"This is an entirely new phenomenon, as far as I can tell, and my worry is that, if it goes on and on, people will just say 'Enough!' and act out," said Dr. Fred Gusman, director of the education division of the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Palo Alto. "I don't think we'll be able to know what the effects are for a couple of years."
"The sight of those people jumping from the towers because they'd rather fall than be burned . . . I just can't get it out of my head," said Jack Copas, 47, a Methodist minister and lifelong pacifist in Totowa, N.J. He said that since Sept. 11 he has been more furious than ever before in his life. "I keep asking: Why didn't they attack at night--when the buildings weren't full?"
Copas' anger has prompted him to reassess friendships. One longtime friend, a Christian fundamentalist, recently remarked that the attacks were a great wake-up call from God. "He said, 'We need to get right with Jesus.' When he said that to me, I became incensed. I said: 'This is God? God did this?' "
Copas broke off the relationship. His differences with his friend probably were there all along, he suspects, but the response to the attack brought them to the surface.
Gaston, the public defender, has put her anger to practical use. She has been exploring the CIA's Internet site to see if there is some way she can help in the war on terrorism.
"It makes me laugh," she said. "I don't speak any foreign languages; I certainly wouldn't blend in, and all along I'm thinking, 'What on Earth am I doing looking at a [Web] site of people I've been opposed to all my life?' "
For Glenn, the Catholic peace activist in Nebraska, the turmoil of recent months has prompted a rethinking of the principles that have defined her life.
"When it's a matter of self-preservation, I think we need to ask ourselves when it's OK to harm others," she said. While Glenn has not abandoned her commitment to peace, she says she won't march in local demonstrations against the operation in Afghanistan.
"If I'm going to stand somewhere with a sign that says, 'peace now,' I want it to say: 'stop using planes as weapons; stop using anthrax--peace now.' If there's a madman shooting people in McDonald's, do we have a rally outside saying, 'peace now'?"
A Counterbalance of Shame
Struggling with the emotion in these ways is far better than trying to ignore it, psychologists say. What often prevents us from acknowledging the depth of our anger, they say, is an equally powerful counterbalance: shame. Revenge fantasies evoke feelings of shame; they seem to reveal an underlying depravity, even mental instability.
"People feel much more comfortable grieving deeply than expressing anger," said Robert W. Cromey, a former therapist who is rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in San Francisco. "I think the grief that people are pouring out now is deeply related to anger. It's much more acceptable in our society to be sad than to be really mad."
Yet having Rambo-like visions after Sept. 11 does not imply anything about a person's moral character, mental health researchers say.
"There's part of me that wants to go over [to Afghanistan] and pick up a gun and start killing people," Gaston said. "But I think it's important that we not let this attack turn us into something we don't want to be. On a personal level, I don't want to be the person wearing a T-shirt showing Osama bin Laden with a target. . . . It seems to trivialize the whole thing."