*First of all, apparently my doctor is right and the current flare up is an infection, ironically caused by the exam. The antibiotic is working, but because it’s horse-dosage it’s bringing issues of its own, mostly nausea and stomach pain. Also I slept too much so was late with the first dose and I do feel it.*
The Need for Trauma
Look, I’m not one of the people who denies the existence of real PTSD. All of us who were either in sudden, horrible conditions (well, getting shot at even in a crowd leaves a mark) or who lived in stressful conditions for years (eh. Twice) have the marks. They might be as little as my horror of either being in a “bowl” that people could shoot from higher buildings for any length of time, or my discomfort sitting with my back to the street. The later, I can at this point steel myself to do, but I’m still “not myself” which is why the boys and Dan visually pick the corner seat for me in any restaurant.
People who had experiences a thousand times worse than mine, have other problems. I’ve heard of men who don’t dare share a bed with their wives, for fear of what a touch in the middle of the night might bring forth in retaliation before they wake enough to control themselves. And others, you probably have heard about also.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the people who watched/heard the Charlie Hebdo murders have reactions the rest of their lives.
This is the result of a useful evolutionary trait. When you almost died but didn’t, your brain imprints the situation so you can avoid it. Think of Great Grandma Og picking berries and grabbing the tail of the tiger. Not making that mistake again might be very important for us being here. Ie she didn’t get eaten that time, but also didn’t get eaten the next time, when she was carrying a baby and couldn’t move as fast.
However these mechanisms are stupid. They don’t distinguish what makes the situation difficult. What they imprinted for grandma Og might be “don’t touch anything moving in the bush” so that when the wind rustled the leaves, she needed to close her eyes and take a moment. (Which is how she died. While she was closing her eyes, the terror chicken leapt and…)
So for me triggers are actually large gatherings of people compressed together in a mass and tall overlooking buildings. In the same way, unlike my sister in law who can NOT hear champagne popped without freaking, I don’t even have a problem with back fires UNLESS I’m in a keyed up state for other reasons (like an approaching election) in which case you’ll find me under the nearest truck, or pressed against a doorway.
Firearm sounds DO give me an issue, which makes range time… negotiated.
Anyway – the point is that the imprinting stress has to be EITHER so sudden and violent and “OMG, I almost died” that it imprints, or it’s not so much PTSD but a series of learned responses. The abused child flinches from the raised hand, because he learned, over time, to avoid a slap. This is the same as my tendency for years to throw whatever I was reading under the nearest piece of furniture because mom raised an unholy ruckus at my wasting time reading. PTSD? No, in that case learned behavior.
In either case, I can read about people being gunned down from a height. Most veterans can read articles about the war. What some might not be able to read is vivid, well written descriptions of things they lived through.
I’m not going to tell anyone how to cope with their trauma.
I have friends who went through years of abuse and who can’t read fiction where someone is in a position of abuse (spouse or child.) They can’t do it, because if vivid enough it makes them relive it.
These same people CAN read and write non-fiction on the subject, though, and often do.
What I’m trying to say here is that real PTSD exists, but triggering it is both easier and harder than is portrayed in the media.
And it is both easier and harder than the assumptions of people who want to claim “victimhood on the cheap.”
In a culture where being a victim of something is the ultimate status that prevents you from being chided or blamed for anything and which might get you special treatment depending on where and when you are, I can see why so many people want that status.
All the same, when people demand trigger warnings for scholarly texts describing abuse; or even more weirdly demand warning for things like mentioning small holes or spiders – we’ve reached the point of silly.
And then I noted, among the younger people, a tendency to use trigger as “makes me uncomfortable.” So you get “So and so triggers me.” Or “political discussion triggers me.” Or even “Saying communism doesn’t work triggers me.”
I think it’s important to understand that there is a difference between “I hate this/that” and triggers me.
Can someone trigger you? Absolutely. In the one significant trauma of my childhood (childhood is a series of traumas. That’s how we grow. But some are out of the ordinary, unexpected and leave scars) being what used to be called “interfered with” by a family friend, I had reactions to his presence or the smell of his cigars so strong that it would make me throw up. (And I am one of those people who has trouble throwing up even when she needs to.) Because my parents didn’t believe/figure it out (I didn’t tell dad because he’d kill the man, and mom has one of those minds who can’t believe people will do what she, herself, has no inclination to do. So it wasn’t till the man died a few years ago and his daughters talked that mom and dad figured it out) he visited the house fairly frequently till I was about seventeen, so if I saw his car up front, I’d take a detour and stay at my best friend’s through the night. (Even though AFAIC remember, I was too old for him at 12, and certainly by fourteen.) Even with me not thinking about it, and his not doing anything, my body would react with the full panoply of stress markers to the point it was impossible to be in the same house with him.
