September 11, 2001:
2,996 people killed and over 6,000 injured
June 12, 2016: 49 people killed at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, FL
There are many lessons we can learn from these events and many others like them. As a human and a psychotherapist, I am greatly impacted by the love demonstrated during these events.
The people that were trapped in the Towers made calls to loved ones. The messages were about how much they love the people they were reaching out to; about how sorry they were for disagreements and about not spending more time together.
The media interviewed a police officer during the Pulse tragedy. It never occurred to me the description the police officer gave of the scene when the music was off and the lights were on inside the nightclub. He described the non-stop ringing of cellular phones. Imagine the desperation of the people placing these calls. I can appreciate how family and friends were praying their loved ones would answer the phone. The prayers may have then shifted to their loved ones being hurt and not dead. What a prayer!
Substance use disorders, eating disorders, any disorder where a person is self-destructing, creates this same desperation in family members. The afflicted individual (the person that is self-destructing) is isolating and disconnecting himself from people that love him. I believe these disorders are based on the lack of meaningful relationships and work against having these relationships. But, I also believe the afflicted individual truly desires these connections.
Family members usually struggle understanding why their loved ones do this and why their loved ones lack empathy. How can someone be empathic when they are not being self-compassionate? These disorders usually come with high amounts of shame.
According to Dr. Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly ™, shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. Shame is housed in the limbic system of the brain, where our fight or flight response is housed. Once a person feels shame, they fight or run. The limbic system hijacks the executive function of the brain, our center of logic. This is one reason the afflicted individual can be so difficult to understand. We are trying to wrap our logical brain around a brain that is fighting or running.
Human beings are setup to have intimate connections from the moment we are born. We fight for this. In the moments where our life is threatened, we come back to this core. When we see someone we love self-destructing, we miss the connection we had with that person. We fight to regain this.
There is hope.
When the afflicted individual is resisting help, families are able to make some changes in order to reach the heart of the person they love. It takes work; however, interventions can help families heal and unify. Families learn to approach their loved one with love and compassion. The afflicted individual usually recognizes there is an interference in their life and may be fearful and anxious. But – it can be very powerful to have 5+ people sitting together in a room telling the person they are concerned about how much they are loved.
There is hope and help for all.