There's a five-word phrase that explains exactly how you are feeling right now.

Before last weekend, most of us probably didn’t give the prospect of a trip to the shopping centre a second thought.

It’s something we all do, all the time. 

We do the grocery shopping; we buy clothes. We grab lunch from the food court, meet up with friends. We pick up cosmetics, baby goods, furniture. We take our toddlers to play, teens go to the movies. We go to work, the hair salon, the chemist. 

Women go. Men go. Children go. Babies go. 

Before the weekend, we didn’t think twice about it. This weekend, though, we might. 

Because since last Saturday, a trip to the shopping centre means… something else.

Watch: What Is Self-care Mental Health Literacy. Article continues after the video.

Video via Headspace.

No longer just another place to go, for one of a thousand different reasons. Now, the shopping centre is a place where your life may be at risk. A place where women are stabbed; where security guards are stabbed; where babies are stabbed. 

Now, the shopping centre isn’t just another place. It's a place where six people were murdered, simply because they were there. For some, the shopping centre might now be an unsettling place. A place our children are too scared to go. A place we are too scared to go. 


It’s a disconcerting feeling, to have our concept of normal shattered in an instant; our concept of safe, of comfort. It’s a feeling that’s difficult to define. A feeling no-doubt felt by many people of faith too, following the Wakeley church stabbings, which took place at the very place many go to escape, process, or heal from tragedy and trauma.  

It’s called Loss of the Assumptive World. 

"Loss of the assumptive world refers to the sense of loss you feel when something traumatic happens that shatters your experience of how the world/life works," explains relationship counsellor and PhD candidate, Susan De Campo. 

"So, for example, you’ve known—via experience that is then ingrained into your subconscious—for the past 30 years, that you can go shopping at Westfield, look around, buy some stuff, get in your car and go home. 

"Now, however, you cannot assume this will be the case—because something like (the Bondi stabbing murders) has happened. 

"It’s a really unsettling feeling—even if you weren’t there—it kind of makes you question the predictability of how the world works. There is a really confronting realisation that life is not predictable."

But it’s not just large-scale events that can result in loss of the assumptive world. Individual tragedies may trigger a similar response. 

"It happens to individuals all the time - a loved one dies in a car accident, a brother dies after being caught in a flood," says De Campo. 

"Any unexpected trauma or threat to life. It's invariably a traumatic event where people will say: 'I just never imagined that something like this could happen'."


It can take us by surprise, making us question a whole raft of life experience that we subconsciously assume. 

"I had a client who was the first on the scene of a horrific armed robbery. Afterwards she developed a real fear of going in elevators - how could she know she wasn't going to get stuck?"

Intense media coverage can also contribute, triggering trauma responses in some people. The good news is it’s not usually permanent. If your feelings are impacting your day-to-day life you may need to purposefully work through them. 

"Recognise the reasonableness of the feelings and why you feel unsettled and ill at ease."

You can do that by first identifying your core beliefs, and use those to challenge new, less functional beliefs. 

Rather than return to your previous assumptive world, the goal is to transform it, taking your current feelings into consideration, to form a view that’s functional, without discounting your very real experiences. 

If you’re feeling stuck, talk to someone about your feelings, or seek professional help.

Feature image: Getty. 

The NSW Mental Health Line is available 24/7, with specialist staff available to speak to anyone affected by the attack. Call 1800 011 511.

Members of the community can also contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.

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