Are We Responsible For Stress From A Natural Disaster?

by Doc Orman, M.D.

This week, I’ve been exploring the question: “Are we responsible for any stress we experience?”  Only I’ve been exploring this question in ways that are different from how most people talk about and think about personal responsibility.

Warning: Either/Or Free Zone

In part 1 of this series, I suggested that the reason we have so much trouble answering questions about personal responsibility is that we’ve been conditioned to think about responsibility in either/or terms.  This causes us to associate the word “responsibility” with “blame.”   

Not My Fault

Then in part 2 of this series, I pointed out that true responsibility has nothing to do with either/or dichotomies—it is a both/and way of looking at things.  Thus, when you let go of your automatic, conditioned either/or framework, the answer to the question starts to shift between “yes” and “no” (or sometimes between “yes” and “yes”) depending upon what part of any multi-layered stressful event you focus on.

Example #2

Consider the stress that commonly occurs in the wake of a natural disaster.  Things like earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, class five hurricanes, floods, fires, prolonged droughts, etc. can cause widespread loss of homes, health, possessions and even lives, including loved ones.

So the question I’d like to pose today is: “Are we responsible for any stress we experience due to losses we sustain from a natural disaster?”  Trust me, the answer is not a simple “yes” or “no.”

Are we personally responsible for the natural disaster that occurred?  Obviously not.  But could we have evacuated the area more quickly, could we have taken other actions to mitigate our losses, or could we have done a better job of protecting loves ones?  Sometimes the answer will be “yes” and sometimes it will be “no.”

And if we do suffer a major loss, are we responsible for any stress that results from this?  Loss is often painful, but how much pain is unavoidable and how much is within our direct personal control?  Some might say that all pain of loss is potentially avoidable, while others might argue that certain life events are so horrible that it would be unrealistic to think that people won’t be stressed by them.

Another thing to consider is how long should be remain highly stressed by the impact of a natural disaster?  Once things settle down, should our stress carry on for weeks, months or years following?   And if it does, are we personally responsible for this or are we just the victims of an unfortunate circumstance beyond our direct control?

How you think about these types of questions could easily have an influence on how much stress you experience.  I personally believe that a good portion of the stress we suffer after a devastating natural disaster is still well within our power to control.  I know others believe differently.  And perhaps for some individuals, their viewpoint might be more realistic.

But at least it’s useful for us all to reflect on these types of issues, while trying not to become trapped within an either/or way of thinking about them.

For a full list of all of my Kindle books about stress, click on this link:


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