It was with shock and horror that I first heard about the murder of Luc Mombers and Kobus and Annatjie Snyman in Adelaide. http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/hectorville-shooting-family-fled-life-of-violence-in-south-africa/story-e6frea6u-1226047652171
My first thoughts were: they left South Africa to escape violence, how dreadful that they should find it here in Australia. I am sure that I speak for all of us when I say that our hearts go out in compassion to the remaining members of this devastated family.
For many of us transplanted South Africans it was the lure of a ‘safe place' that made us give up the land of our birth. It was the attraction of not having to scan each intersection for possible hi-jackers and being able to live in a house without razor wire on the walls that made us give up all that was familiar. It was the possibility of living a life that is focused on more than mere survival that made us leave behind family and friends and therefore an incident like this can shake us to the core and challenge our decisions.
So what do we do when our ideals are shattered and we are left to construct a different, perhaps more realistic, view of our world? Research in the field of emotional resilience tells us that one of the most important indicators of good mental health is how we deal with adversity. What do we think and say to ourselves when things go wrong or our basic assumptions of life are suddenly thrown off balance? Our first reactions are often very revealing because they give us a glimpse of the beliefs that underpin our lives. They can say much about our spiritual foundation as well as the core beliefs we acquired as we grew up.
The tragedy in Adelaide was not the result of any action on the part of the family involved but for many of us our first thought when things go wrong is: This is my fault. This tendency to assume the blame for problems may be an instinctive reaction; the result of growing up in a family where personal responsibility, rightly or wrongly, was strongly emphasised. And taking personal responsibility is not a bad thing. In fact, when people put the blame for everything that goes wrong on everyone else, every time, it may an indication of anti-social tendencies. But for many of us, taking the blame is our first reaction, even when it may not be indicated. And this then becomes the root of a burden that can grow very heavy.
There are some questions that we need to ask ourselves when things go wrong. Is this 100% my fault, or are there others who bear at least some portion of the blame? This is not an attempt to shift responsibility, but trying to look at the situation realistically. It is very rare that just one person is fully, totally and utterly responsible for a problem or mistake. The other question to ask is: What was my contribution to this situation? This question, if honestly answered, can show us where we could do things differently in the future. The third question is: What one thing can I do to make this situation better? This question will lead us out of the quagmire of recrimination (towards others or ourselves) and onto the path towards a solution. Good emotional health requires us to learn from the past but not to get stuck there, to look forward and move forward with our eyes on a better future.
Deanna Pitchford is a Clinical Psychologist, working in Brisbane, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org