Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Coping with Our Thoughts and Feelings Following Mass Shootings

10 ways to help us focus on the precious parts of life.

  • Hearing about mass shootings can bring about strong reactions, which can make it difficult to be in the present moment.
  • Our feelings may breed concerns about our “weakness” or “insensitivity,” for example, leading us to question our identities.
  • When people are faced with death, common regrets include not spending enough time with loved ones, not being fully present, and not taking good care of themselves.
  • Some ways to live more meaningfully include considering whether you are spending enough time with loved ones, challenging yourself, and being more grateful for what you have.

A name and brief bio are offered in several media outlets of the victims from the Atlanta, Georgia and Boulder, Colorado mass shootings. I teeter on wanting to know more about each of them, and not wanting to know. I am fearful that if I “know” them, my pain will intensify, and I will perseverate over my sorrow for each of them.

Daniel Reche/Pexels
Source: Daniel Reche/Pexels

I will have a visual — a name, a picture, and a profound story. I am not sure whether I want to get that intimate, and as a result of that knowledge, I’m concerned how it will emotionally impact me.

I can’t help but think of all the family members. Children who have lost their parents, parents who have lost their children, all tragically and prematurely. In a blink of an eye, their lives are lost.

How We Cope with Our Thoughts and Feelings

We all seem to be caught up in thinking and judging ourselves as a result of our reaction to the string of mass shootings. The judgment is elicited by the way in which we cope with our thoughts and feelings relative to these atrocities.

It tends to be a combination of being dismissive of our feelings, feeling profoundly saddened and mournful, and becoming considerably anxious about the possibility of a mass shooting directly impacting us, our families, and those we know and love.

Practicing mindfulness and being in the present moment becomes increasingly more challenging when there is a flurry of negative thoughts and feelings that enter and exit our minds and when we feel personally threatened.

In these instances, we are more inclined to dismiss or defend against these thoughts and feelings because of the intense level of discomfort. Also, the more negative and less favorable thoughts and feelings lead us to question and worry about who we truly are and what we’re all about.

How Our Thoughts Challenge Our Self-Perceptions

Thoughts like, “I want the shooter dead” or “I can imagine myself being the next victim” or “I can’t waste my time thinking about this because it’s too distressing” are fraught with very strong thoughts and feelings about how people view themselves.

I have heard, “I have always thought of myself as a kind humanistic person, how could I wish someone dead?” or “What’s wrong with me that I can’t get this out of my mind, and I continue to think of it?” or “Have I become so hardened and cold that I’m becoming immune to all of this?” These thoughts can be unsettling and can cause us to question our identity.

I find our understandably strong feelings are breeding concerns about our “meanness,” “weakness,” “insensitivity,” “aloofness,” etc. It is challenging to practice mindfulness when all we want to do is run away from our mind, rather than lean in toward it.

It becomes way too threatening and uncomfortable when we question who we fundamentally are. We do what we are taught to do and what we naturally do as human beings, we dismiss, avoid, minimize, and rationalize our thoughts and feelings because, in these instances, they become too much to bear.

We Are All Traumatized

We are all personally traumatized. Whether it is because our perception about the world or about people in general has been challenged, whether we’re observing disturbing and distressing scenes and feel unearthed, or whether we come face to face with our human vulnerability in regard to our fragility and mortality.

It is exasperating to think about how vulnerable we are and how precious our lives truly are. In one moment, we could be active and well, and in another moment, we can face death head-on.

When actually faced with death, what people end up regretting most is: not being loving enough, not spending enough time with their loved ones, not being in the “now” to appreciate and enjoy precious moments and experiences, not appreciating and showing gratitude for all that they had, not taking enough risk and/or challenging themselves, not taking good enough care of themselves, and not choosing work that was meaningful enough for them.

How to Live an Enriched Life

Think for a moment about whether you are harboring regrets, which undoubtedly carries with it guilt. Are you able to get in touch with what you would regret if it were your last days? How many of us fully live in the moment and as if it is our last and final day? I expect we would be living differently if we had that sentiment formatively in our minds day in and day out.

We can all do a better job to live life more mindfully and meaningfully. There are ways that we can facilitate mindful living and purposefully paying attention to the precious moments, experiences, people, and things that surround us every day.

Think about:

  1. Whether you are being kind, caring, compassionate and open to others (thoughts, feelings, opinions, experiences, etc.) or whether you approach others with suspicion, frustration, disappointment, etc.
  2. If you are spending ample time being with loved ones. This encapsulates both the quantity and quality of the time. Also, whether you are continually expressing your thoughts and feelings and sentiments of kindness and love to them.
  3. Whether your interactions are joyful, enriching, and meaningful. Also, that this shared time involves you being fully present and keenly paying attention during your time together.
  4. Learning to be more appreciative and grateful for all that you have. Take an inventory of smaller and larger things that you feel grateful for and take note of it daily. Additionally, express gratitude more often. Expressing it provides nourishment to the other person and to yourself as well.
  5. Taking risks and challenging yourself. Try to challenge yourself at least once a day to get out of your comfort zone. Living in fear and chronic worry or with perpetual discomfort around change and transitions takes away from truly living life. Without trying new challenges, you just stay stuck and stunt yourself from necessary progress and personal growth.
  6. Taking better care of yourself. Evaluate your self-care, including your physical, emotional, and social needs. Commit to coming up with a concrete plan, including short and long-term goals and objectives that are feasible and those you can measure. Continually update and amend them on a daily and weekly basis.
  7. How you define your unique purpose and strive to consistently accomplish tasks that lean into that purpose.
  8. What your ideal job might be. This applies to any job or role that you take on. Contemplate what might excite you and give you a sense of fulfillment. Pursue it slowly, thoughtfully, and strategically.
  9. Persistently working on your self-acceptance, self-belief, self-compassion, and self-love. This will not get developed on its own. It needs to be continually worked on and requires unrelenting effort. Relinquish thinking that this will come from others and recognize that it comes from within so work on it daily.
  10. Mistakes and mishaps as being life’s lessons. Pursue being forgiving of yourself and others and continually working on your personal development.

The present moment is truly all that we can secure. We can assure ourselves opportunities where we value ourselves, our beloved relationships, and the meaningful lives we are striving to create. Mindfully and passionately live for today because tomorrow is never promised to us.

Here is a Healing Guided Meditation Following The Mass Shootings led by me.

More from Michelle P. Maidenberg Ph.D., MPH, LCSW-R, CGP
More from Psychology Today