It’s been a tough week. The unfathomable violence in Newtown, Connecticut left many of us reeling and feeling raw, sad, and simply beyond words.
Powerless. Grief-stricken. Angry. Afraid.
How do we take care of ourselves? Our children? Our communities and our world?
There was/is a storm of feeling stirred up by this awful act and by the devastation that no one can really comprehend.
It seems to be human nature to look for a place to vent our anger, seize control, have an impact or somehow be effective. Do something about the pain and awfulness. Now.
We don’t want these things to happen. We don’t want these things to already have happened. We want to make it better. We want to have some control. We want to protect those we love and care about.
We hurt. We’re scared. We care. We care very deeply.
Brené Brown, a vulnerability expert, researcher, author and someone I greatly admire, posted this on Facebook that morning while I was still sitting stunned, searching for words:
“Feeling total heartbreak for the people in Connecticut. Trading television for deep prayer. Lord help us send love and light to those in pain. Let us stay calm and openhearted while we manage our own fear and anger. And help us remember that news coverage is traumatizing for us and especially for our children.”
“Let us stay calm and openhearted while we manage our own fear and anger.”
The difference between reacting and acting with purpose can be huge and the consequences major. As soon as I heard what was unfolding last week, I felt an immediate urge to react. To take a stand, to cry, to yell, to DO something. Post something, write something, be angry at someone.
Instead, I sat. I breathed. I watched the storm inside me that was about a million feelings at once. I prayed. I kept breathing. I sat some more and wondered about what to do. And then Brené posted and put words to my own experience and to what I know is critical in situations like this.
Call it self-care.
We have to hold our own emotions. We have to respect and care for our own feelings and fears and pain in order to respond as our best versions of ourselves.
We have to have the guts to feel our own vulnerability and see what scares us. We need to take the time and do the work. We need to feel our feelings and respect how big and scary they are—even if we feel we don’t have time.
We can’t skip this step.
Skipping this step leads to knee-jerk reactions. It leads to defensive hatred and quick blame. Skipping this step leaves us cut off from our own rich well of emotions and the connection that is vital for healing.
Emotional self-care grounds us. Opening our hearts and finding a calm way to manage our feelings creates effectiveness. Numbness or auto-pilot reactions lead to disengagement and distance. On a day-to-day level, distancing leads to things like stress eating or mindless bingeing, zoning out online, or numbing our feelings with shopping or some other vice. During crisis times we may bury ourselves in the news, obsessing on the details and the “newest revelations” as a way to stay focused outside and not on our own inner experience. We and the world deserve better.
Self-care is never selfish. It’s what nourishes us so that we can be who we are meant to be in the world.
In times of tragedy, emotional self-care is an essential critical step. If you haven’t already, consider turning off the TV. Take time to breath. Do small things regularly to help you stay grounded—write, walk, or just listen to your thoughts. Ask yourself what you are feeling and what you need to take care of you and your emotions.
We all need some gentleness right now.