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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Survivor Guilt, Vagus Nerve, and Bach Flower Pine

It's pretty hard to turn on a television, a radio, open a newspaper, or scan the Internet these days without being flooded with images and sounds that tug on the vagus nerve and our sense of empathy. 

A lot of the events that are being covered in my part of the world at least, really seem to carry a component of  "could have been me". We are seeing  floodings that cause mass evacuations, at the same time there are wildfires in other parts of the county.  These events could happen to anyone and that fact alone tugs on that vagus nerve.  One of the most shocking events perhaps, is the on-going rescue from a collapsed roof in a mall in Ontario. On the grand scale of things, "only" a dozen people are trappped, and possibily killed. It isn't a huge event, yet it's getting a lot of attention, and a lot of media coverage. It  is raising a lot of questions. It's also stimulating a lot of vagus nerve reaction in my opinion.

When I see people interviewed that are close to the event, I see, what I believe to be,  a lot of "survivor guilt".  This is a common phenomenon during tragic events. It's very prevalent among First Responders. It can be a contributing factor for Post Traumatic Stress Disorders. You see the horrific things that have happened to those around you and can't determine why you have been spared such horror.  You start to feel a sense of guilt that you survived what others didn't. We walk this fine line between feeling a sense of relief that our house isn't being washed away, our backyards aren't on fire, and our loved ones aren't trapped under rubble, and feeling guilty because our house is still standing just fine, our backyard isn't on fire and all our loved ones are accounted for. Even closer to the event, it's common to feel guilty that you got out of that mall somehow when others were left behind.  People start to question whether or not they should have done something they didn't. We feel responsible for the tragedy of others and guilty that we couldn't intervene somehow.

So we blame ourselves. And when we can't handle that level of angst we throw it back onto someone else as displacement behavior.  We blame the government for not putting more money into rescue operations, or for making the decisions they did. We blame the responders for not acting quickly enough or agressively enough. We blame corporations for creating structures that appear to be flawed, or building housing where natural disasters can occur. And the list goes on and on and on, until it comes right back to each of us personally, and we wonder deep in our hearts, why we are left when others aren't.

I also believe we feel some guilt over the connections we didn't quite see prior to a tradegy and the opportunities we think we have missed.  Maybe if you were in the mall that morning you bought a cup of coffee in that food court or a lottery ticket at the kiosk and you didn't really pay much attention to the interaction you had with that worker.  Maybe you didn't really acknowledge them, smile, or say something special. Had you known what was going to happen to them, you surely would have done something more significant- at least thanked them for being there? And the guilt mounts...

Survivor guilt is real and ligitmate and can be destructive to self and others. It isn't helpful.  But it also doesn't help to blame yourself for having a sense of blame!! So along with the heavy equipment that is rolling in to various areas of the countries and the specialized teams of responders, I wish we could roll in some compassion, some understanding, some honest recognition of the connection we all feel, and a case or two of the Bach Flower essence Pine.

Pine is indicated when you have a sense of guild and self-reproach. You blame yourself for everything that seems to have gone in the world.  You feel undeserving and unworthy.  You think you haven't done enough no matter how hard you tried. The joy of living is lost because you feel so guilty for not using your gift of life to the greatest advantage.

Julian Barnard, in Bach Flower Remedies Form & Function, writes the Pine condition develops over time.  For First Responders it can develop over extended operational periods, or years of seeing tragedy happen to others. As the world comes into our living rooms via live coverage of events, we experience that development as well. 

Dr. Bach wrote that the postive aspect of the Bach Flower Pine is to  "allow the Universal Love to flow through us to others". Hmm...

Again, it seems the "trick" to balance is to allow the flow rather than block, stop, or displace our emotions onto someone or something else.  It's about feeling the impact of tradegy and realizing that we are connected, we do feel a sense of the angst, but our job is not to fix it. At least not in the ways we might imagine.

Perhaps the answer is not to critcize the goverment, analyze the decisions that were made from our arm chair views, and try to find a reason why we are different or not connected. Any of those events could happen to any one of us. But they didn't.  That's not our journey right now.  And if we were supposed to fix or intervene, or experience it, we would have "been there done that".

It is our job to play our role and that's it. And perhaps playing our role involves some sort of energetic connection with others that doesn't involve "doing" but is about "being". Perhaps by tuning up our vagus nerve and allowing emotions to flow we do help others that are in the position to make a difference. Maybe it isn't about shutting off that connection but about feeling the loving connection.  Maybe it's not just about feeling that connection with the victims but also with the responders and with each other. I think that's what Dr. Bach meant when he talked about letting Universal love flow. Maybe when you pick up your coffee this morning, or you lottery ticket, or buy that item in the mall you'll allow yourself to connect just a bit with that stranger, not because it's your duty or your responsibility to make them feel good, just because we are all "in this together". Maybe instead of cricitizing the rescue efforts, we should just appreciate how difficult a task it must be.

In the face of all this tragedy, in a balanced Pine state, you don't judge yourself or ourselves. You accept yourself and your judgements.  You accept yourself as a person of power and value- exactly how you are right now. And with that acceptance comes acceptance of others and an acceptance of their decisions, judgements and actions.

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