Inside Disruption Blog

How They Want You to React

Leslie Bolt
March 28, 2016

On the morning after the bombings in Brussels, Belgium, contributing writer for Forbes Magazine, Loren Thompson posted an article titled Brussels Attacks: How The Terrorists Want You To React. In his article, Thompson (2016) cited five responses that he believed the attackers in Brussels are attempting to provoke: overreaction, blaming, adopting repressive measures, attacking the threat, and turning to a strong leader (Thompson, 2016). This article immediately struck me as interesting and as I read further, it became clear that the desired responses he described were very similar to the reactions one is likely to experience after a Potentially Traumatic Event (PTE).


Overreaction. In the aftermath of a PTE, similar to that of a terrorist attack, we have a tendency to overreact in regards to the amount of danger we may be in at any given moment. If there was violence in our workplace or we were robbed, it is not uncommon for us to lose our sense of safety, believing we will never be safe again. According to Thompson (2016), we treat the random acts taken by a handful of people, to have earth-shattering consequences (Thompson, 2016), when in reality our chances of encountering a similar dangerous situation may not be any higher than they were prior to the PTE. In the grand scheme of things, as Thompson wrote, it is important to keep in mind that a small number of deaths or violent incidents has little bearing in a country like the United States where over 6,000 people die daily (Thompson, 2016).


Blaming. Although Thompson discusses in his article the blaming of immigrants after a terrorist attack (Thompson, 2016), it appears that after a PTE, we have a tendency to blame all around. Not enough security, company failures, inadequate policies, poor parenting. Although this may be a normal stage of the grief and loss associated with any PTE, it is also a place that we can get stuck. Focusing our energy on blaming others after a PTE, even if they are at fault, increases our victim mentality. When we view ourselves as victims of our current circumstances, we decrease our own power and control in making changes in our own lives. Blaming keeps us stuck and does not allow us as individuals or communities to move forward.


Adopt Repressive Measures. In his article, Thompson (2016) refers primarily to the government adopting repressive measures after a terrorist attack in order to provide communities with an increased sense of safety (Thompson, 2016). After a PTE, it appears a similar response takes place as we are more apt to implement ways to keep ourselves safe. However these attempts to keep ourselves safe, can sometimes be maladaptive, such as refusing to leave our house, isolating ourselves from others, or refraining from engaging in our normal activities. Although adopting these repressive measures in our lives may provide us with increase feelings of safety, it is a false sense of protection. In inhibiting ourselves we are stunting the healing process and blocking our path to a new normal.


Attacking the Threat. Thompson (2016) defines attacking the threat at its source, as going after the terrorists in a manner that results in unintended long term consequences for the victims, specifically more casualties (Thompson, 2016). In the case of a PTE, it appears that attacking the source of the threat may symbolize our own attacks against ourselves; our own psyche, which we often feel has derailed from its track. In the aftermath of a PTE, one of the most frequently occurring reactions is that feeling of losing one’s mind or going crazy. However, in reality, most reactions we experience after a PTE are very common, and even a necessary part of survival. Without the understanding that our responses to an abnormal situation are actually normal, we may spend significant amounts of time detracting from the healing process by attacking our own mind for failing us.


Turning to a Strong Leader. Finally, Thompson (2016) points out that one of the most common reactions in the aftermath of a terrorist attack is for a nation to look to a strong leader for support. Unfortunately, all too often leaders who project confidence, also have a tendency to be impulsive in their decision making (Thompson, 2016). In the aftermath of a PTE, individuals turn to strong leaders in order to help them reconcile what has taken place in their lives, as well as understand how to effectively move forward. Many survivors of a PTE describe how people in their support system urge them to quit their job, or just not think about the incident. However, these often impulsive reactions rarely help resolve the struggles survivors face. The job of a truly strong leader, is to be the sounding board that assists individuals in recovering their sense of control and continue to lead productive, meaningful lives. When this is accomplished, they have successfully defeated the Potentially Traumatic Event, or as Thompson (2016) would state, the terrorists in their lives.


As we help people in their return to pre-incident functioning in our regular world, so too can we help people after these types of events designed to make us fearful. Let us do what we can to understand the effects of the events, and the natural resiliency of people to bounce back and continue to live productive, meaningful lives.


Reference: Thompson, L. (2016, March 22). Brussels attacks: How the terrorists want you to react. Forbes/Washington. Retrieved from

Leslie Bolt