Grenfell Tower: Grief, Helplessness and Anger

London has been going through challenging and unusual times since the Westminster Bridge and Houses of Parliament attacks. The London Bridge/Borough market attack was the third terrorist atrocity in three months. Last night a Muslim man was killed and others wounded outside the Finsbury Mosque, a shocking terrorist event which may lead to other believers also being targeted.

The fire in the Grenfell building was so awful, so traumatic and of such severity that it was, and still is, almost unbelievable. For those people who were in the building at the time of the fire the nightmare is continuing. They have lost their homes, their possessions and most of all, their loved ones. Losing a loved one is always intensely painful and the way they died may exacerbate the pain. The absence of a body means that there was no goodbye in life, or in death. It is bewildering and the survivors may feel guilty that they themselves are still alive, as illogical as that is. They may feel empty and their feelings may be made worse by the absence of familiar surroundings.

Such traumatic loss leads people to feel powerless, defenceless, helpless, and as if they have lost control. Many people react to these feelings by becoming sad and depressed. Others may become angry, their anger giving them a sense of greater control. This sometimes feels less painful than feelings of loss and sadness, hence it continues.

Apart from the emotional abyss that survivors feel that they are in, observers are also affected, albeit not remotely as much as survivors. Observers also feel powerless as well as experiencing the disbelief that West Londoners feel every time we see the black, burnt-out skeleton of the Grenfell building against the skyline and think about the people who lived there.  They get angry if they feel that survivors are not getting what they need. Many people do their best to help, many volunteering at the site of the tragedy.

Decision makers accustomed to wielding power also feel powerless and outraged. They are used to responsibility, and a feeling of control, but their impotence in terms of this tragedy leads to a feeling of powerlessness that culminates in blaming other decision makers. In a time of overwhelming distress for survivors they also have to contend with undignified quarrels between political party leaders, the mayor of London and others. This may not always be that useful for survivors, though it may be perceived as useful for decision makers.

Blame does not tend to be constructive. Collaboration is.

The final ingredient stoking the blame is the media, who use ongoing and repetitive moral outrage to sow division, not wanting to report helpful developments but tending to represent everybody, including those in positions of authority, as apathetic and uncaring.

The people that lived their lives in the Grenfell building have without warning gone through hell. They are the only people that matter now.

Dr. Manda Holmshaw


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