Everyone has different resources. Everyone focuses on different aspects. Everyone finds different meanings. The trauma may be the same, but each person is different. Even reactions that we find completely counterintuitive are normal responses to trauma.

Yes, that includes yours. Your reaction to all of this is normal.

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Your Reaction Is Normal

4 thoughts on “Your Reaction Is Normal

  1. 2

    I slept in late on Sunday and I didn’t get to checking the news before I headed into work. About five minutes before arriving, I opened Google news and saw the news headlines, and I shook my head.

    And then I read that it was Pulse, and my heart dropped.

    I’m used to intellectualizing these kinds of violent events. I don’t normally feel an immediately strong, overwhelming emotional reaction. But as a gay person who spends much of his time at LGBT establishments, places like Pulse, and how important I know these kinds of spaces are to my community, I couldn’t contain my emotion and I started to cry.

    I told my managers I would need a few minutes before I could come on, because I was so obviously and visibly upset, and because I work for a fantastic place, they obliged. I got my cry out. I was done. And though that immediate emotional outburst was done, it’s all I could think about all day.

    Thanks a lot for this.

  2. 3

    I would be dead right now if I lived in Orlando. My own reaction bypassed the bouts of denial and depression I usually experience, and went immediately to ANGER.

  3. AMM
    4

    I’m not feeling anything directly, though I do get my dander up at all the people in power who’ve preached hate at us for so long and have been passing laws to outlaw us. (I’m T and maybe L as well, but I take attacks on any part of the LGBT menagerie personally.)

    It reminds me of how I reacted to the Sept. 11 attacks. At the time, even though I was watching it happen from three blocks away, I wasn’t afraid, I was mostly just worried about doing something that hindsight would judge as stupid, the problem being that nobody had any idea what was actually going on or was going to happen. I think emotionally I just wasn’t registering what was happening — like when I was seeing people falling from the building but had to consciously remind myself that, yes, they are live human beings. Later, I remember walking under the Brooklyn Bridge and being really struck by how on the one side, the air was cloudy and gray with dust, but on the North side, it was a beautiful sunny day, with people having lunch in the park. Even now, my main reaction is “well, that was a really, really weird day.” (And, “it must have really sucked to be trapped in the upper floors.”)

    I do remember, starting a few days later, getting angry at the people who were nowhere near any of the attack sites but got all worked up about how threatened and horrified they felt and how we had to find people to kill in response. I mean, those of us who actually were down there and had to figure out how to do our work while the area was closed off, and later on had to deal with the bad air and non-functional infrastructure down there (the buildings burned for months) were mostly just trying to get on with our lives. Oh, yeah, and Giuliani trying to claim credit for everything.

    I don’t know how I’ll feel about the Orlando attacks as time goes on. At the moment, I just don’t want to think about it. But, as said, I’m starting to get even angrier than I already was about the big shots who are trying to disavow any responsibility for fostering a climate in which murdering LGBT people somehow seems okay, but hope to increase their political capital by blaming it on some other group. (Hey, let’s blame the Inuit, I’ll bet they don’t have many votes.)

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