Crises and crisis reactions
Remember - it is normal to experience a reaction
When a person experiences a violent event, they will often react both physically and psychologically. When you are informed of the typical reactions, it will hopefully become easier for you to accept and validate them. It is also beneficial if your family and friends are aware of typical reactions to crises.
Violent events create insecurity. Our usual methods for problem-solving are not activated, and our perception of life, and even other people, can be disconcerted. We react to this, and the reactions of the affected individual can be many or few.
Remember, it is normal to react to an abnormal situation.
Common reactions in the first hours following the event
One may develop feelings of dissociation, perceiving everything to be unreal, as though they are in a dream, or a bad movie. One’s perception of time may be affected, as though time is standing still or flying by. Certain sensory perceptions may be burned into the mind of the individual. Others may trivialize the event, feel empty or apathetic, or feel as though they are in a sensory fog.
Immediately following the event, many people experience no emotional reactions. This may be indicative of a state of shock, which protects the individual from a mental breakdown. Subsequently, one may be overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness, and react strongly through crying, anger, shouting, or outbursts of rage.
One may experience a fear of becoming crazy – mentally ill, as one can no longer recognize themselves amidst these strong emotions. Fear of abandonment, fear of losing loved ones, fear of never recovering, or fear of the event repeating itself are all normal.
Anxiety is not directed at anything in particular, can lead to distress and restlessness, and may prevent one from performing specific tasks. By addressing and verbalizing ones’ anxiety, it can be transformed to fear that is targeted something concrete. It is easier to manage fear of something specific, compared to feelings of anxiety.
The body can react in different ways. One may experience head, chest, or stomach pains, as well as nausea and vomiting. Knee buckling, shivering, or cold sweats are also normal. One may also be troubled by frequent urination, diarrhea, heart palpitations, or breathing difficulties.
Common reactions in the days and weeks following the event
Reesperiencing the events
In the time following the event, it is normal to re-experience the crisis, or parts of it, in the form of flashbacks, nightmares or intrusive thoughts. The recollections are often very life-like, and include vivid images of the event that trigger intense emotions. After the event, certain sounds or smells may also trigger strong physical reactions again.
One may be easily startled by sounds, smells and sights, and quickly withdraw from them.
Difficulties falling asleep – one may wake up several times per night, or wake up very early in the morning.
Vulnerability and irritability
The physical and psychological burdens make one vulnerable and thin-skinned. It becomes easy to misunderstand ones surroundings, and one may quickly feel neglected and misunderstood. This may lead to impatience, irritation and conflict.
Strong, and often contradicting emotions: anger about the meaninglessness of the experience –“why me?”; grief after losing something valuable; relief about being alive. One may swing between feelings of powerlessness and hope.
Guilt and shame
Feelings of guilt and shame are common, even in the instances where there are no concrete reasons behind it. One may feel guilt about not helping others in an accident, or over something that remained undone, or unsaid. It can be difficult to forgive others, and almost impossible to forgive oneself. One can experience guilt over personal luck compared to others’ misfortune. Shame can be attributed to feeling out of control in the situation, or over not immediately grasping the severity of the situation.
Attention and memory impairment
It can be difficult to sustain attention for longer periods at a time. One’s mind may easily wander, particularly to thoughts about the event. Some may also experience difficulties remembering in the time following the event.
Despair and isolation
One may feel sad and despondent, and wish to isolate oneself from surroundings to avoid being reminded of what happened.
The meaning of life
It may seem hopeless to find a new meaning in life. Everything is insignificant in comparison to what has occurred. Many begin to ponder over how small the distance between life and death seems. For some, this realization may lead to an increased focus on the important things in life.