Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sometimes "Close to Home" Isn't Close . . . Or Home

I was perusing the headlines from CNN before heading off to bed tonight when I saw one that read "5 Die in Gym Shooting Near Pittsburgh." This caught my attention because I lived in Pittsburgh for 9 years and still have dear friends there. I clicked through to the story for more details and found that the shooting was near Bridgeville, where I once worked when I was an itinerant teacher, but where I have no friends now, at a gym that doesn't ring a particular bell for me.

You might think I'd move on to the next story, or at least breathe a sigh of relief. And I guess I was a little relieved to realize that whatever awful thing may have happened didn't happen to anyone I know. I moved out of Pittsburgh more than 7 years ago, so letting this go should have been pretty easy. But the initial "Oh my God" reaction -- both cognitive and the physical "punch to the stomach" feeling -- remained, and I started looking for more information from the Pittsburgh media websites. The most complete and seemingly accurate coverage is from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

As I clicked around the web, I started to ask myself what I was looking for? True, I am just a news junkie, and nothing excites a news junkie like breaking news. But I think there are two other things going on. The first is that I was looking for additional confirmation that this didn't have any connection to me. One story wasn't enough. I needed to know it, and know it again. The second is that in the split second after I read that first headline, this story became mine even though it didn't have to be. I connected with it. And now, the fact that I don't know the victims or the perpetrator doesn't matter, because I've connected with the fact that someone knows them, and someone got that punch to the stomach and found out it was someone they know.

So what do you call this phenomenon? Secondary trauma is when you are traumatized by hearing about someone else's trauma. Perhaps it's that on a small scale. Countertransference is the over-identification, positively or negatively, with the people you're helping, but I'm not helping these people. I guess I would just say that this one hit a little too close to home, even though it's hundreds of miles away from my home. Sometimes your mind just works that way.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at www.SchoolCrisisConsultant.com
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