Witnessing Tragedy Unfold by Shannon Moule, Clinical Psychologist

Christina ReynoldsUncategorized

It has been a tragic summer so far here in Australia. Not a day goes by where we don’t hear or see something about the loss occurring in the context of the bushfires. I find myself reading friend’s posts on social media expressing feelings of uselessness, hopelessness, guilt in relation to these events and their struggle to find ways to cope and contribute to helping in this crisis. These experiences have brought me to writing this article and to do my bit to help all those effected by the bushfires including the bystanders who are witnessing and feeling for all those who are directly impacted by the fires. 

Whether you are someone directly effected by the fires or a bystander witnessing the tragedy unfold, try to take the following steps to support yourself and others during this time.

#Honour yours and others feelings

Know whatever you or others are feeling is okay. Honour your feelings by noticing them, hear them, open up around them like you would a child who is suffering. Yours and others feelings are important, they are telling you something, usually that something you care about has been 

effected and you are in pain right now. Honour this feeling. Don’t ignore it by getting caught up in the ‘fixing’ or ‘solving’ of the pain right away.

#Beware of the stories your mind is telling you

When we feel strong emotions we often become really hooked by thoughts and images about what we are experiencing both inside (our feelings) and outside of us (the event, in this case the bushfires). For example, if you are feeling ‘sad’ your mind might be saying ‘what do you need to feel sad about, you are not directly impacted by the fires’. Whatever the story your mind is telling you, check to see if this story is serving you or others right now. Does it create more pain and suffering or help you to take effective action? If they are not serving anyone, let them be, don’t entertain them, see them for what they are – stories about the event, not the event itself.

#Take action aligned with the person you want to be

With honouring your feelings and letting unhelpful stories be, you are now more in the place to take action aligned with doing what matters in the moment with the resources you have. You won’t be able to end yours or others suffering completely because that’s not possible. You can’t end the fires, but you can do something. It may be to raise money for the bushfire appeal, to volunteer your services down at a wildlife rescue place, being with your friends and family who love and care for you, praying, doing your best to bring kindness to everyone on a day-to-day basis, and/ or taking one day at a time. Whatever your situation, there is something you can do to support you and others in this moment, big or small, it doesn’t matter. From taking action you will often feel a sense of control (i.e., useful, purposeful, hopeful) even though the pain of the tragedy is still there.

#Be compassionate

I am heartened to see the compassionate displays of humanity that have come out of this ongoing tragedy, which continues to build my faith in people. I have also been disheartened by the non-compassionate displays of humanity during this tragedy. Compassion is a powerful value when authentically applied to our actions. It brings the best out of humanity. True compassion involves being willing to suspend judgement of selves and others and curiously seek understanding, to actively listen, to empower and support, not disempower and isolate. It is to lean into one and other’s suffering without the need to ‘fix’. It is to treat yourself and others with respect.  I hope you can choose to be compassionate both to yourself and others during this time and into the future.

#Access helpful resources

The Australian Psychology Society has compiled a list of helpful tips and strategies in both preparation and recovery from the Australian Bushfires:


Volunteer information:

Donation information:


If you find yourself or others struggling with dealing with this or any other tragedy, don’t hesitate to book in to see one of our psychologists at Zest Infusion on 3822 9983.

Take care and be kind to one another.

Share this Post