Dr. Saliha Afridi, Clinical Psychologist and Managing Director of The LightHouse Arabia, explains how to manage collective grief as we witness ongoing acts of violence in Gaza
In recent weeks, the world has borne witness to the heart-wrenching events unfolding in Palestine. The distressing images and harrowing narratives emanating from Gaza have not just been news clips; they have permeated our consciousness, evoking powerful reactions and stirring profound emotions within us all. The collective psyche has been shaken, as we grapple with the weight of the suffering and anguish laid bare before our eyes.
Most of us are feeling confused and disoriented as we are experiencing all the symptoms of collective grief. Emotionally, we feel the whole spectrum of emotions from being numb to raging anger and everything in between. Physically we feel tired, nauseous, struggling with aches and pains, as we find ourselves sleeping too much or unable to sleep at all. At work or in school, we are unable to focus, we feel detached, foggy, preoccupied with the images and videos of the bombings and mass graves in Gaza. Yet, even when the feelings are so heightened, there are those amongst us who are dismissing and denying their grief as they force themselves to ‘go on’ with business as usual. They tell themselves, “I have no right to grieve…I didn’t know them” or “But I am not Palestinian” or “life has to go on” as the shove aside images of Palestinian mothers holding their dead children into some corner of their mind–not realising that this grief, this pain that we all are feeling is real and what is happening to the Palestinians is not happening to someone far away, but to all of us where ever we are.
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So, how do we anchor ourselves through such difficult times of collective grief?
Recognise the legitimacy of your feelings: Grief is a multifaceted response to loss, and it’s crucial to understand that your reactions, be it sorrow, anger, or helplessness, are both natural and valid. Dismissing or denying these feelings can complicate the feelings. By accepting them, you’re acknowledging your humanity and the depth of your empathy. To truly address and process these emotions, designate specific moments in your day solely for reflection. Consider simplifying your schedule, eliminating non-essential tasks or events. This dedicated time allows for introspection, helping you navigate and eventually find your centre amidst the storm of emotions.
Share your pain with your community: Grief, especially collective grief, is not meant to be carried alone. And while the pain is collective, so is the healing. The word grief comes from the Latin word gravis, which means “heavy.” Engaging with others helps distribute the emotional weight. Be it attending vigils, participating in online forums, or simply lighting a candle at home for the affected – collective actions can be therapeutic. Talk to friends or join support groups where you can discuss feelings and thoughts related to your grief. Hearing others can be validating and provide a sense of shared humanity.
Transmute your painful feelings into compassion and kindness: Overwhelming guilt, sadness, and anger can be paralyzing. The key is transmutation – converting the energy of the difficult emotions into something constructive. A few ways to do this is by channelling those feelings into acts of kindness in your community. You can also use your position of relative safety to raise awareness, advocate for change, or support relief efforts. Often times we feel that the ‘small’ efforts don’t make a difference, but every effort you make sends ripples through the universe. Remember, all you can do is do all you can.
Use social media consciously: Turning off social media at this time does not seem to be an option for many people who feel they must use their platforms to engage in social activism, raise awareness, or show solidarity for those who are grieving. Be mindful of your exposure not by disconnecting but by selecting. Choose trusted sources and engage with them deeply rather than skimming over multiple platforms, which can be overwhelming for the mind. Delve into comprehensive pieces from scholars so that you can develop your understanding about the history of Palestine. Expect that all content will be distressing so prepare yourself mentally before looking at it. Set specific times for consumption and create breaks in between to process and reflect on the information. This ensures that you’re not just absorbing distressing content, but also understanding, contextualising, and responding to it in a meaningful way.
Reconnect with the here and now and do it often: When overwhelmed, your body can be your anchor. Grounding exercises help pull you back from spiralling emotions into the present moment.
5-4-3-2-1 Technique: Identify five things you can see, four you can touch, three you can hear, two you can smell, and one you can taste. This sensory exercise swiftly reconnects you with your environment.
Physical Activity: Engage in activities that help discharge emotional energy, like walking, yoga, or even simply stretching.
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We find ourselves in challenging times, bearing the weight of the events in a way previous generations didn’t. While we cannot shield ourselves from the pain of the world, we possess the tools and inner strength to process, understand, and navigate these complex emotions. Through mindful engagement, communal processing, and personal grounding, we can weather this storm, emerging with deeper empathy and resilience.
Dr. Saliha Afridi PsyD is a Clinical Psychologist and Managing Director of The LightHouse Arabia.