anonymous Asks ...
I am not a racist. I was attacked and beaten by 2 men after I honked at them in my car. It was a road rage type situation. Foolishly I never got their license plate number so they got away with it and I got a broken jaw and 4 nights in a hospital. This happened in the December. The men were of a certain minority group. It doesn’t matter which one and I do not really want to say because I am embarrassed. I am embarrassed because now whenever I see men from that group that are of a similar age I feel rage and hatred toward them, even though they have done me nothing wrong. I do not like feeling like this and I cannot bring myself to admit this to anyone except anonymously such as on this forum. I do not want to go through the rest of my life as a person that hates people of a certain prevalent group. But I cannot control my visceral reactions. What to do?
Rev. Christopher Smith Says ...
Let me ignore the initial sentence for this question does not give enough information to be able to address whether or not the person asking the question is racist, although most people (majority and minority) have some degree of racism in them and at least have been involved in some degree of societal racism. It is reasonable to assume that the poser of this question's present reaction to people of a particular race is something that did not exist prior to the event.
There are many types of traumatic events that we face in life. It is normal to have abnormal reactions right after a traumatic event. People can be more vigilant; people can be have disturbances to their emotions; people's sleep patterns can be disturbed; etc. This is normal in the short term. However four or five months later if things seem to be getting worse rather than better, this is an appropriate time to seek professional help. A mental health professional can help you understand what is going on and to develop strategies to help improve things.
After a traumatic event, it is common for specific elements of the event to form a stronger impression on you than other elements. For instance, two people that have similar accidents with a UPS truck coming around a curve on a country road may find different things trigger off anxiety about the possibility of the event reoccurring. For one, just seeing another UPS truck may be enough to trigger off their reaction. For the other, the reaction may be triggered when they are entering similar curves where they cannot see if there is a vehicle on the other side of the curve. A therapist may work with you to understand these triggers and how to be able to work at reinterpreting them. There are different strategies that can reduce your sensitivity to the events that are significant for you.
Another dimension that comes through is the intensity of your anger. There are many programs out there that are good at helping people manage anger. These are helpful in reducing the intensity of your anger as well as to learn new strategies for modifying how you respond when something is making you angry. Working on anger can help in a situation after a traumatic event especially if the anger you are experiencing is an intensified form of lesser anger issues you had beforehand.
As a final dimension, there is something that needs to be explored that is not minimizing the way that you were a victim in the earlier situation. Namely, there can be dimensions of feeling guilty or responsible for parts of what happened. As you reflect on what took place, you need to be able to forgive yourself for ways that you contributed to the situation. Forgiveness is not an easy thing to do and it can be hard to learn from what you did in the details. This step of forgiveness is just as important as working on being able to forgive those who hurt you. A good starting point on forgiveness is to look at your own spirituality and see what you believe about the human condition as well as grace to be able to restart.
When the details of a traumatic event continue to be relived, especially in ways that cause you distress or add stress within your relationships, there are ways to be able to move forward. This is particularly important when the problems continue months after. Working on this, particularly with the assistance of a mental health professional, you will be able to move on the path towards wholeness and peace.