Why another blog on 9/11?
Because I want to remember this date by offering something that hopefully can shed further light on some of the repercussions of the fateful events of ten years ago.
As a psychotherapist, I am deeply aware of the importance of traumatic events that occur unpredictably and seemingly without any logical reason, such as the events of 9/11 ten years ago. These events affected each of us individually as well as collectively.
We know that the goal of terrorism isn’t only or even primarily to cause physical destruction, but mainly and more subtlety to cause psychological damage to the people targeted by these heinous and random acts.
The main psychological damage of the 9/11 events is that it forever changed the sense of security each of had prior to that day.
Feeling safe is an important need that all humans have. We seek security from birth on, by developing attachment bonds to people we believe will protect us and take care of us, thus creating and preserving a sense of security and emotional and physical safety that we all need. As we grow up, we continue to maintain this need for safety and achieve it by creating relationships and environments around us that keep dangers at bay. In this way, we can keep fear and anxiety under control.
Prior to 9/11 most of the people living in his country felt safe. Though aware of dangers in the world, in fact, most of us in this country nonetheless felt we had a level of safety that allowed us to pursue our goals and interests. After September 11, however, this sense of safety disappeared and our views of life and the world changed forever.
So, what happens when this feeling of security disappears?
Social psychologists tell us that we tend to react to the loss of perceived security in two ways: by feeling “moral outrage” and a need for “moral cleansing.”
Moral outrage is triggered by ANGER, which pushes us to seek vengeance, to direct our feelings toward the people whom we believe responsible for the terrorist attacks, or to people who are close to them (like people of the same ethnic background, of the same religion, similar political views, and so on.)
More cleansing is triggered by FEAR, which pushes us to adopt those behaviors that tend to reduce our fear by recreating a belief in fundamental goodness and in positive values (offering help, volunteering, getting closer to family, friends, community and people directly affected by the attack.) If we look back at the last ten years, we can see examples of both.
Ten years on, what can we do with what we have learned from this horrific tragedy?
If I were to summarize in a few words the biggest lesson of 9/11, this is what I would say: We learned that we need to acknowledge both our fears and our anger, and channel these legitimate feelings in behaviors and public policies that acknowledge our emotions and express them in healthy, balanced and constructive ways by reinforcing physical and emotional security. We also learned that we need to keep the memories of that day fresh in everybody’s mind, so that we strengthen and reinforce the ties that were built on the loss of many lives and the pain of those left behind.