Coping With Psychological Warfare at Home
Learn how to defend yourself from the psychological terror that war brings.
What Is Psychological Terror? continued...
Psychiatrist Ansar Haroun, who served in the U.S. Army Reserves
in the first Gulf War and more recently in Afghanistan, says that terrorist
groups often resort to psychological warfare because it's the only tactic they
have available to them.
"They don't have M-16s, and we have M-16s. They don't have
the mighty military power that we have, and they only have access to things
like kidnapping," says Haroun, who is also a clinical professor of
psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego.
"In psychological warfare, even one beheading can have the
psychological impact that might be associated with killing 1,000 of the
enemy," Haroun tells WebMD. "You haven't really harmed the enemy very
much by killing one person on the other side. But in terms of inspiring fear,
anxiety, terror, and making us all feel bad, you've achieved a lot of
Why Distant Terrors Trouble Us
When a horrific event happens, experts say it's natural to feel
disturbed, even if the act occurred thousands of miles away.
"The human reaction is to put yourself in the situation
because most of us have good mental health and have the capacity to
empathize," says Haroun. "We put ourselves in the shoes of the
Witnessing an act of psychological terror can also disrupt our
belief system, says Charles Figley, PhD, director of the Florida State
University Traumatology Institute.
"We walk around, psychologically, in a bubble, and that
bubble represents our belief system and values," says Figley. "Most
often we assume incorrectly that other people have the same values and social
niceties as we do. When that is violated or challenged, the first response is
usually an effort to protect our beliefs and, in other words, to deny that it
When confronted with proof of terror, such as pictures of
atrocities, Figley says there are a few different ways in which people
Suggest that the perpetrators are not like us in any way, that
they are inhumane.
Become fearful in the sense that they feel that they are living
in an uncaring and unsafe world because the bar of inhumanity has been lowered
Believe that it's only a temporary manifestation that can be
explained away or deconstructed by specific things that have taken place, such
as "if we hadn't done this, then that would not have happened."
"It's uncomfortable believing that the world is less safe,
so we have to imagine or construct a scenario that will allow us to feel more
safe again and resist change," says Figley.
How to Cope
Experts say the key to coping with psychological terror is to
find a healthy balance.