The Survival Rules of War Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome About the Author Contact Us
Readjusting to Civilian Life
Symptoms


What is War?


Women, Families and War


FAQ


Gifts of Life


Podcast


© Copyright 2006

POST TRAUMATIC STRESS SYNDROME

For all the talk about post traumatic stress (PTS) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the meaning it has in our lives is not fully understood.

Using the word disorder unfortunately suggests a judgment that something is not right, when it in fact the distress reactions and moods after war are entirely fitting for the unusual circumstances that happened

PTS and PTSD are natural patterns of responses to overwhelmingly violent and extreme external events that stomp on everything you once believed and cherished and maybe didn’t know you felt. PTS or PTSD can be the chronic stress of the moment and can be the delayed stress that comes long after an event is over.

Throughout time this effect of having warred has been called such things, for example, as cowardice, lack of character, nostalgia, soldier’s heart, war neurosis and, recently, PTSD, all of which reflect the temperament of the times.

PTSD symptoms are those reactions and moods that come on after the traumatic events are over. The problem is with after, because after is sometimes years or even decades afterwards. This makes it difficult to realize that the source of life problems lie in once having warred. It’s easy to understand the stress of actual combat when it’s happening, but people don’t make the connection long after a war is forgotten.

War’s PTSD is not, for example, like what follows battery, rape or arson fires. Men doing combat are not victims. They are at one and the same time the aggressors and those who are aggressed upon. They are trained to do what they do and, at least intellectually, know what they might be in for. 

I have not met combatants who think of themselves as victims, and know that none of them expect or want to be pitied. But the question often is, how can someone who is trained to kill and destroy and knowingly goes to do it be emotionally wounded and traumatized by what they do?  Isn’t that something only victims experience?

It is as if you stop thinking of men as humans. 

WAR’S PTSD

PTSD is an unconscious reenactment of the ways combatants learned to stay alive in body, mind and emotions during combat. Too busy staying alive, combatants have neither time nor inclination to handle and make sense of what was happening to them emotionally.

The problem when they are at home, however, is that they are doing the right things to handle the stresses in war, but not the right things for stress when it comes to relationships and social life in peacetime. Discovering how to change war’s habits of pain into life-positive resources is the focus of using war’s Survival Rules in any version of reality.

PTSD and PTS is a psychological way of taking care of important life business once the extreme danger is over and the body and soul can come down off the shock of great violence. The soul’s grief and disarray after war lie at the crux of the problems.

It’s also very much a body thing. In addition to our thinking brain, there are two ancient intelligences in us whose purpose is to keep us alive and to give us emotions as guidelines to what matters. They keep score of all the good or bad things that happen in and to our bodies. This happens even though our thinking brain, the neocortex, does not like to be held back by the goals of those two, slower and nature-oriented older brains.  

Once these primal brains become agitated by extreme stress and dangers of annihilation, all hell breaks loose and war’s Survival Rules take over.

WHAT!

The military now prepares soldiers for the possibility of having PTS and PTSD but combatants always imagine that it will be the other guy who would be affected, never them. Everyone imagines they will be invincible.

War’s PTSD not just the flashy extremes of behavior like killing one’s wife, strafing people with a machine gun from a clock tower, or “going postal.”

In fact, PTSD is most commonly found in the persistent, low-keyed ways that don’t get noticed. The inner war does not get seen on the outside. These lower-keyed symptoms can look like a range of personality quirks or character problems, for example, or like chronic moodiness or hot tempers or just being unable to keep a job. Not knowing about PTSD is a common cause of needless suffering. 

This more common kind of PTSD can stress and can ruin relationships, marriages, careers, jobs, children, and health. It’s PTSD that sabotages the good will and positive intentions of those who have warred when they back in “civilization’, and which makes them mistakenly think their problems are just who they are, that they’ve always been “this way”, and that they are just not good enough people. This can happen even when ex-combatants have the status symbols of money and positions of importance. 

TRAUMA FREEZE

Emotions, feelings, and even many sensations go into something like an inner “freeze” in combat. War trauma creates a deep freeze that is unlike other traumatizing events because what goes on in war is so far off the map of what is normal.

It’s only after time passes and kinder life events begin to “thaw” that inner psychological freeze, that the emotions, the feelings, the images and the sensations from combat begin returning and making themselves noticed.

You can have two different reactions to this trauma. You can become 

  • Emotionally and mentally armored, or hyper defensive and prickly with everyone
  • Or

  • Emotionally resigned, or hyper passive and just don’t give a care so you don’t have to show up.

And sometimes the reactions switch from incident to incident.

If you don’t know that these two very different reactions are possible, it’s easy to become confused about what you are seeing when symptoms of PTSD appear in such opposite ways.

THE PROBLEM WITH TRUAMA

When extreme violence unfolds a huge shock jolts the mind, the emotions, and the body. Right on its heels comes numbness and, as quickly, an automatic and unnoticed disconnection from the self you were moments before. This is one of the most important parts about trauma, and one that most people don’t realize.

  • Disassociation is like climbing out of your body and out of yourself in order to get away from what hurts you. You get "out there”, into “your head” and disconnect the best you can from what’s going on.

You never notice it happening. You go on automatic and the oldest brain takes over. The problem is the risk of getting "stuck" in this state after it happens. You just don’t know it because even in trauma people can still walk, talk, eat, follow orders, and keep going. You can be a hero. You can be a monster. In this state, you can do whatever it takes.   

Disassociating is a survival move. Its shelf life, however, is no longer palatable when it goes beyond the freshness date of its immediate goal and function.

Disassociating causes problems later in life when, for example, life isn’t going so well and you can’t put your finger on the reason. When your intimate relationships fall apart. Or when you might feel hollow and empty, out of touch with those around you, or notice there’s a big gap between who you believe you are and the person you let others see.

Remember: those qualities that make you fully human did not die in combat. They are on hold and some valuable life lessons you could never have learned in peacetime have been etched into your nervous system leaving it possible change habits of pain that came with combat.