School shootings and suicide have been making headlines and are an incredibly touchy topic in our society right now. The suicide rates are rapidly growing in the United States.
It is the second leading cause of death for teens and 10th leading cause of death in the Western culture.
Suicide, homicidal acts, and bullying are epidemics that have caused deep pain, fear, and hopelessness for many on a national level.
Many wonder why these traumatic events are occurring and climbing in number. But, rather than ask the question of why, we can ask ourselves what we can do to be proactive in decreasing the frequency of these life-altering and fatal occurrences.
I’ve created this mini series to help guide you towards healthy ways you can create meaningful shifts within your families, schools, and society, and adopt the role as a contributing member of society.
Here are a couple of these pointers to get us started:
1. Change starts from within yourself.
People bully, gossip, or point out each other’s flaws because it is easier than coming to terms with deep pains and struggles that they may have internalized. Some individuals aren’t self-aware of their emotions, but we all experience sadness, grief, shame, and fear.
It’s easier, really, to project your own pain and discomfort onto others. Children and adolescents who are developmentally experiencing heightened physical, hormonal, psychological, and emotional changes are often super uncomfortable with themselves and will conform to what the other kids may be saying or doing. Everyone wants to be the cool kid. If you point out someone else’s weaknesses and flaws, then there is less focus on yours, right?
In order for authentic and long-standing change to occur, we must start from within; acknowledging our struggles and giving voice to our emotions. This makes us healthier and happier partners, parents, professionals, friends, and individuals. We have to do our work first. In family therapy, we look at how small shifts can create a magnitude of changes within a system. These small shifts create ripple effects, leading to opportunities for healthier outcomes and, in this example, less harm or fatality.
How brave might a person be if they were to ask, “what could I have done differently in that situation,” or “how did I contribute to the argument and feud?” How would your significant other or loved one respond if you were to only focus on your part and take accountability for your actions, rather than criticizing or fixating on them and their mistakes?
Counseling is a great platform to start this process of changing within yourself, whether it is individual, couples, and/or family therapy. We can all use someone to talk and vent to, explore and learn with, process with, feel safe with, and practice building a secure relationship.
2. We need to stop labeling and start supporting others.
When our partners, family members, colleagues, peers, acquaintances, or even strangers are in struggle, we can be quick to judge and label them. “Oh gosh, did you hear about Betty Sue, she fell in the deep end after her divorce and went crazy,” or “What’s with Joe, he’s off the wall. He can’t sit still ever and he’s always fighting with his peers. He’s such a bad kid.” Think about the homeless gentleman with the sign “cold, homeless, and hungry.”
We want to label and pathologize (or diagnose) everything because on some level it is how we make sense of the person or situation. When we attach negative connotations and labels to others, it makes it hard for us (and sometimes even them) to believe they could be any different.
Change can be difficult for someone who may carry extensive trauma or grew up in a dysfunctional household. It can also be challenging when there are disruptions in the home like divorce or loss. Maybe the individual has learned that raising his voice or expressing the emotion of anger was the way of survival. While we may be quick to judge why a person acts the way they do, it will serve us and the relationship, better to come from a place of curiosity and seeking to understand one another more deeply.
We are social beings and yearn for connection. Rather than labeling and categorizing others as “emotional,” “angry,” “cheater,” “terrible child,” “crazy,” we need to build each other up and see the individual beyond the poor choices and coping that we at times engage in – We need to go beyond the surface level and masks that many people put on. Besides, when heightened emotions occur, our thinking brains goes out the door!
When we choose to support others, we create room for people to step out of the box that labels often put them in, allowing room for growth and change. You really have no idea what struggles the person next to you may be experiencing. Choose to have hope and support others.
So, what are some ways you can begin supporting someone who might feel judged, unsupported, or unloved in your environment? Can you think of small, yet significant shifts you can begin making in your life or relationships to foster connection, understanding, or maybe just more self-awareness.
Thanks for reading and for being a part of a necessary conversation. Stay tuned for part 2, coming soon!