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I found myself remembering the devastation of the horrific events of September 11, 2001 while watching the Memorial events being held in New York this month. These tragic events occurred, as we all know, when terrorists attacked America by commandeering airplanes and flying them into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon.

I watched CNN’s special interview with the parents of one of the 3,000 lives lost. They were asked about coping with the death of their son. “We started a non-profit organization to help individuals who have been victimized by terrorism and tragic events,” they answered.  Most of their “good-will” relief efforts are centered around villages in Africa and the couple said that “starting the non-profit was their way of coping with the loss of their son.”

The parent’s plight and how they were coping with the terrible loss brings me to this age old question of “how does humanity cope with mental pain and stress, caused by horrific events affecting lives?” In psychology, coping means to invest one’s own conscious effort to solve personal and interpersonal problems in order to try to master, minimize or tolerate stress and conflict.

Coping skills can be learned and they are necessary for turning pain into purpose.  Hundreds of coping strategies have been identified by psychologists.

Two renowned psychologists known for their work on coping, Folkman and Lazarus, wrote “emotion-focused coping is a mechanism to alleviate distress by minimizing, reducing, or preventing, the emotional components of a stressor.” This mechanism can be applied through a variety of ways, such as:

  1. Seeking social support
  2. Reappraising the stressor in a positive light
  3. Accepting responsibility
  4. Using avoidance
  5. Exercising self-control
  6. Distancing

So whenever, you are faced with pain from a tragic event that has occurred in your life try adapting one of Folkman and Lazarus “emotion-focused coping strategies” to alleviate the stresses and you may be able to turn your pain into purpose.

Never give up! Never give up! Never give up!

Chaplain Walter Ghosten

By Chaplain Ghosten