How Disasters Challenge Intimate Relating with Dr. Bea Hollander-Goldfein – Emotional Pro

November 1st, 2005

Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma; Disastrous earthquakes in Pakistan; the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Human beings on this earth have been experiencing disaster after disaster. What happens to intimate relationships when challenged by the forces of nature during disasters? How relationships survive, what it takes to survive, and what can tear them apart–these are the focus of our program with Dr. Bea Hollander-Goldfein, the director of the research project, Transcending Trauma: Exploring Psychological Mechanisms of Survival.

Segment 1: What We Have Learned from Survivors of Other Catastrophes

Dr. Goldfein's life work has been working to understand and learn from survivors of one of history's greatest catastrophes, the Holocaust. She talks about how people experience "shattered assumptions" and what this does to them mentally, spiritually and emotionally, often leading to what can be called "depression of the soul." She also talks about how, in recovering, people need first to look to their basic survival needs, but then move to emotional, psychological and "meaning" needs–all of which are imperative to stability and recovery.

Segment 2: The Emotions of Survival, During and After Disaster

As with so many things, Dr. Goldfein focuses on the power of "staying conscious," while simultaneously talking about our bodies have an unconscious reaction to catastrophe that we need to take into account. She gives great tips for what we can do to foster the survival of our intimate relationships following disaster, such as remaining empathic and patient, and not taking things personally, leaving space and an open door for communication. This, she acknowledges, is difficult to do when we are ourselves in trauma. Listen to her talk about what happens when people "shut down" their emotional reactions as their survival pattern.

Segment 3: What Can We Do to Strengthen Our Ability to Thrive Following Catastrophe?

While it is a long list, Dr. Goldfein offers what she has learned from years of researching Holocaust survivors and generations of their families: the better we are doing before disaster, the better we will be doing afterwards!What are the things we need to teach our children so they are not needlessly traumatized by disaster? What can we train in ourselves to give us something to fall back on in times of catastrophe? This, and the importance of having a constant that informs our life of meaning, help in times of crisis when we are forced to confront the realities of life and reevaluate our priorities.

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