By: Dr. Jeremy Fink, LCSW Psy.D. | June, 6, 2018
When a school shooting occurs, as with all tragedies, there is a ripple effect, impacting the victims and the communities directly involved first, and then spreading out on a national level impacting us all. These horrific events challenge both parents and non parents, they are the stuff of nightmares.
However, the likelihood of a child being shot in a mass shooting is extremely low. A child is more likely to be killed or injured from a freak accident on the playground (or bicycling, choking on food, an airplane crash) than from a school shooting. Despite the media’s portrayal and the death toll tallies, believe it or not, deaths from these sort of incidents have been on the decline since the 1990’s.
I don’t mean to sound cold and calculating, waving statistics in hand. I'm also not interested in supporting the NRA, or firearm rights, or to take some other political stand. I am writing to you as someone who helps people overcome their anxieties and fears, and I want to let you know that the fear of school shootings is no different from any other anxiety or fear--it's just a state of mind.
If you or someone you know has been directly affected by a school shooter I mourn for you. I think that all of us as a nation mourn for you. But if you’re a parent, or a school employee, or a concerned member of the community that watches or reads about these incidents in the media and have reacted with unrelenting worry and anxiety, then you too are a victim, but not of a school shooting. You have become a victim of the psychology of fear.
Fear is a powerful and primitive emotion that alerts us to the presence of danger. It was critical in keeping primitive humans alive and out of the clutches of predators like lions and snakes (although most primitive humans probably died from disease and infection). And, no one understands this powerful emotion better than the media. Fear based news stories generate more profits; however, this can lead to mental (and physical) health problems for their audience--you and me.
The odds of you or your children getting killed in a mass shooting are 11,125 to 1. However, so many people are focussed on this fear that I would call it a common and chronic condition.
Some things to be mindful of:
Take a fear inventory. School shootings may be one of your fears, but there are likely many more. Be mindful of when these fears are triggered. Does watching or reading news make them worse?
How does fear of school shootings (or other fears) effect your relationship with your children? Does it make you less present as a parent? Does your fear affect your children, causing them worry and anxiety? Does your fear impair your ability to console your children?
When did these fears first begin for you? Have you always been fearful? Were your parents fearful, or the opposite, neglectful? Did your fears compound or worsen when you became a parent?
Good mental health is not an goal to be achieved but a practice to be exercised. The practice of ridding your life of the things that do not serve you or others is an important one, and too often we hoard things from our past that are no longer useful. Meditate on getting rid of these relics. Ask yourself if these worries truly protect you and your family, or is it the worrying itself that has become your life’s biggest impediment?