'It Does Feel Like It's Happening All The Time': Why Some Feel Numb To News Of Gun Violence | Texas Public Radio

'It Does Feel Like It's Happening All The Time': Why Some Feel Numb To News Of Gun Violence

Jan 10, 2020
Originally published on January 10, 2020 3:16 pm

The shooting at a church in White Settlement nearly two weeks ago is just one of many incidents of public gun violence Americans have faced in recent years. 

Experts say the barrage of news about these attacks can make people numb to the tragedies.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott spoke about the attack at the West Freeway Church of Christ earlier this week after a meeting of the state's Domestic Terrorism Task Force, which was created in response to last year's mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso.

"We did talk in this meeting about that shooting and some aspects of it, such as, among other things, the display of it on social media where everybody could see it and the consequences of that," Abbott said.

The church was live-streaming its Sunday service, and video footage of the attack that killed two people was broadcast online. Abbott said the event is still being evaluated as a possible act of terror. An official motive has not been released.

As the investigation continues, the church has resumed its regular services. In fact, worshippers returned to the sanctuary just a day after the shooting for a church-wide meeting.

Returning to the place where a tragedy took place can help build mental resilience, says Vaile Wright, director of research and special projects at the American Psychological Association. 

"When approaching a space is safe, like going back to the church, the house of worship, we really encourage people to do that," Wright said. "Because what it enables you to do is feel like you have some sense of control."

Wright said people tend to think of houses of worship as safe spaces. When that security is threatened, the loss of control can be unnerving.

"So some people can actually start thinking that no place is safe, when in reality, the whole world is not a dangerous place," she said. "But unfortunately, bad things can happen anywhere, and to good people."

There are a number of psychological responses to an attack like this, according to Wright, and people find different ways to make sense of the situation.

"We do things like rationalize, or we seek reassurance from others that everything's going to be OK," Wright said. "We do a lot of compulsive checking on our phones, looking for new information about the situation, and of course none of these actions actually generally do make us feel better."

Still, others can start to feel numb to the seemingly endless drumbeat of stories about violent attacks.

"Over time, something that is shocking or stressful or terrible becomes less so because you do start to get kind of used to it," Wright said. "So even though, statistically speaking, these are low probability events, they are happening way too often."

According to Wright, there may be a psychological process called habituation at play — meaning the more we hear about shootings in public spaces, the less of an impression that news can make.

"With the way that we consume news and consume information right now and how visual it is, it does feel like it's happening all the time," she said. "So I think that we are just kind of becoming numb to it." 

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