Trauma Response to the Damar Hamlin Incident on 1/2/23


January 3, 2023

LETTER TO THE CINCINNATI AREA MEDIA RE: Trauma Response to Damar Hamlin’s Medical Incident

Many in our community and beyond (all those watching on TV and waiting or seeing it on social media after the fact) have experienced strong emotional and even physical reactions with the terrible and tragic incident befalling Damar Hamlin on the field of the Paycor/Bengal’s Stadium on Monday evening.

What you are feeling is VICARIOUS or SECONDARY TRAUMA. You are witnessing the threat to the life of another person. We have mirror neurons that exist in our brains strategically located behind our eyes. These neurons allow us to experience what other humans experience. They are wonderful for building empathy and understanding another’s experience, and for sharing in someone’s joy, but much harder to manage when the experience shared is fear and sadness and when the eyes (and whole body) watch a tragedy befall another human. Your responses of your own fear, terror, sadness are normal reactions to witnessing a trauma (or experiencing one first-hand).

So first, please do yourself the favor of acknowledging that what your body and brain are doing are EXACTLY what they are supposed to be doing in service of survival. The fear or survival responses we are mostly aware of are FIGHT, FLIGHT, and FREEZE. In addition, there is one called FLOCK.  FLOCK sends us to others for safety and confirmation of our experience. All the talking about and posting on social media is inviting our FLOCK (others in our circle) to help. This is a NORMAL SURVIVAL RESPONSE.\

Some will move into Anger or FIGHT, making accusations of the players involved, the football establishment, the coaches, the whole NFL, anything in the environment that could have a part of the tragedy. Some might even throw things in anger and frustration at the lack of general protection for this young man. This is also a NORMAL response.

Some wanted to run from the stadium or from the viewing of it on TV or another device. They don’t’ want to see it again, talk about it, re-live it. This is an example of FLIGHT and is also a NORMAL response to witnessing tragedy or trauma. Some were FROZEN, didn’t know what to do, say, think, had to stop completely because it was so overwhelming. This is also a NORMAL response.

You can have one or many types of responses to witnessing (secondary) or experiencing first-hand, a trauma. ALL ARE NORMAL AND OKAY and need to be acknowledged as such. 

The goal of the body and brain in the aftermath of a trauma is to RELEASE the energy generated during its survival response. And to CALM the body, bringing it back to a state of equilibrium or regular nervous system responding. There are a few things that usually work to calm everyone: 1) deep breathing, 2) rhythmic movement (e.g., walking, running, dancing to a beat, drumming) or 3) rhythmic language (praying). 4) Talking with your FLOCK about your feelings during and after the event also helps.\

Feel free to utilize the trauma related Resources at:  for gaining knowledge, coping skills, and professional help if needed.

In Hope and Healing,

Melissa Adamchik, MA, LPP

Licensed Psychological Practitioner

Executive Director, Tristate Trauma Network