Dear Dr. Brady: Feeling alone, having flashbacks to accident when no one came to my aid

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Dear Dr. Brady,

I was in a bad accident and no one came to my car to help me.  I don’t understand this and just keep having flashbacks of being in the car and feeling alone.  


Careening after Crashing

Dear Careening,

I am so very sorry to hear that you feel alone after surviving your accident. Your letter is brief but so poignant. I am glad you dared to reach out through this brief letter.

I don’t know the specifics of your accident or the scene that surrounded it. I can’t speak to specific factors that may have influenced how people responded. I can say that what you describe is incredibly common and in no way a reflection on how loved or appreciated you are.

We often think that how people respond to a situation has something to do with how we are or who we are to them. In fact there are a lot of situational factors that shape how people respond, or don’t respond, to a given event.

It might seem like a busy road with lots of people speeding by would be the “best” road to have a serious accident on. It may seem like the more people who see something happen, the more people will respond and jump in.

Kitty Genovese and bystander apathy.
The case of Kitty Genovese and bystander apathy.

Do you know the story of Kitty Genovese? Sadly she was murdered by a stalking ex-partner. Her murder happened under the eyes of her neighbors, 38 of whom reported (after her death) that they had seen the grisly scene happen. No one called the police. Their reasoning? They all said they thought someone else had already called and didn’t want to overwhelm or bother the dispatch office. Researchers at NYU (Darley and Latane) were so affected by this news story they began a lifetime of research on what and why people (bystanders) respond to emergencies. They and others since have learned some important lessons about people responding to emergencies. When a large number of people (eight or more) witness an event, the likelihood that any of them will act is LOWER than when only a few people witness an event.

Another factor that impacts who and how people respond is whether they believe themselves to have the ability to respond to an emergency. There may have been people who witnessed your accident and didn’t think they knew enough about first aid to help, or their phone battery was dead, or they have a phobia of blood and were afraid they might faint and add to a problem rather than help a problem. I am sure that even if all someone did was let you know you were not alone and help was on its way it would have made a huge difference for you, but sometimes people don’t understand just how powerful their presence is for another person in need.

There are some other explanations of course, we know the sight of blood and flames can influence whether people respond (in general anything that makes a situation seem scary and overwhelming leads to decreases in people responding. A horrible human paradox.). I know there are ways to get people in large crowds to respond (make eye contact, say something that identifies an individual, and shout clearly an instruction or request. “Hey, girl in the yellow hat. Do you have a cell phone? Call 911 and tell them there is an emergency now!”) But I suspect knowing this isn’t going to make the horror of waiting helplessly for someone to come any easier for you.

The feeling of being alone in times of need can be unsettling.
The feeling of being alone in times of need can be unsettling.

Intellectually knowing that there are scientific explanations for what happened that day doesn’t make the feelings you are having magically disappear. You felt alone. Frankly, you were alone, we all are, even when we are with those we love. This is one of the painful aspects of being human; an awareness and desire for connection with others and a deep well of need that never stays satisfied for long.

Traumatic events awaken us to that well more sharply than regular life tends to.

Some people have spiritual or faith traditions that help them make sense of these feelings and experiences. Others embrace creating and celebrating community. Others stay so busy they don’t have time to stare at the emptiness for too long. It’s still there, but a full house or calendar makes the noise a little distant and less intense.  When we are ill or cut off from our normal routines and relationships we are likely to feel this isolation even more acutely. Our normal coping responses are not available and that leaves us with the tapes that play in our heads, and speaking for myself here, those tapes aren’t that sweet.

So, what can you do NOW after having survived and feeling shattered by the isolation and abandonment you felt?

One thing to remember is that these feelings are natural and understandable responses to what you went through. You don’t need to beat yourself up for the accident or for feeling completeScreenshot 2015-03-15 at 10.59.54 PMly alone. When you have a flashback to the scene and feel alone, remind yourself that was then, and this is now. Try to imagine the accident scene from an onlookers perspective. When you play the scene like a movie you might be able to understand what others in the scene may have had impacting their response. You of course will never know for sure why people didn’t respond, but imagining the scene from their perspective will help you develop a perspective that takes some of the weight off of you.

Screenshot 2015-03-15 at 11.01.23 PMWhile you felt alone in that moment, you don’t need to feel alone now. What can you do to reach out to those you love or want to connect with? Can you send a message or invitation? Can you share with those close to you how much you want to connect with them now? Do you need to reach out for psychotherapy or connect with your spiritual advisor? What can you do now that would help someone else? It is often in connecting with others in need that we ourselves begin to feel less alone.  I hope the days ahead bring you all the healing you need.

Resources: Counseling and therapy group listings from Psychology Today; Pastoral Counseling Services.

Send in YOUR question

Alright, it’s your turn. I hope you’ll join me in seeking clarity for the shifts you are navigating.

Readers of Manchester Ink Link seek relevant, local, and pragmatic reporting. Carol Robidoux provides layered reports that allow all of us to feel not only part of the story, but partnerclaritys in resolution. My hope is that this column will serve as a compass for readers seeking clarity in the chaos of their businesses, personal lives, or relationships. From time to time we will have guest columnists offer their insight on a challenge. This information is simply opinion, but I hope you will share your stories so that others can gain clarity for themselves. Questions are powerful. We hope you will share yours here

Loretta L.C. Brady
Loretta L.C. Brady


Loretta L.C. Brady owns BDS Insight a culture, crisis, and conflict management firm in Manchester.  She is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Saint Anselm College. She, her husband Brian Brady, and their 5 children live and work in Manchester.

DisclaimerThe opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. This column, its author, the newspaper and publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. Dr. Loretta L.C. Brady, clinical and organizational psychologist, offers her and guest columnist opinions on a variety of current event and reader submitted subjects. She and they are expressing personal and professional opinions and views. Manchester Ink Link and Dr. Loretta L.C. Brady are not responsible for the outcome or results of following the advice of this column in any given situation.

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About Carol Robidoux 5855 Articles
Longtime NH journalist and publisher of Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!