In Such a Time as This...

In Such a Time as This...
Help in Dealing with the Anxiety of Terrorism
Robert L. Moore, Ph.D.

A few days ago, I attended a professional meeting where we received an update on recent research in systems theory and family therapy. At that meeting we were being briefed by members of the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. They were addressing the impact of September 11th on individuals, families, and organizational functioning. I want to share with you key points that they brought to our attention.

1) This national trauma has sent anxiety skyrocketing in all of our systems, personal, family, and organizational;

2) when anxiety rises there is an involuntary psychophysiological response in all of us which:

    a. makes us paranoid and hyper-vigilant, seeing enemies where they do not exist;

    b. impairs our capacity to listen carefully;

    c. narrows our perspective and gives us tunnel vision;

    d. impairs our capacity for thinking clearly and focusing on problem-solving behaviors;

    e. lowers our capacity to communicate without emotionally loaded energy in our verbalizations (of course rendering our "communications" ineffectual and worse--fostering of an escalation in hostility in relationships);

    f. leads us to lower the range and depth of our personal contacts and instead increase "gossip" in dysfunctional triangulations (behind people's backs).

In order to counter this they recommend the following:

a. Increase the number and depth of your interpersonal connections with friends and family, including extended family;

b. Get more exercise;

c. Focus more on problem-solving behaviors and cap many blaming or scape-goating communications however tempting they might be;

d. Work on deep breathing and meditation to reset your physiological "panic button."

e. And most important — try to provide your family, church, business associates, etc., with the example of one who can contain anxiety consciously without "acting it out." Maintain connection and solve problems.

You have all undoubtedly heard of the importance in leadership of a "calm, non-anxious presence" in the leader. Transformative leaders in this difficult time must seek to embody such a calming and centering quality for those under their care. But how, you will ask, can we do this when we are as "raw" as everyone else. All of my friends are a bit tired of hearing me refer to Paul Tillich's thought on the "universe and other

things." But bear with me just this once. I just enjoyed a visit to the Second Congregational Church of Greenwich, Connecticut, church home of CTS board member Phil Matthews. In preparation for my sermon on "the Dynamics of Faith and Courage," I reread Tillich's Dynamics of Faith and the Courage to Be. There Tillich reminds us that we are not capable of either centering, calming faith or courage on our own. We must open ourselves to the transforming power of the divine presence which alone can pull us together into our best selves for the service of God and neighbor.

So, what can we do? Pray a lot, open ourselves to the presence of the Spirit, and "lean on the everlasting arms" through our worship together. We are all called in this hour — and in our future leadership — to incarnate in our own fragmentary ways the peace of the One who is above every name, who is owned by no tribe, and who seeks love, peace, and justice, for all. Through that Presence we can aid our families, churches, and communities in walking with courage through this difficult time.

Robert L. Moore, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychoanalysis,
Culture and Spirituality
October 15, 2001

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