Our thoughts go out to everyone who is affected by U.Va. student Hannah Graham’s disappearance.

When a traumatic event occurs, people can have many different kinds of reactions. The reason for this is that trauma shatters many of the beliefs people need to hold onto in order to function. Humans need to believe that the world is safe, people are trustworthy and responsible, and that they have some sense of control in their community and in their life.

Traumatic events challenge these beliefs and put them into question. It is hard to believe that someone in our community can be harmed because this leads to a feeling of vulnerability. One of the reactions to feeling vulnerable is the “need to act.” Sometimes people react in ways that are not helpful because of this need to act immediately. The community is best served when we can be mindful and thoughtful about what we say and how we act in response to trauma. Finding meaningful ways to make sense of the traumatic event and how to act is often challenging.

From anger to sadness and disbelief, all reactions are “normal.” We are fortunate at U.Va. in that we have many resources where people can talk about their reactions and we encourage everyone to find a safe person or place where you can talk about your reactions and think through the best ways to act.

Written by the Counseling Services at the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center