When it comes to mass tragedies, there’s a truth we rarely acknowledge but always feel deep inside: while the physical impact of a traumatic event grabs our attention for a short time, survivors, whether injured or not, must carry emotional trauma long after the headlines have moved on.
Emotional recovery is particularly difficult when the cause of suffering is another human being. Natural disasters can always be blamed on circumstances beyond anyone’s control, but tragedies at the hands of other people bring home the feeling that they could have been prevented… and they induce the fear of it happening again.
But when emotional pain is invisible, the question is how can trauma survivors heal from an act of hate?
Healing emotional trauma
If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that violence is an act of hate designed to inflict pain.
Pain is the name we give to a past wound that is felt in the present.
Emotional scars caused by trauma hold a victim hostage in their memory, paralyze them there, and make them feel as though it’s impossible to move on as the whole person they once were.
Pain surfaces at unpredictable times in the form of panic attacks or mood disturbances. Trauma victims become trapped in a broken world and are forced to stop their lives and redirect their energies to putting themselves back together again. This is why trauma victims can still feel damaged, even when the source of anguish is no longer present.
So many people want to help when they find out someone else suffered a tragedy, but often feel powerless. What does it mean to care? And does it really have any power?
An act of love begins healing emotional trauma.
Emotional impact of community tragedy
Students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently demonstrated the power of caring. After two student suicides and two additional attempts, students placed post-it notes in the shape of a heart all over campus. This sent the message that if anyone else is suffering, they will know they’re not alone. In response, the university did something unprecedented—they gave their students a mental health break. This wouldn’t have happened had the students ignored the pain and suffering of their fellow classmates. Their small gesture resulted in real-world change.
These students understood the emotional impact of community tragedy, even when they weren’t directly affected themselves. It was a lesson they had to learn growing up under the terror of school violence —that when tragedies occur, it’s not just the victims that are lost, it’s the sense of peace that’s necessary to make a community function. They understood that love is necessary to heal.
The future of healing trauma
For survivors of trauma, only an act of love can begin to heal the wounds of hate.
Love is something we create and share with others, which rebuilds trust. All acts of kindness are acts of love, and they never need to be grand. Even the smallest gestures create the meaning and connection that allows a trauma survivor to escape the mental prison of the past and return to their hopes and dreams.
What if schools taught students they have the power to heal acts of hate with acts of love before tragedies occur? What if after-school clubs made room for mental health and emotional healing? What if the Boys and Girls Scouts of America included emotional survival alongside their other programs? This is an instance where adults, particularly those who never grew up in the wake of school violence, can learn from the younger generation about the power of love, kindness, and hope.
Stars of Hope is a non-proﬁt organization with a unique mission – to build a community of support, so survivors will know that even though a random act of hate broke their world, a random act of love will be there to put them back together again.
If you’re looking for a way to create hope for others in pain—whether in your own community or for those far away—we invite you to join our community of survivors and become part of the healing.