On what would have been a typical November evening, Paris, and the world, were rocked by a series of terrorist attacks including suicide bombings and mass shootings. As with the World Trade Center bombing, psychological responses to these events varied. atombash.com recently had a chance to interview trauma expert Shari Botwin, LCSW, about the recent terrorism in Paris, and Shari has been able to provide some insight into the positives that can be done to mitigate problems. Thank you, Shari, for sharing your insights with the atombash.community.
Heidi Dalzell, PsyD, for atombash.com: The world was shocked to hear about the recent terrorist attacks that recently plagued the city of Paris. What has most impressed you with the situation as you have observed it?
Shari Botwin, LCSW: For the last three days the media has been talking to survivors, bystanders and family members of those injured and killed. It is heart breaking as I listen to people recount their stories of horror. What struck me, however, is the power of connection as those affected conduct vigils around the country and around the world. One survivor said “just knowing I am not alone provides me with some comfort in a time of devastation.”
HD: That statement is a very powerful one. Why do you think that this bystander was so impacted by the sense of not being “alone”?
SB: Very early in my career as an eating disorder and trauma therapist I recognized the need for survivors to have a place to feel heard and less alone. As a therapist and an abuse survivor myself I do what I can to instill hope and lessen the shame and isolation that comes with having an eating disorder and surviving trauma. There is nothing more powerful than hearing from someone else who has a similar experience or can identify with the grief and pain that comes from such incomprehensible life events.
HD: If you could paint a picture of what that would look like in Paris, what would you envision?
SB: I picture some of the families in Paris forming groups to process and digest their grief about such a horrific loss of life. It is crucial for anyone affected by traumas like the terrorist massacre to begin speaking out. Giving voice to trauma helps survivors minimize the potential to develop self-destructive tendencies such as, eating disorders.
HD: So, with that statement, you are suggesting that there is a strong connection between unprocessed trauma and self-destructive behaviors. Is that correct?
SB: Yes. Research shows that over half of the patients checking into rehabs and hospitals for eating disorders have a history of trauma. Many of the patients who enter counseling and join my therapy groups have been walking around repressed and in silence. As a result, they resort to symptoms such as, restricting, binging, purging and obsessing about their weight. This keeps the emotions resulting from their traumas hidden from their conscious selves.
HD: So with the connections you are observing in Paris, it sounds like you see some hope in the present situation?
SB: The hope I see in the Paris massacre coverage is that victims are speaking out, creating support systems and finding a way to get the world to listen. It may seem so insignificant in light of such tragedy. However, what I have learned is that words of love, acceptance and understanding can heal years of hurt and pain. I have seen women who have been abused, abandoned, and lost children or family under terrible circumstances etc. They want to recover from their traumas and find ways to let go of the their eating disorders so they can live full lives.
HD: Do you believe that people can heal from traumas such as the one that occurred in Paris, and the other traumas you mentioned?
SB: The possibilities are endless once someone owns her experience and decides not to rely on and eating disorder to cope. People go from being depressed, restricted, and tortured by their own thoughts to having babies, getting married and breaking the cycle of abuse as they allow themselves to share in a safe and accepting environment.
Shari Botwin, LCSW, has been providing counseling through her private practice in Cherry Hill, New Jersey for over 18 years. She is currently working on her second book, Conquering Trauma: A Healing Guide for Survivors and Families.” Shari’s specialties include working with eating disorders and counseling men, women and teenagers who survived a variety of trauma. She is a frequent writer, guest interviewee and educator about trauma and disordered eating. For more information see http://www.sharibotwin.com/.