Outer Storms and Inner Storms: What Did Hurricane Sandy Trigger in You?

Lighthouse and stormy seaThis could be a story about any storm …

Anywhere in our country …

Anywhere in our world …

The suffering caused by Hurricane Sandy is heartbreaking. The lost lives. The injured, cold, hungry, thirsty, grieving people. The destroyed homes and businesses, infrastructure, shores, and trees. The loss of power, communication lines, and ability to go someplace else. The gas lines and all the work people have to do now to clean up the mess. And more …

But the outer storm we on the East Coast experienced last week was not the only storm people encountered. Everything we experience can trigger things in us from the past … everything.  Even a hurricane. And when something is still alive within us from long ago—although perhaps beneath our conscious awareness—the feelings we have in the present day are not limited to the feelings about the current situation.

Our feelings include feelings we’ve had all through our lives in response to similar as well as different situations. As a result, the feelings we experienced about Hurricane Sandy and its effect on us, others, and everything around us are far more intense and far more raw than the already intense and raw feelings in response to today’s events. What’s stirred up inside us from the past expands and deepens what’s stirred up from today.

For instance, it is well known in the field of grief work that if you have a loss today, the grief you feel is both the grief from today’s loss and the grief from each loss your whole life that you haven’t yet grieved, evoked once again by today’s loss. You can also feel grief from experiences you have already grieved but are still alive within you, calling you to feel again. That is true for us in our individual lives, and it is true for us in our communal life—as with 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, and now Hurricane Sandy.

This same principle is true of other experiences and feelings. Here are some examples—possible examples—of the kinds of things that were evoked in people along the East Coast of the United States this past week.

John was evoked by waiting for the storm. It was like waiting for the storm that was his mother when she exploded and abused him. The waiting felt scary and interminable. He didn’t want the storm or the storm that was his mother to come, and at the same time, he wanted it to come and go and be done.

Sandra was triggered by feeling out of control. She hated feeling out of control—in relation to when the storm would come, if it would hit her and her home, the damage it would do, and what she would be able to do to repair the damage. She had these same feelings as a child with her alcoholic father. She felt out of control of everything related to his coming home after spending the evening at the neighborhood bar.

Robert had issues of safety evoked for him, big time. He lives on the shore and it was literally, physically unsafe for him to stay in his home this past week. His home was unsafe. The feelings of fear and more that come up when people are unsafe are strong and intense. But in addition to today’s experience of unsafety in the storm, Robert’s feelings of unsafety in his home as a child were right below the surface inside him. His parents weren’t safe to be around—his father was emotionally and physically abusive; his mother was unsafe and frightened herself and never protected herself or her children from his abuse; and the neighborhood was an unsafe place to live. Any time he brought his feelings of unsafety or the reality of his unsafety to his mother, Robert’s concerns were completely minimized or made wrong. From that background, Robert might have made it his business to make as much as he possibly could safe in his life and through the storm; or he might have been frozen in fear and in the “wrongness” of his need for safety, completely unable to accurately assess his safety—through the storm or in most any situation.

Cynthia was evoked by not having any power in her home and office. The primal survival experience of being without power and therefore experiencing that version of “powerlessness” was multiplied a million-fold by her inability to restore her electric power, and a trillion-fold by its stirring up her feelings of powerlessness as a baby and young child. And who among us didn’t have an experience of powerlessness as a little one?

These are just some of the things people have faced, lived through, and suffered with through the outer storm and inner storms we on the East Coast encountered this past week. The important thing is to become aware of the inner storm. To bring it into consciousness and hold it and yourself with compassion and love. To trace the current inner storm back to the early storm, eventually the earliest storm. To understand the root, but not only to understand it. To also build the capacity within yourself to go into and through the feelings that were part of that storm and out the other side. And to utilize that inner storm for healing … for your own and for that of our world.

