Coping with the Las Vegas Shooting: How to Respond When We Feel Powerless

October 3, 2017

It was the first thing we heard yesterday when we woke up here in Eastern Standard Time.  There had been another mass shooting, this time in Las Vegas at an outdoor music festival. It was the worst shooting in our national history, said the news. After the devastation and continuing crises in Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico, the news from Las Vegas was almost too much to bear.  Yesterday I heard a woman in a convenience store line say “turn off the news! Please!”  I also overheard someone on the phone ranting to their local member of congress.  On my Twitter feed there were expressions of rage, sadness, grief, numbness, and powerlessness.

I was reminded of psychiatrist, neurologist, and Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl.  In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, he asserted that even in the most dire situations each of us has a choice about how we will respond.

This morning when I checked my Twitter feed the first thing I saw was the message “You think you are powerless. But you’re not.”  I realized that our first reactions to avoid the reality of the news or lash out in anger are our defenses against the pain we feel when we experience or witness suffering and trauma.  When we feel overwhelmed, we also feel powerless.

But we’re not.  Moving through feelings of powerlessness, we can take the next steps of choosing how to respond.  It’s helpful to remember that we have circles of connection and that in each of these circles there are ways to make a difference in the face of tragedy.

  1. In the smallest circle, in the relationship we have with ourselves , we can engage in self compassion.  Each of us has ways to calm and care for ourselves and you know from experience what helps you feel better.   Be intentional about self care.  Plan to listen to music that lifts your mood, engage in the spiritual practice that brings you back to your center, go to the gym or sit outside in the October sun.
  2. In the circle of our family and friends we can reach out to give and receive support.  Call a friend and share how these events are having an impact on you.  Share reassuring hugs with those close to you.  Call a family member who lives alone and check in on them.  If there are children in you life, be sure to listen closely for signs of stress or anxiety.
  3. All of us are members of larger organizations like schools, faith communities and workplaces.  Some of these institutions will offer support groups or conversations to their members and to the community where you will experience that we are not alone in this.   There will also be relief efforts, fund raisers and ways to offer support to organizations on the ground giving direct care.
  4. No matter what your political point of view is, you probably have an idea of some of the root causes of the suffering that are the outcomes of tragedy and disaster.  If there is a public advocacy group that is working on behalf of a cause you believe in, make a commitment to volunteer or even make a financial contribution.  You could also find a political group that is working to change policies that trouble you.  These groups are a good way to work towards change as well as meet others who are working for the same cause.

The events of the past few weeks have been overwhelming. Our normal defenses of withdrawing or acting out are initially helpful to relieve immediate emotional pain but sooner or later we want to do more and be more.  It’s an old cliché now but it’s true;  Each of us can be the change we want to see in ourselves and the world.  And if you’re having trouble figuring out your next step, you can call me or another helper.  We’re listening.


Wanda Sevey, MDiv, LMFT

Director, Clergy Training, Postgraduate Program

Tel: 215.382.6680 ext. 7043