I’m a psychotherapist with specialist expertise in gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues. I work with my clients to unpack and explore their different histories of victimisation as a result of harassment, discrimination and violence and how they can overcome these to live empowered and joyful lives. I also work with a lot of clients who are dealing with deep trauma and specialise in using creative therapies to heal and make sense of those emotional wounds.
How do we cope with such senseless violence and loss on a global level as the Orlando mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub?
How do we deal with such hate and extreme violence? How do we cope with this violation of our sense of safety?
Mass shootings can cause anxiety because we are worried what could happen to us at any moment if we happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. They force us to confront our mortality and the shortness of life in the face of the possibility of a violent extremist turning up to where we might be. Imagine how this must feel for someone who may have lived their life feeling unsafe or been physically attacked because of their sexuality.
Post Orlando attacks can leave some people feeling overwhelmed with the evil in the world. This can lead to almost a “blacking out of the sun” where negative feelings block out the sunshine and we can’t see any of the positives anymore.
You might feel as if you’re swamped with shock, sadness, fear, anger or feel numb. This can be particularly amplified for marginalised communities. LGBT communities already suffer bullying, verbal abuse and physical violence because of their sexuality or coming out. A recent study found that high school aged lesbian, gay and bisexual youth were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers.
How do we deal with these overwhelming feelings post Orlando?
Start by reaching out. I’ve written at length before how internalising and bottling up emotions only leads to more problems down the road and greater health complications. Reach out to a therapist such as myself or to friends and family to support you. Don’t try and keep it all inside. Write about your feelings in a journal as a private way of releasing these emotions. Walk, dance, sing, move, collage- let it out.
Try having a social media break for a few days to have a rest from all the distressing news and images. Over exposure to these traumatic events can actually create more stress. If you do want to keep watching the news, make sure you have breaks and do something nurturing and kind for yourself. Self care is so important!
It’s important to keep living your life how you always would. Don’t let the violence make you withdraw into yourself and not go out and be in the world as much as you normally would. Try to maintain your normal routines, eat meals at regular times, try to sleep enough, try things that can relax you and keep you calm like yoga or walks. Look after yourself.
Reverend Alisan Rowland, pastor of the LGBT-welcoming Metropolitan Community Church of New Orleans said, “We will never, ever go away. We will never be cowed.”
Remember your inner resilience and your inner strength. We each have our own inner resources to cope with tragedy. What are yours?
The aim behind terrorist attacks is to make the broader community (and in this case the LGBT community) feel scared, ashamed and unsafe. We need to actively work hard at not letting this happen. Stand proud in your community and stand strong in solidarity with your queer brothers and sisters.
I’ve had tears running down my face as the world has stood defiant at memorials from Paris to Sydney proclaming, “Love is Love and love is stronger than hate.” It is such an inspiring response and a message we could keep repeating to ourselves.
The Pulse nightclub was seen as a safe haven, where members of the LGBT community could openly express their sexuality. Paul Raushenbush is a clergyman and gay writer. He wrote on his Facebook page, “Nightclubs have always been sacred spaces for queer people, places to gather and glitter away from the judging glares of society, where we could love and be loved for who we are and how we want to be..”
President Barack Obama said that, “The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub – it is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights. ”
This shooting has tapped into this deeper communal fear about safety. The Mayor of Dallas explained that this shooting “is a tragic illustration of the legitimate safety fears that those in our LGBT community live with every day..”
Think about your safe spaces. Where is your sanctuary? Where can you go to rest, revive and connect? Imagine it now even if you create it in your minds eye. Even if you need to metaphorically create a future space that you believe will exist -this will lay the foundation for joy and love overcoming hate and fear.
Countless studies have shown that anti-gay victimisation and discrimination have been associated with mental health problems and psychological distress. Ask yourself regardless of your sexual orientation;
How can you support others in the queer community?
How can you make sure you don’t discriminate on a daily basis?
How can you help create more safe spaces where marginalised people can go to feel safe, respected and be able to reach other to others in their community?
How can you stand up for the rights of people to be able to marry the person they love regardless of their gender?
How can you support your local LGBT community and LGBT rights.
Some people find channeling their emotions into activism or helping charities can help them when they feel numb with grief. If you want to donate to help the victims of the shootings. You can visit their GoFund Me page here.
Read about the victims and their lives and honour their memory.
Listen to your LGBT friends. Don’t tell them how they should feel. Be there for them.
Accept how you’re feeling right now rather than fighting it. You might be forgetful or struggling with your day to day responsibilities. Honour your emotions rather than squashing them down.
Be patient with yourself and recognise that you’re responding to a traumatic event and it’s normal and human to feel deep emotions. Don’t try and self medicate with drugs or alcohol. Try to nurture your body as much as possible.
If you’re feeling like you are swamped with thoughts of how evil the world is I want you to proactively start focussing on the good in the world. You might want to focus on the outpouring of love and support for the victims all around the world or the messages of love conquering all. You might want to focus on small positive things in your life everyday, whether that’s a friend you have in your life you appreciate, a beautiful place you went to once, a happy memory or even youtube videos of cute bunnies or goats. It might seem silly and you might feel guilty but it will make a difference.
If you have lost family or friends in the shootings please be kind and patient with yourself. Grief is a process not an event. Everyone copes with grief differently. Please give yourself lots and lots of time to process things and work through your emotions. Reach out to a therapist for help.
If you have a LGBT son or daughter then be supportive, talk and listen to their experiences. How parents respond to their children’s sexuality has a huge impact on their children’s mental and emotional health.
There’s so much more I could have written here.. What about you? How are you coping in a post Orlando shooting world? Have any of these helped you?
Cat O Dowd
Creative Arts Psychotherapist, Sex Therapist, Relationship Counsellor.