Why It’s OK for Parents and Anxious Kids to Use Mental Tricks to Feel Safer after Tragedy

When it comes to dealing with tragedies like the Connecticut school shooting, many experts advise facing the reality of the situation. Psychologist Camille Johnson, however, says it’s perfectly OK to employ a few mental tricks to help us and our anxious children get through the horror of it all.

“To cope with this tragedy, we all create distance between ourselves and the victims,” Johnson writes at Psychology Today. “In order to function in our day-to-day lives, we must move from empathy to sympathy.”

She then offers up a few of the tricks that adults and anxious children alike may employ subconsciously to create the psychological distance that makes us feel safer.

The just world hypothesis.  This belief system holds that things happen in this world for a reason: bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people. Believing this provides a sense of control – if we are good people, these bad things won’t happen to us.  

Counterfactuals are alternative versions of reality that generally pivot on a specific, salient, event that alters all future events. For example, if you arrived late for an important meeting, you might think that if you hadn’t spilled coffee on your shirt, you would have been on time. In the case of terrible events like these, people search for moments where things could have gone differently. And, they think about how they can make specific choices, and therefore avoid a particular reality. 

Finding differences. We create distance by finding comparing ourselves to the victims and finding differences.  These differences are not necessarily things that make us better or worse than the victims, but simply reduce the perceived likelihood that it could ever happen to us. When postal workers shot their colleagues, we could comfort ourselves that we weren’t postal workers. 

Read Johnson’s full article: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/its-all-relative/201212/creating-psychological-safety-after-tragedy