Getting Back to 'Normal' (Whatever That Is)How are we expected to move on with our lives, with holiday shopping, meal planning, cookie baking and parties after what happened in Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 14, 2012?

On the day of the shooting I went to two holiday parties where everyone carefully avoided talking about what happened just hours earlier. It was weird and a relief at the same time.

Someone wrote that even those of us far away from the incident still may need to go through the five stages of grief as described by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.

The day it happened, as we discovered the horror, many of us clung to the denial and bargaining phases. We did not want to believe we were all so vulnerable and made up reasons to avoid going there. Some just went straight to anger, even depression. None of us was ready for acceptance.

As with any act of terrorism, if we give in to depression and anger and let it obliterate the happy and good in the world, the terrorists win.

Now for our spirit’s sake we need to give ourselves permission to engage in the brightness and goodness of life. But how?

In cognitive-behavioral therapy we learn that our thoughts affect how we feel. And when our thoughts skew to the dark side the result can be feelings of anxiety or depression, sometimes both.

We can easily identify our negative, judging thoughts: “I must be a bad person that I want to be happy when there are parents whose little child died violently.” It’s harder to look for the reasonable thought that brings us back to a real place of balance: “I am not a bad person. I feel empathy for those who lost a cherished loved one. I can feel bad for them and still wish to be happy at the same time.”

Life is not purely negative or purely positive. Life can be a confusing, messy mix of both light and dark. The result is not just the grey between the black and white but a 3D Technicolor full spectrum of thought and feeling.

The key to getting back to normal is to tolerate the ambivalence. Be OK with it. Recognize it as normal and human. Exercise compassion not just for the victims in Newtown but also for yourself.


Photo courtesy of bradwilsonem via Flickr.



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    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 20 Dec 2012
    Published on All rights reserved.

APA Reference
Aletta, E. (2012). Getting Back to ‘Normal’ (Whatever That Is). Psych Central. Retrieved on January 26, 2015, from


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