Jewish World Review Sept. 11, 2002 / 5 Tishrei 5763

A Time to Fight Back

By Dr. Abraham Twerski, M.D. | The World Trade Center attack on 9/11 was only the second time in the history of the U.S. that war and mass destruction by an enemy was brought to our midst. Our sense of invincibility was shattered, never to return. Although we take great pride in how the tragedy was handled and the numerous heroes that emerged, our security was breached and our national self-esteem has suffered.

Much as we like to think that life has returned to normal, there are many reminders that it is not quite so. Many people are still afraid to fly. Those who do fly may have to remove their shoes and are thoroughly searched. The other day I forgot to take my lab top from the security check point. When I returned to retrieve it, several soldiers were surrounding it, and had I not appeared at that moment, they would have called the bomb squad. Many major public events require participants to pass through metal detectors. Life has certainly changed. We are all on edge.

There is one way in which the mind and body react alike: it is called the "recall" phenomenon. During the first year of life, an infant is immunized against tetanus. If you do a blood test shortly thereafter, you will find a plethora of tetanus antibodies. These gradually fade. At age 15 there is hardly a trace of these antibodies in the blood.

At age 15 the person sustains a wound. Remember, he has no tetanus antibodies. He is given the same tetanus dose he received as an infant, and there results an outpouring of tetanus antibodies, giving a high blood level. The body remembers.

After 9/11 there was an outpouring of national and personal anxiety. This faded like the antibodies. If anything occurs to stimulate the mind, the anxiety will recur, sometimes with great intensity. A serious alert, a terrorist threat or attack, or even just the date may stimulate anxiety. Airline reservations for 9/11/2002 are very low.

This is the story of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Even though our anxiety has subsided, we are extremely vulnerable to recurrence, acting out with either phobic or counterphobic symptoms.

A patient who suffered paralysis of a limb must undergo physical rehabilitation to restore its function. We must undergo a psychological rehabilitation. We must indeed adjust to all possible precautionary measures, but we should not let them take the joy out of life.

There is strength in togetherness. Our society has been fragmented by differences in religion, race, and socioeconomic status. This a luxury we can no longer afford. Benjamin Franklin's statement at the time of the War of Independence is timely: Either we all hang together, or we all hang separate. We must work together.

People who are religiously inclined should take greater interest in their religion. Faith is a powerful source of strength.

Many people who have suffered physical limitations have fought back to live a normal life under their new circumstances. So must we.

There is no question that we have suffered a setback in our self-esteem. It is of interest that people who have been assaulted or molested often feel a sense of shame, which is without any logical grounds. Why should the victim rather than the perpetrator lose self-esteem? However, that is what occurs. There is no rationale for our losing self-esteem, but it happened.

Self-esteem is comprised of two components: competence and worthiness. Our competence has indeed come under question with the revelation that there were warning signs that were overlooked. Greater alertness might have averted the disaster. We can correct this component by increasing our national security intelligence network and our national state of alertness.

We should also do something to enhance our feeling of worthiness. This is how we can begin to fight back. The level of morality and ethics in the United States is hardly exemplary. People in the highest offices and leading business executives have been less than "heroic".

There is one component of worthiness that we can improve, and that is reduction of violence within our own society. If we really wish to elevate our self-esteem by increasing our feeling of worthiness, we should address this issue seriously instead of giving it lip-service. The way to fight back-is to rebuild from within.

Many studies have proven that violence on TV breeds violence. Perhaps the First Amendment precludes censorship, but the networks show what the public wants to watch. If we are serious about reducing violence, boycotting these provocative shows will get them off the air quickly, as their ratings will drop. Also, boycotting products that sponsor these shows will be effective. But we must be serious about it. America must re-assess its own values.

There is a possibility that some violence is the result of discontent. Some people have gripes, but have no avenue to express them.

No one is there to listen.

I propose the establishment of a national service, staffed by volunteers, who will be available to listen to gripes and complaints. In many instances, there may not be anything that can be done to solve the problem.However, as any psychotherapist will testify, just listening to a person is therapeutic.

We could open "Got a Gripe?" offices in every community. I think there are many retired people who would volunteer some time. They would only have to listen. They are not expected to be able to resolve problems. Every so often, it might happen that the volunteer may be able to suggest a solution. A web site can be created to deal with the Frequent Gripes.

This does not have to cost much money, and shouldn't create a government bureaucracy. I submit that some of the violence perpetrated by disgruntled people might be eliminated.

As victims of violence, we might elevate our self-esteem by trying to reduce the violence in our midst.

Abraham J. Twerski, M.D. is a psychiatrist and ordained rabbi. He is the founder of the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh, a leading center for addiction treatment. An Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, he is a prolific author, with some 30 books to his credit. He has recently launched a new 12 step program for self esteem development Send your comments by clicking here.


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Self-blinding perceptions destroy spiritual growth
Learning to Like Yourself
Contented cows
Spiritual animals?
The Believer's Guide to 'Buying' Happiness
Preventing future attacks
American Spirituality
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): A very real condition
Helping our kids deal with trauma
The Creator helps those who help themselves
Knowing what to expect
Psychological fallout in the shadow of terrorism
Self-esteem in the face of world terrorism

© 2002, Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.