On Her Own

Managing Someone Else’s Trauma: Some Thoughts on 9/11

Today is a day of remembrance. In true social media fashion, it’s also a day of forced remembrance. I’d like to suggest that some of what’s showing up and being amplified in our feeds isn’t necessarily the kind of reminder that helps the people for whom nineteen years has not yet been long enough to blunt the edges of memories that never leave them, no matter what the date is on the calendar.

Traumatic events, whether directly or indirectly experienced, leave mental and emotional scars. How difficult those injuries are to bear is highly individual, and science tells us little about who will be affected greatly and who won’t. Even though the effects aren’t physical, they’re like physical wounds that can have complications, take too long to heal, and remain painful after the initial trauma is healed. Being sensitive to those hurts and supportive of those who suffer them even when we don’t know that they exist or understand why they persist…that’s part of being a compassionate person.

What does that sensitivity look like?

Not everyone wants to talk about or remember the details of the day. That doesn’t mean they’ve forgotten that it happened, but they’d very much like to not refresh those memories for you. It can be healing to treat today like every other day. For some, it is because their every day includes memories of those details. For others, it’s because they need to not reopen that wound and instead, want to add beautiful memories to this anniversary.

As a side note, posting visual reminders of horrifying scenes may feel cathartic, and may feel like they’ll make a more lasting impression on folks who seem to have forgotten. But they may also be triggers in the true PTSD survivor sense. Think twice before you breathe fresh life into those images, and remember too that there are people who are desperately trying to erase them from their nightmares.

If they’d like to talk about the event? Then support it. As my therapist says, hold space for them. Allow them to speak, to remember, to take the story where it goes for them. Simply listen. There’s no need to offer reassurances or platitudes. Instead, strive for acknowledgment and understanding. That includes holding that space not just today, but any day that it’s needed.

And hey? Something bad happening once on this calendar date doesn’t mean it should forever be relegated to being a day for bad things only. The flip side of death is life, and one of the best ways we beat death and we beat those who want us to die is ensure that our lives don’t revolve around them. So go. Make a memory that makes you smile when September 11 pops up on the calendar.

I’m not saying to not remember history. But remember that today, only nineteen years later, it’s still too fresh in some minds. Be careful to remember that too when you post.

Hi, I'm Annette.

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