“When Americans lend a hand to one another, nothing is impossible. We’re not about what happened on 9/11. We’re about what happened on 9/12.” —Jeff Parness, founder of New York Says Thank You
It was my Sophomore year at college. I was not, and am not, a morning person, so my first class did not start until 10am or later; my 3 roommates had earlier classes and were awake before me. My roommate woke me up at 8:40am MST (10:40 am EST in New York) to tell me what happened and that it was all over the news. My 3 roommates and I gathered around our tube television and watched the news. Phone lines were overwhelmed as we, along with everyone else, tried calling our families. My dad was stuck in St. Louis, on a business trip, because all flights over or into the United States were grounded, for the first time in history. I do not know if I attended any classes that day, although I remember walking to campus and everything feeling surreal. So many questions did not have answers at that time: Would there be a draft? And if so, would my brothers and friends be drafted? Would NYC be able to heal? How would the airlines prevent hijackers in the future? Would we feel safe again in the United States? I had not realized that safety was a privilege until my sense of safety was threatened on 9/11.
I, like so many others, have been grappling with the mental and emotional challenges caused by the September 11th attacks. Immediately following the destruction of the twin towers and pentagon, millions experienced severe threats to their physical, mental, and emotional health. Those who lost family members and friends were even more vulnerable to mental illnesses like PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Although the years since the attack have proven to be healing for some, many continue to struggle creating a feeling of internal safety— a sense of emotional well-being and awareness of inner processes. As we reflect 20 years back to the tragic events of 9/11, let’s resolve to proactively monitor our internal safety by first increasing our understanding of how to manage our emotions, and second creating safe spaces for acceptance and reflection.
Understanding Our Emotions
Lisa Ferentz, founder of the Institute for Advanced Psychotherapy training and education, teaches that inner safety is enhanced when we feel capable of regulating and managing our emotional states. The process of achieving emotional competence may look different from person to person, but often includes body movement, especially movement that expresses emotions, yoga, mindfulness, and communication of painful thoughts and feelings. Through practice, you can discover which techniques help you to feel more confident in regulating your emotions. These activities can be done both inside and outside of therapeutic settings.
Creating a Safe Space
Creating safe spaces to reflect on and be able to accept our emotions is vital in establishing internal safety. In therapy, clients often are asked to close their eyes and picture their own “safe space”—a unique area that creates a sense of safety. These spaces should be quiet, soothing, calm places of peace. Creating a safe space is not limited to a literal, physical space. Again, with practice, you can train your mind to visit a safe space when you need time to evaluate your current emotions, calm anxious feelings, or even just check-in with yourself to monitor your current emotional state. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) with a therapist, can also be used in creating a calm, safe place.
Dealing with the trauma of 9/11 has threatened both our external and internal safety. We can use this time of reflection to introspect and recognize how we are prioritizing our internal safety. We can strengthen our internal safety measures by increasing our ability to regulate our emotions and creating safe spaces for emotional and mental self-reflection. It is okay to struggle and grieve as we remember all that took place those 20 years ago. I hope we each can use this time to be a little bit kinder to those around us and take charge of our own safety moving forward.
Melissa Cluff is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.
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- KQED: How 9/11 Changed America: Four Major Lasting Impacts (with Lesson Plan)
- Lois M. Davis, et al.: “Long-Term Effects of Law Enforcement’s Post-9/11 Focus on Counterterrorism and Homeland Security”
- Parade: The Most Powerful Quotes Remembering 9/11 on the Upcoming 20th Anniversary
- Psychology Today: The Need for Safety in Therapy, Part Three