The Dangers of Desensitization

There are some events that should never become acceptable.

As I write this, the FBI is investigating yet another mass shooting in America. Apparently, a lone gunman with a history of mental illness shot unarmed strangers in a Florida airport baggage claim area until he ran out of bullets. At this time, five people are dead and six are wounded.

The tragedy of the incident is overwhelming. We can only imagine the pain and loss. Some were preparing for a cruise. Others were meeting family.

There are more mass shootings in the United States than in any other country in the world. A CNN report from July, 2016, indicated that, while the U.S. has only 5% of the world’s population, we had 31% of all the world’s mass shootings.

And the frequency of mass shootings is increasing. An FBI report indicated that the number of incidents of mass shootings and the number of casualties have risen since 2000. The FBI defined mass shootings as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.”

The time interval between incidents seems to be decreasing. An analysis from the Harvard School of Public Health and Northeastern University found that between 1982 and 2011 mass shootings occurred every 200 days on average. Between 2011 and 2014, shootings occurred every 64 days.

Of course, I’m concerned about the phenomenon. I question what it means. I feel compassion for the victims. I wonder what we can do about it, but I have another concern.

Are we getting accustomed to it? Are we becoming desensitized? You see, we get used to anything that we repeatedly experience. This is called desensitization. It applies to everything. Over time, we get used to loud noises, heavy traffic, warm or cold temperatures. We also tend to get used to hearing cursing and seeing sexual and violent content on television and movies. We are no longer shocked or appalled. Unfortunately, we can also get used to mass shootings if we see them often enough.

It seems to me that the attention given to this most recent mass shooting in Florida was a bit less than expected. Actually, I think that I have heard a little less shock, concern and fear for the last few violent events. Are we becoming desensitized to random, senseless acts of violence? Do we see it as just “one more shooting.”

I hope not. Some things should shock us. Some acts must remain unacceptable. We should be alarmed. We may not know what to do about the problem yet, but we can’t accept it as the norm.

I’m a psychologist, who helps people who have sustained self-esteem wounds from past negative experiences, overcome those wounds and experience a more positive self-worth, so they can live more joyful and satisfying lives.