Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, and by the time this article is published, another city will be on our list. We live in a world of hurt. What’s amazing about humans, is that when other people are hurting, attacked, and vulnerable, we feel something too. We cry thinking about others being shot at a country music concert, hurricanes devastating towns, and other tragic news. 

As a counselor, there are two questions I frequently observe:

  1. How do I handle talking or thinking about so many tragic events? 
  2. Why do I feel for some groups more than others? 

The human brain and trauma

Let’s start with the brain. Neuroscience shows us that we feel attacked when others are attacked around us. Let’s work out from you. First, if you were attacked that would physically and emotionally hurt. Then if your family or kids experienced trauma, you would feel secondary trauma or even have your own experiences of pain. Moving out from there, if our community or state experienced an event, we’d feel a little less than our family, but it’d still be pronounced. 

As we move farther from ourselves, the more physically distant the event the less we feel. Then when you add perceived differences of culture, race, or nationality, the brain feels less attacked. So despite many of these same things happening internationally, it does not have the same weight for us. In a sense it’s “easier to ignore” because it is happening to “them” not to our tribe. 

But should trauma that way?

The brain has figured out that if it is overwhelmed, it’s hard to function. As a result, it categorizes trauma. If we took in all the daily crisis with our 24/7 news cycle, our brains might self implode. So the brain says, “I’m going to care more about this than that.” But should it be that way? 

Multiple theories have looked at how human brains evolve. Within a theory called “spiral dynamics” the researchers talk about the move from an ethnocentric view (my tribe and group) to a world-centric view, where humans are seen as genetically connected and all having equal value.

So what do we do with trauma?

Part of working through trauma is looking at how the trauma actually effected you. Then how it harmed your community. Lastly, what on-going dynamics harm the greater world. Often, it’s easiest to see how we as individuals have experienced an event. However, the jump to larger issues feels like it de-personalizes it. 

Through that jump in understanding global dynamics and emotions, we begin to regain emotional control and regulation. Because we don’t see each situation as one of “the other” but instead as a global problem to be solved. Whether it is Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, or the next town, our movement from ethnocentric to world-centric will not only help us take more control of our healing, but we’ll also begin to create solutions to greater problems. 

Joe intensive Marriage counselor intensiveJoseph R. Sanok, MA, LPC, NCC is the owner of Traverse City counseling practice, Mental Wellness Counseling. To schedule a session with one of the five counselors call 231-714-0282.