Some may call it a guilty pleasure. However, I don’t experience guilt about this and as for pleasure, well, it’s something that I enjoy because it’s kind of a mindless activity. Each week, I record a few different police dramas on TV. I watch the shows when I get to them. Typically, when I’m too tired to read before going to bed but want to help my mind turn off in order to sleep, my preference is to watch one of these shows. Among the shows I record is Blue Bloods.
To be honest, I don’t find Blue Bloods very engaging or the plots very deep. Every episode is predictable. In this family of police, one or two members get into some unlikely complicated mess related to a criminal incident that in real life would probably be a front page story. Ultimately, the characters masterfully work out problems and the cast comprised of an Irish Catholic family gathers for Sunday dinner and reflects on life lessons learned from these entangled stories. I suppose you could say that it’s something of a modern fairy tale.
While watching a recent episode called “Bad Company,” a subplot depicted the family patriarch Frank Reagan accompanying a woman who visited an inmate in prison. The inmate had brutally murdered her family when she was six years old. The woman, now in her 20’s, made the visit at the invitation of the inmate as part of a restorative justice program.
Restorative justice, which has long historic roots, became common in the United States about twenty years ago. Restorative justice attempts to repair the harm done to a person by a perpetrator. Various programs have developed guidelines for processes on how this can occur.
The Blue Bloods episode, “Bad Company,” depicted the woman whose family had been murdered in a prison meeting room with a mediator and Frank Reagan. The inmate explained that he had suffered for years with undiagnosed schizophrenia and, through the course of treatment, realized what horror he had committed. He wanted to take responsibility for his actions and express his regret. He talked of past suicide attempts. He grew from that low point in life to helping other inmates accept their own guilt. Now he had to take full responsibility and admit his guilt to this woman. In response, the woman whose family had been brutally murdered, who was stoic as he spoke, broke out in rage, insisting that nothing could be done to make up for her loss and telling the man that he should kill himself….and to “do it right next time.”
While the scene made sensational drama, what the writers of Blue Bloods did was to demonstrate an emotional outburst that was probably pathological in nature and presented it as normal and appropriate. If the scene itself was not sufficiently disturbing, the woman appears the next day in a church with Frank Reagan as the bride in a wedding. The image conveys that sense that everything that just occurred in meeting with the inmate was not just appropriate but was somehow right with God.
Yes, there are intense and complicated emotions that follow tragedy. Particular for survivors of murder, the future is difficult and often marked by symptoms of depression, anxiety, and anger. Indeed, the grief from such losses is usually never fully resolved. That said, if a person continues to experience raw emotional distress that is difficult to contain twenty or more years after a traumatic event, something is seriously wrong.
What Blue Bloods did for the sake of drama was present a woman who was experiencing the raw impact of trauma decades after the trauma occurred. Without further diagnostic information, this is probably a form of Post Traumatic Stress and may have other mental health implications.
Blue Bloods depicted a myth: that people who have been victimized should remain angry and unforgiving for the rest of their lives. In the context of this story, the message was that such victims have a right to remain enraged forever. In other words, they should be permitted to re-traumatize themselves and victimize others in the process. I find this myth very dangerous physically, spiritually, and psychologically.
While no grief is ever fully resolved, if we fail to move past deep hurts, resentments, angers, and traumas in life, the result is a widening list of disorders that impact our physical health, mental well-being, and spiritual wholeness. Such heighten emotional states that are not resolved contribute to anxiety disorders and clinical depression as well as a variety of physical diseases.
There are many platitudes about the process of forgiveness: that forgiveness benefits the person doing the forgiving. This is indeed true. Taking proper steps to release the emotions that results from significant trauma is of critical importance to a person. It’s part of what leads a person from being a victim to being a survivor. Such a release of the past does not imply that the traumatic event didn’t occur or that someone wasn’t responsible. Instead, the release of the traumatic pain causes the kind of change within a person to prevent the past from being a source of pain in the future.
In the show, Blue Bloods, the character Frank Reagan did a horrible thing: he convinced the women that it was good to remain a victim, to hold onto the pain, and to never let it go. Perhaps if the woman would have taken time to realize that the inmate who killed her family understood that he was taking full responsibility for his actions and admitted that he was horribly wrong, then she’d be able to let go of some of the emotions that continued to haunt and harm her.
People need time to heal from trauma. People also need to support from others. There is a time when it’s appropriate to be emotionally raw and express the pain.
While I watch shows like Blue Bloods as a way to unwind before going to bed, I find it difficult to tune out how poorly personal growth toward wholeness is depicted. I believe it’s critically important to support the process of recovery among those who have experienced trauma rather than encouraging them to retraumatize themselves regularly over the course of a life time.
© 2015, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.