Michael J. Salamon

Trauma of Our Biases in Times of War

As if there has not been enough trauma, now the public finger pointing begins. The New York Times reported that a female analyst in signal intelligence at Unit 8200 raised the warning of the Hamas plan of attack a year before the current animated CYA (cover your ass) behavior has kicked into high gear. Now reporters supportive of the IDF write articles suggesting that the politicians are at fault for the success of the horrific HAMAS attack while reporters siding with politicians focus their readers wrath on the Generals.

None of this is new. Rumors of the numerous failures that led up to 7/10, the clear reports of Hamas military exercises, Bibi’s alleged unwillingness to hear reports from the Generals, having far too many troops on the West Bank to appease far right politicians instead of positioning troops on the Southern border, and the failure to move intelligence reports up the chain of command were all circulated as early as October 8. So, allow me to caution everyone – Please wait until an official inquiry is completed! It is far too easy to fall down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories and the NY Times report greases that hole. Many Generals and politicians will fall on their swords at some point, as they should, but let’s not push the innocents to commit Hari Kari.

The anxiety surrounding all the events since October has triggered a host of emotional reactions that fit some well-known but harmful psychological paradigms. We are familiar with the concept of cognitive dissonance, the discomfort experienced with thoughts or beliefs that are contradictory. There are other psychological concepts tangential but no less powerful than cognitive dissonance that are in effect in the current situation. Confirmation Bias, the Polarization Effect and Motivated Reasoning all contribute to how we react to events in our lives, especially in times of traumatic stress.

Beliefs we already hold affect the way in which we process new information. This Confirmation Bias can prevent us from assimilating new, even important information. The more biased a person is the more likely they are to interpret new information intensely and not necessarily accurately. This Polarization Effect behavior amplifies Confirmation Bias solidifying the fact that such a person is unable to process new, even highly relevant data. The third bias, Motivated Reasoning, causes intense personal dissonance when a person’s fears, beliefs and hopes make them more likely to accept information, even if it is wrong, if it supports what they want to believe.

It may seem cathartic to be an armchair general or the Prime Minister of the country but without the necessary information, insight, and real-time reporting all it accomplishes is increasing one’s psychological tension. And this tension spreads to those all around. There is enough of an emotional toll worrying about hostages, rockets, civilians, soldiers, media bias and antisemitism to warrant not adding more poignancy to the pain and disruption we already feel.

The pressure to make sense of it all, to find a way to alleviate the discomfort we feel when we hear reports of women kept in cages, children branded by exhausts from motorcycles, hostages not being fed and those videos that the terrorists themselves took and posted, not to mention the ongoing war, can lead us in the wrong emotional direction. There are, however, some simple psychological steps to take to maintain a more balanced approach that will help to stabilize our trauma fueled reactions.

The first and perhaps most effective is to maintain a normal routine as much as possible. Spending too much time following media reports detracts from the important steps necessary for self-care; and self-care is penultimate if we are to confront the dissonance caused by trauma. Also, be engaged with loved ones – not with the primary focus on discussing what a media reporter or commentator said. Rather, discuss family and social issues, the things that are important in daily life. In addition, spend free time volunteering. Offering time and effort to help others allows us to focus on two aspects of psychological health, the ability to be there for others and our own sense of accomplishment for supporting the community at large.

This war will leave echoes of stress for decades. When the war finally ends there will be Boards of inquiry. There will be political upheaval and significant changes to military intelligence, strategy, and tactics. Through all this maintaining a balanced approach to dealing with our trauma by understanding psychological biases, not being bound to them, and reengaging in a healthful manner with our world is the most productive way to cope.

About the Author
Dr. Michael Salamon ,a fellow of the American Psychological Association, is an APA Presidential Citation Awardee for his 'transformative work in raising awareness of the prevention and treatment of childhood sexual abuse". He is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in New York and Netanya, the author of numerous articles, several psychological tests and books including "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (Urim Publications), "Every Pot Has a Cover" (University Press of America) and "Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims."
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