Coping with Trauma — 28 November 2003
The Helpful Americans 9/11/02

Americans from all walks of life coming together to offer help-

The terrorist acts of Sept. 11,2001 profoundly affected America. The goal of terrorists is to devastate and incapacitate their targeted victims. They have not succeeded.

A year later, we see that the attacks left some scars beyond the initial impact. The travel and hospitality industries have suffered economic losses. Some Americans are hesitant or fearful of traveling by plane.Post-attack anxiety still impacts about 11 percent of Americans, and some have fled major cities seeking safety in the countryside.

Yet most Americans have resumed their lives with vigor and determination.

The level of altruism, caring and connectedness that many Americans showed amazed even their detractors.
The outpouring of volunteers who toiled for months in the rescue and cleaning efforts — the selfless devotion of many who put their lives on hold to help people whom they had never met — showed great love of fellow Americans.
Standing in line as long as seven hours, waiting to donate blood for unknown brothers, is an act of deep caring.
Billions of dollars were sent in to help the victims’ families, another sign of support.

Americans came together, supported each other and acted with a high level of altruism.
A tragedy often brings out courage and endurance, and reveals people’s inner strength. How people deal with adversity tests their character.

Much of psychology deals with the detrimental effects of childhood trauma. But researchers also study individuals who have not succumbed to childhood abuse. People who were able to grow up to be healthy and loving adults despite horribly abusive and traumatic early environments, were termed “resilient.”

The factors that distinguished resilient, successful adults are the same as those of post-terrorism Americans. What we know from psychological research and what we saw in our country showed similar patterns.

One lesson we learned from resilient people is that their capacity to see the troubled offender — not the victim — as responsible for causing the trauma, produced optimism about the future.

What we saw in America is people’s clarity that the terrorists — rather than our prosperous and progressive culture — are the enemy.Placing the responsibility with the offender empowers the victims, rather than devastates them.

What we also know from resilient people is that they succeed in overcoming their trauma by finding supportive individuals who believe in them.The trust of others offers them the courage they need to continue toward a healthy life.

What we saw in post 9/11 America is the reparative kindness of strangers. The outpouring of help, support and caring from around the country helped those who were victimized by the terrorist acts know that all of America is behind them, ready to back them up with financial and emotional assistance.The bereaved spoke openly of their gained courage and hope attained through the abundance of love and caring they received.

Resilient people also exhibit tenacity for work and a belief that hardships are temporary.

What we see in America today is a sense of commitment to hard work and hope that the current hardships in the labor market or the stock market are only temporary setbacks.

The qualities that uniquely grace resilient people are decency, integrity and vision of a world more satisfying than the one from which they emerged.

What we have seen in America during the past year is a reinforced conviction that democracy, acceptance and liberty for all are the higher values to be fought for.

Terrorists stand for oppression, absence of human rights, totalitarian rule, extremist views, sexism and the destruction of all who do not share their views.

We have a world vision of inclusion and love. This is the resilient way for a nation and the world.

Americans have shown that they are united in values, commitment and vision of a better world for all and that evil will not deter them from their mission.Many people who would vacation elsewhere, chose New York City as their destination. This commitment to freedom, liberty and optimism infused the city and its dwellers.

We now have a chance to live by the goals of our forefathers: to afford “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” to all. And we can model these higher values to the world.

Americans are resilient people, and a resilient nation is likely to thrive in face of all inflicted traumas by any abusive agents.

We have shown that we possess the courage to unite and commit to each other (as the nine coal miners in Pennsylvania did) and survive.

Security experts state that the most important safety change since 9/11 is that never again will passengers allow hijackers to take over a plane.The people on flight 93 were resilient heroes. “Let’s roll”.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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