How to Cope With Feeling Vulnerable Due to Terrorism and Gun Violence

Terrorism, shootings and other traumatic events can lead to discomfort

Close-Up Of Handgun And Bullets
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Living during an age of terror, mass shootings and catastrophes generally has left many Americans feeling vulnerable. Not knowing when the next terrorist act or mass shooting will occur has shaken our belief that we are immune from danger. The possibility of death from a terrorist attack or being gunned down during a senseless shooting has emerged as a top fear for Americans. 

Why Feeling Vulnerable Is Uncomfortable

We don't like to feel vulnerable.

Hurt and vulnerability are two of the most difficult emotions for most of us. Almost any emotion is easier to tolerate. Getting angry at someone who hurt us is often a way to not feel hurt or vulnerable. Even depression, in the form of "feeling sorry" for ourselves, is easier to tolerate.

People don't like to feel vulnerable for very long. Instead of feeling this way, they channel their emotions into other feelings instead. Two of the most common responses to feeling vulnerable are:

  • Getting Angry.  If we feel hurt or vulnerable, we frequently want to strike back at the other party. Our anger gives us back a feeling of power. Instead of the scary feeling of being vulnerable to being hurt, we are hurting someone else.  
  • Getting Depressed. When we pull back into our shell we don't feel quite as vulnerable. While depression often has it roots in brain chemistry, at other times depression is a response to a situation. 

    An Inescapable Feeling

    As much as we don't like feeling vulnerable, there are times when we truly are. Not too long ago, many of us felt invulnerable to terrorism. In hindsight, this feeling of invulnerability was not realistic. As fierce as our military might be, we remain vulnerable to terrorism--at home and abroad.


    Another factor in our reaction to terror is our denial of death. Denial is a defense mechanism that is usually considered to be pathological. To use denial as a defense is to simply act as if something is not true. It flies in the face of reality - except when we deny death and act as if we won't die. In order to keep on living, most of us do this every day. 

    The denial of death is a little like driving down a two-lane road with cars coming at us in the other lane.  In order to drive on such roads, we pretend that the line painted in the middle of the road is a physical barrier and that cars can't hit us. If we worried about every car that we met crossing the line and hitting us, we would be unable to drive. 

    Wrapping Up

    Warnings about possible terrorist attacks leave many of us feeling helpless. Following any new terrorist attacks, many of us will again see potential terrorists every time we fly, go to work or enter a crowded venue. We will wonder about the guy in the shadows who looks a little different from us.

    Our denial of the reality of terrorism has broken down, and we feel vulnerable. It's up to us what we do with those feelings.

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