fordCecilia Ford, who has been a psychologist in private practice in New York City since 1987, has addressed emotional issues for Women’s Voices in many articles over the years.


We have all had that feeling. You wake up in the morning with a sense of heaviness, almost physical, knowing something terrible has happened, but what? Then you remember what it was. But what starts to happen when you wake up feeling that way every day? That’s what life has been like lately. Even worse, every day it seems some new, unimaginable terrible thing has happened.

Lately, we have not had time to process our feelings about the violent events of recent days and weeks because something else happens almost immediately. The New York Times wrote an article asking what all this news might be doing to us.

“It depends on the individual, but living in a digitally linked world where broadcasts of violence are instantaneous and almost commonplace means that many of us are becoming desensitized,” Anita Gadhia-Smith, a psychologist in Washington, said Friday. “With the frequency of shootings and terror attacks there is a sense of anxiety that’s building in people,” she said, “a sense of vulnerability and powerlessness.”

Dr. Smith added: “There is a heightened alarm, but there can also be some desensitization that’s happening.”

This was written two days ago, as I write, which means two tragedies ago. Since then a violent attempt at a military coup was turned back in Turkey and three police officers were killed in Baton Rouge. One of the concerns highlighted in Dr. Smith’s comments is the danger of desensitization. How is it possible for us to remain  compassionate humans and yet protect ourselves from the harm of feeling assaulted by bad news?

Even when we are not the victims of these events the intent of most of them is to make us feel as if we are. We think, “It could have been me. … I was there just two weeks ago.” Or we recognize, “I am a person like the ones who were targeted.” Meanwhile, imagining the grief of the victims can induce a range of feelings, from rage to despair. There is evidence that being exposed repeatedly can actually induce symptoms of PTSD. A group of British researchers reported:

“Analysis indicated that 22 percent of participants were significantly affected by the media events. These individuals scored high on clinical measures of PTSD even though none had previous trauma, were not present at the traumatic events and had only watched them via social media. Those who reported viewing the events more often were most affected.”

In the months following 9/11, many people experienced nightmares, anxiety, and even phobias. New Yorkers were especially on edge. Everyone knew someone who was at the World Trade Center at the time of the attacks or just one degree away. The mother of one of my daughter’s school friends was there, and survived by running out of the buildings just before they collapsed. A teacher at the school lost her fiancé. Most of the men at the local firehouse were killed.

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  • hillsmom July 21, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    After watching some of the Republican Convention, I could not take it. The fear mongering, divisive speech, all against what the USA used to stand for was too much. I truly fear for what might be happening to our country. Are we tacking backwards to Germany in the 1930s? Women should be especially afraid as it seems some would take us back to the 19th century.