The images of survivors presented by the media
during news coverage of disasters may be misleading. Psychologists Roxane
Cohen Silver and Alison Holman, conducting NSF-funded research at the
University of California at Irvine, learned that survivors' emotions actually
run the full gamut, and rarely follow the stereotypical pattern of distress,
acceptance and recovery.
In fact, both positive and negative responses may be present within one
person. Contributing factors to the emotional path one will take include
the available support of loved ones and the intensity of the personal
link to one's home.
Another condition discussed in the research is that of "temporal disintegration," or
the inability to deal with any tense other than the present. Temporal
disintegration generally occurs immediately following the disaster. "Friends,
family, neighbors and coworkers need to make themselves available to listen
and convey genuine concern and attention early and often," Silver says.
If not, survivors of disasters may never move past the tragedy.
The research also discovered that, contrary to the stereotypical image
of angry survivors, many positive survivors exist as well. "We found positive
emotions of equal frequency and intensity as negative ones," Silver explains.
The public's impression that all survivors become angry or depressed is
the result of the media's selective portrayal of those characteristics.
One thing is very clear from the research: the support of friends and
family can be the catalyst to complete recovery, and may lessen the long-term
effects of living through a disaster.