Trauma in the Life of a Victim of Terror

Comments by Dr. Jackie Weinberg, volunteer psychologist with OneFamily, at a press conference marking 10 years since the Park Hotel Massacre – March 27, 2012

Thank you all for coming to share with the families as they mark the tremendously traumatic events that happened ten years ago today in this very place.

Trauma is defined as “an event outside the normal human experience”.

Trauma will leave a person feeling helpless and almost paralyzed at times.

Now there’s trauma and there’s TRAUMA.

When 30 people are killed and 150 are injured, this is more than just being “outside of a normal human experience”. Trauma as a result of natural disasters line earthquakes, hurricanes or tsunamis are usually one-time traumas. But what happens after a terrorist attack, for people who were inujured or bereaved or who just witnessed the attack, is more than overwhelming and will no doubt leave someone feeling powerless, and totally helpless.

Research shows that the prevalence of PTSD is higher among victims of man-made trauma than of natural disasters. In my opinion, when a person, does something to traumatize another person, one’s belief in humankind can be shattered.

6-9% of people suffer from some sort of trauma ranging from mild to severe during their lifetimes. Of those who went through man-made traumas such as terrorist attacks, 20% are reported to still be suffering from PTSD three months after the traumatic event.

Elisabeth Kubler Ross, in her book “On Death and Dying”, discussed how there are several commonly known stages that a person goes through in dealing with bereavement, such as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. However, we know that when a bereaved person is in the later stages of dealing with their bereavement, they can revert to earlier ones, through flashbacks or other recurring traumatic events.

In trauma, we tend to think that people are cured after a period of time. But this is not always the case. Many people just learn to cope with their trauma.

It’s like an accident victim whose leg is amputated. The accident and the amputation are traumatic events. But the victim will eventually have a prosthetic leg attached, and will be able to walk, run, hike and even play sports again. The trauma of the events remains with him, but he has learned to cope and to resume his life.

For terror victims suffering PTSD, in the early stages after a traumatic event, a passing ambulance may cause them to freeze, cry, or suffer an anxiety attack. After months or even years, they learn to deal with their trauma in a coping manner. They learn to exert a greater level of control over their reactions, the wait until they are in a more private setting, and then they allow their emotions to escape and their reactions to gain expression. They learn to deal with the immediacy in such a way that they can cope with it on their own. They bring the trauma inside and control it, but are not cured of it.

Even though Park Hotel tragedy happened 10 years ago, as we saw today, the trauma of the event is still very real for its victims. The memories are very real and very present.

We know that there are many different ways of dealing with stress, such as psychotherapy, CBT therapy, and medication. There is medication to deal with headaches, anxiety, depression, and other symptoms of trauma. But there is no one pill that can deal with all of the problems one has after experiencing a traumatic event.

An important way of dealing with stress resulting from trauma is therapy, be it medication, psycho-therapy, etc. But it is known that social support is one of the main proven factors in reducing PTSD symptoms. OneFamily is that friend for all victims of terror – providing social support on a continuous basis through support groups, workshops, retreats, and a constant presence in their lives. It is that presence that makes OneFamily such a vital part of the recovery of thousands of victims of terror throughout Israel, and such an important part of their lives.

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