Cinematographer Helena Hutchins was killed and director Joel Souza was injured after Alec Baldwin fired a propaganda pistol on the set of the movie “Rust” Thursday. But there was a third victim in the accident: Baldwin himself. How can a person who has caused death or injury deal with what he did, but inadvertently? How do they deal with the horror, guilt, shame and overwhelming pain they feel? How do they deal with their own trauma?
From a psychological perspective, understanding the role of guilt, responsibility, and compensation can help such an individual process the experience in the healthiest way possible. Recognizing these differences can also help the family and loved ones of the person who died.
Psychological guilt is the feeling we feel when we blame ourselves for violating our values or standards.
First of all, it is important to realize that someone was involved in the accidental death of another person she has They traumatized themselves. Gislan Boulanger, a reference on adult trauma, writes in her book Wounded by Reality Traumatic experiences can shatter an individual’s sense of who they are and destroy their sense of safety in the world.
This experience can raise life-changing questions about who they are and how they became that person. The situation in which someone fires a gun they believe is loaded with voids that lead to death can also erode their trust in others and the world around them. Like other trauma survivors, such a person may believe that he will never feel safe again. Others may ask—and may begin to question themselves—if they somehow, in some way, mean to do so.
Thus, trauma can also disrupt their general sense of being a good person. Guilt can actually be a way to restore that sense of balance. It’s as if they’re saying to themselves, “I’m a good person, because I feel bad about what I’ve done.”
But guilt alone can become devastating, and it can add to the social and psychological isolation that trauma can create if left to fester. Psychoanalyst Stephen Mitchell writes This guilt is a feeling that requires compensation, either from oneself or another person, in order to get rid of it. In other words, one could say that guilt is associated with blame. It is human nature to find someone at fault, whether that person is the culprit, the victim or, in the case of “Rust,” someone who took the actions that led to the firing of a live-fire pistol.
According to Stephen Stosney, writing in Psychology Today, psychological guilt is the feeling we feel when we blame ourselves for violating our values or standards. Thoughts like, “Somehow it was my fault. I could have prevented it,” reminds us of these values. The feeling of residual guilt, which is sometimes a psychological attempt to make sure nothing like this ever happens again, also makes us feel like we’re sticking to our own standards.
Legal condemnation and punishment is society’s way of helping families and loved ones feel compensated, at least to some extent, for the harm done to the victim of crime. But in the case of unintentional murder or injury, there is often no legal compensation – and this can leave not only the victim’s family in trouble, but also the perpetrator. If the law does not consider a person guilty, what does he do about his own feelings of guilt? And when there is trauma, they may not be free from guilt even if they are punished, imprisoned, and served their sentence.
Alternatively, guilt can be mediated by accepting responsibility for their actions while acknowledging that it was not purposeful. For example, they admit that they pulled the trigger—but they also realize that they didn’t do it on purpose or know it was loaded with live bullets, so they can let go of the belief that they could have prevented this from happening. Knowing that the harm they caused was not under their control reduces the need for lifelong guilt and self-punishment.
Moreover, those involved in accidental murder are also helped by finding some way to make reparations. Even doing so indirectly — for example, volunteering to help others who have experienced a similar loss or joining an organization that advocates for gun control — can restore the feeling that they are committed to their own values.
Knowing that the harm they caused was not under their control reduces the need for lifelong guilt and self-punishment.
However, when there is trauma, guilt often does not respond to these actions, and it may be impossible to manage the feelings on their own. Trauma specialists like Boulanger say that finding someone, often a professional, who feels safe talking to them about the experience and can testify to their memories and the painful, confusing, and frightening emotions that go with them, can help make those feelings more manageable. Ultimately, it can help a person regain a sense of confidence in themselves and in the world.
While guilt can require punishment, taking responsibility makes room for pain, sadness, and horror to be incorporated into the sheer complexity of emotions that are part of life. Making algebra can reconnect them with their own values and with others, so they can manage the echo of trauma, forgive themselves, stay true to their values and reconnect with the world.