I saw the trauma effect of war videos in my living room this week.
A young woman I know well looked pale with shell shocked eyes, as if all familiar feeling were wiped off her face and out of her soul. She could only talk about the atrocities in Israel. Instagram is part of her daily life with friends and followers sharing stories of campus life, dates, trips, clothes, parties and selfies.
All of a sudden her Instagram is a torrent of horrific videos. Massacres, butchering of men, women, children and babies flood her vision. She can’t stop watching. She doesn’t know how to think about what’s happening. She never knew such a horror could happen.
As I think of her I see her as a newborn, suddenly thrust from care and safety into a living and dying Hell of a world. She’s not alone, I’m sure.
Real danger exists in watching these violent videos on social media and in news coverage. Watching them puts you in harm’s way. You traumatize yourself by watching them.
Yes, keeping up with current events helps us make decisions based on our values, perspectives and well being of our loved ones. However, watching scenes of violence, of atrocities, of massacres, of blood flowing brutality is an act of violence against ourselves. The trauma of the events are traumatizing to us.
The videos of the atrocities and violence in the Israel Gaza war coming through social media seem to be nonstop. Seeing one, as heartbreaking and infuriating as it may be, can be helpful information. But more than that is not required.
Why we watch
Scenes of violence can be mesmerizing. Some people find themselves in a brain lock where they can’t tear themselves away from the horrors.
People watched the Twin Towers fall on 9/11 many times. Watching repeatedly may be an attempt to believe the unbelievable. It may be an attempt to gain equilibrium in a world that suddenly shifted on its axis and is not the world we thought we were living in. We may want and need repetition to understand the violence and barbarism that exists in human beings.
But we don’t have to destroy ourselves with the violence we see in the videos. We don’t have to live in shock, be wounded and psychologically paralyzed by what we see. We don’t have to feel helpless, powerless and terrified because of what we now know humans are capable of. Or at least, not too much.
It’s important to see a little. A little is enough. The rest of the unfolding events we can read. We can learn and understand without bringing more debilitating trauma to ourselves.
We need to be able to learn, digest even the horrors of the Israel/Hamas war. We need to be able to think and decide where we go from here.
How can we be active and support what we believe needs supporting?
Any action we take reminds us that we are not paralyzed with horror. Actions can range from putting a stamp on an envelope containing a letter someone else wrote or starting a major institution.
- We can contribute to organizations already in existence.
- We can write letters and articles.
- We can carry placards in a march.
- We can make placards without going outside.
- We can deliver the materials for making the placards.
- We can deliver or send lunches to the people who are making the placards and those who carry them.
- We can make art and share it.
Any action we take is empowering and counteracts the force of trauma that blasts out from those violent videos into our psyches.
Listen to the news. Read the news. But be minimal in watching those videos.
And for Heaven’s sake, please keep those images away from your children. Let them know, when they ask what’s happening, what Mr. Rogers told us. People sometimes hurt each other. But we see the helpers. Helpers are always there. I (your mom or dad or cousin or friend or neighbor or teacher) are helping too. And the helpers will keep you safe.
Joanna Poppink, MFT, is a psychotherapist in private practice specializing in eating disorder recovery, stress, PTSD and adult development.
She is licensed in CA, AZ, OR, FL, UT. Author of Book:Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from your eating disorder
Appointments are virtual.
For a free telephone consultation e-mail her at