When people believe it’s enough to understand and control their thoughts and feelings either in the here and now or those from the past, hopefully they eventually end up in my office or in the office of a therapist who does work to the root. Hopefully they eventually find that they are haunted by the storms from the past and need the help to heal. Hopefully they eventually find that no matter what they try, they cannot spend their whole lives holding the early inner storms at bay without serious repercussions—including effects on their bodies, effects on their being able to fulfill their potential and not just be merely functioning automatons, effects on those close to them like emotional explosions when under stress, effects on those in their communities. Two examples of destructive reactions of people this past week: In one town in my state, members of the community responded to the men and women repairing their power system by pelting them with eggs. In a town across the border into a neighboring state, a man in a gas line pulled out a gun and used it to get to be the next person to fill his tank.

If we don’t utilize for healing the storms in the outer world that trigger our inner storms, we will end up creating more storms for ourselves, those we touch directly, and others throughout our world. What will you do?

Note: The examples are either fictitious or composites of a number of things I’ve heard from different people over the week.

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Judith Barr, MS, LMHC, therapist in Brookfield, Connecticut

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • anna

    anna

    November 15th, 2012 at 11:22 PM

    Don’t want to be too pessimistic but fact is that if there’s something I felt after Sandy, it is that we are never too far away from gettin most of our lives changed by just one act of nature. Not that we aren’t creating any man made disasters but when nature strikes there is no escaping.

  • Constance

    Constance

    November 16th, 2012 at 3:58 AM

    As a life long resident of the Gulf Coast I can truly relate to living in this constant state of fear during certain times of the year. It does kind of keep you out of sorts, never knowing when the next big one will hit and if it does will it spare you this time. If you have never lived like this then it is kind of hard to explain, but there is almost this sense of dread when you start watching the news and learning that one could be headed your way but not knowing how well you are goig to fare or your family will from day to day. Juat a little unnerving.

  • Tara

    Tara

    November 16th, 2012 at 7:05 PM

    Although I was not affected by Sandy due to my location,it sure reminded me of the horrible car accident I was in as a child.It had rained that night and my grandparents were with me.We cheated death that night but my grand dad had a major injury.The storm reminded me of all that and even made me weep because all I saw in the pictures after Sandy was destruction cause by water.I think that was what connected the recent storm to my childhood memory.

  • Shayne R

    Shayne R

    November 17th, 2012 at 9:40 AM

    There is no place that is immune to this. A tragedy like this could happen anywhere so it is not being prepared with material goods that would help but more about being prepared spiritually.

  • Judith Barr

    Judith Barr

    November 18th, 2012 at 4:44 AM

    Thank you all for your comments.

    Yes, storms specifically and nature in general can affect our lives in an instant. And yes, we humans have had a huge impact on nature. But, to clarify… I’m not talking solely about the physical nature of our planet and its impact on us.

    What I’m talking about that’s different is our inner nature. How things in our outer world can trigger things in our inner worlds. And how we respond to what’s triggered in our inner worlds. How aware we are that something is being triggered. How aware we are of the event or events from long ago that are being triggered. How aware we are of the feelings we’re experiencing from long ago in response to the current outer event. And what we do in response to those triggers.

    All that goes on in our inner worlds – how we respond with our inner nature – greatly, sometimes even drastically affects what we do in the here and now in the outer world, in response to the outer event, the outer storm, the outer experience.

    Thank you, Tara, for sharing the memory that Hurricane Sandy triggered for you. That’s one example of the kind of thing I’m talking about. If people will become aware of these triggers and work with them and through them. . . it will have a healing impact for them, for those close to them, and in the long run, for our world.

    Thanks and many blessings . . .
    Judith

  • pat

    pat

    November 24th, 2012 at 3:40 AM

    Please also research and write about the inner storm happening in more and more of us due to the perception that manmade climate change is bringing about this destruction. I never experienced traumatic weather as a kid, and yet have felt a shaking to my core from this (increasingly obvious) evidence that man is sitting by witnessing his own annihilation when he has the power to stop it. I believe, as Buckminster Fuller did, that this is the critical test for humanity, and that we are failing. This is ruining what would otherwise be a very happy existence for millions of us.

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