It seems to me that we are experiencing trauma at a rate that we have never been exposed to previously. This morning, the first thing I heard from my husband was that there was a mass shooting in Vegas. There was a time in my life that the phrase mass shooting would have been meaningless. When he said that this morning, I had flashbacks to Columbine and Sandy Hook and all the other countless mass acts of violence that have seeped in to our collective consciousness. “Why are we being so mean to each other?” was the question I asked my husband in my half-awake state this morning. I’ve reflected on that question all day.

Surely, I don’t have an answer for that question. I do have some thoughts though. Thoughts about how we spend our minutes, our days, our weeks, our months and our years. Largely, we spend them disconnected. Many of us spend them hiding from the world because the criticism and the judgement we’ve faced when we stepped out into the world has been so painful. The pain of that criticism continues to sting despite the ongoing kindnesses that exist. Pain is powerful. When I went to Tony Robbins’ Unleash the Power Within event this summer I participated in an event that helped change my life. It was an excruciating exercise and the point of it was to use the power of pain to help us move away from things – patterns and behaviors we no longer wanted in our lives. The exercise had us revisit the long held negative beliefs that keep us in our loop. An arena of 14,000 people wailed and screamed and let loose and when I opened my eyes I expected to see demons floating through the room. Tony made the people I shared this arena with go through this exercise because it is his belief that change only happens from a place of pain. In other words, people don’t make the necessary changes in their life in efforts to achieve pleasure: they are more motivated to change the stuck places of their lives to avoid pain. Many people left that experience and shed unwanted pounds, left miserable relationships and quit jobs they never should have been at.

There are lots of different ways to hide from our pain and some of them even seem like entertainment. I know lots of people who hide from their pain in Candy Crush. There is nothing inherently wrong with Candy Crush or any similar game, however playing the game while we’re supposed to be working or during designated time with our loved ones is the hiding that I’m speaking of. Who doesn’t love a good cupcake? How could a cupcake be a “bad” thing? Of course, cupcakes aren’t bad (heavens no!), but when we dive into the center of a cupcake to avoid the interactions at work or the unmanaged trouble at home, we’re lost. I even know some people who get lost in their work. This is the trickiest of all hiding spaces. Tricky because the rest of the world sees what you’re doing and praises you for it. There are few folks willing to congratulate us for eating a dozen donuts, but if we work a 12-hour day – they’re lining up to tell us how exemplary our behavior is. How confusing must that be for someone? They don’t feel good, they’re exhausted, the rest of their life is in shambles, but we’re all telling them we want to be like them.

The thing about pain that we don’t necessarily want to hear is that it doesn’t go away no matter how many hours of Candy Crush we play or however many Krispy Kreme’s we consume. Instead, my pain bumps into your pain at the supermarket or Target or the movies. And when my pain bumps into your pain it looks like something else. It looks like anger or rage, indifference and even intolerance. Sometimes an individual’s pain is so big and it’s been stuffed down for so long that someone can feel justified in almost any action in defense of themselves. When we don’t find a way to process our pain, the pain can get quite distorted and we can feel especially lonely in the distortion. Lonely can be a dangerous island to inhabit. We were put here by whomever decided we belong here as a collective group and when our distorted pain/loneliness leaves us feeling outside of that group we are very capable of not only hurting ourselves, but of hurting others. It is very true that we all have a powerful need for belonging.

I can hear the critics on this piece already. Just because someone is seeking understanding doesn’t mean they are justifying behavior. There is no justification for mass shootings, that I am certain of. I became a counselor in an effort to better understand and attempt to figure out why people do the things they do. I became a counselor to be able to help people recognize their own ability to make things different. We are more similar to one another than we are different and without getting all preachy on that topic (I’ll leave that for the zealots and politicians) I’d like us to consider not only our own pain, but the pain of others. Compassion and empathy can never be weaponized: their power lies in the realm of contagion.

Lydia Kickliter, LPC

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