But the sense in which I’ve heard this used by the younger people is “I had an argument with my friend and now she triggers me.” That’s not triggering. That’s just being uncomfortable and finding a way to make the waters of social interaction smooth enough to navigate.
In the same way, the color red doesn’t trigger you, unless it was present when you were nearly killed. And the smell of cinnamon apple doesn’t trigger you if the worst thing you associate with it was that morning mom yelled at you while you ate it.
That sort of trauma is the “growing trauma” kind. Look, we’re all born not as noble savages but as nasty little savages with no boundaries. I remember myself pretty young, which means I remember my friends too. And I’ve raised kids. They will do the most appalling things because they don’t know they’re appalling. And they’re born with one prerogative: make sure I’m comfortable and taken care of.
For instance older son came from the hospital convinced (he was born in a small university hospital and we stayed for two weeks, because I was too ill to go home. For most of that time he was the only child there, being carried around 24/7 by nurses and attendants) that he would be catered to every hour of the day or night. Learning not to wake us when we slept came through our not picking him up when he screamed all night. Learning to give a d*mn that mom and dad got some rest and weren’t stumbling zombies came even later, through painful situations (like having a brother) that taught him he was not the center of the universe.
What I’m trying to say is that if you don’t expose a child to some discomfort, starting as an infant, if you cater to his every whim and do everything to stop him crying/being upset, the child will never grow up.
Unfortunately our methods of raising children, both the “no physical punishment” church (yes, of course it is possible to raise a child with no physical punishment. But before they’re three or so, a mild slap on the butt saves hours of countering attempts to do the dangerous thing, not to mention screaming fits when physically restrained) and the necessity for most parents of putting the child in daycare as soon as daycare will take the baby mean that children aren’t exposed to PURPOSEFUL discomfort.
Daycares can’t afford in our litigious society to target a kid’s behavior for a week or so and make it really uncomfortable till they quit it. And I can think of ten instances where I needed to do that – and my kids were relatively easy – from bad habits like sucking your thumb to the tendency to want things exactly the same way day after day. I had to target the child, pay close attention and make his life impossible if he did it. (Most of the time this meant scolding and or pulling the sucked thumb away. Or threatening to take away their computer cord.)
The kids didn’t like it, and I liked it less than they did, and supposing a daycare had enough personnel and detailed a person to follow little Timmy around pulling his thumb from his mouth and yelling, how do you think little Timmy’s parents would react when learning these people targeted their precious child for that kind of surveillance.
Most public-raising of kids seems to operate on moderating behavior that affects them, ignoring what doesn’t affect them (as a daycare, or a school) and never making the kid uncomfortable enough to change, just cunning enough not to do it in public.
The amazing thing is that, raised that way, most people are still more or less functional. (Yes, we do get the ferals too, but in proportion to the population, not that many.)
But from all the “you trigger me” and “I was triggered by a discussion of snow storms by two weathermen, because I was very cold once, as a child” that the number of them who aren’t shams, the number who in fact experience debilitating symptoms, experience them because whatever mechanism records truly threatening/mind shattering experiences is broken.
If you’re raised without your level of discomfort approaching what was normal for most human childhoods for oh, most of the twentieth century – which in relation to the rest of history is already immensely pampered – you’re going to experience any discomfort as a huge trauma.
Think of it as being raised in a bubble. The first time you come out and catch the common cold, you’re going to be extremely ill, even though the people around you are shrugging off the sniffles, and making fun of yours.
Now imagine one of the kids raised in this emotional bubble, where no one is allowed to even say anything mean (because the daycare manages interpersonal conflict, to keep trouble to a minimum) to them. The real world – a boss’s scathing comments; friends who don’t invite you to a party; your artwork being less than admired – is going to seem like a series of kicks in the teeth. This is probably, partly, where the concept of micro aggressions comes from.
Something like being raped? You’ll never recover from it, never, never, never. In fact you can’t imagine other people recovering, even though we have examples all around of people who suffered horrible violations/attacks and lived happy lives afterwards, without flinching every time “rape” is mentioned. In fact, you might overreact so much that you react to a bad date as others do to rape.
So – the best thing you can do for your kids? Don’t make their lives too easy.
And if you were raised in a bubble and want to be normal? Go and read great stories of survival. Be aware of things like the survivors of Hitler’s death camps coming to America and building normal and prosperous lives. That is human resilience and more normal, throughout a human history filled with horrors, than your overreaction to everything. So be aware of what normal is and aim for it. It will hurt. Changing behavior hurts for everyone. Humans are creatures of habit. Fortunately given enough will power, humans can also do just about anything. Steel yourself and try it.
And for those excusing things like the Charlie Hebdo massacre because they were really mean to Muslims. Pah. You are no friend of Muslims. Part of the issue with Islam is that it hasn’t been hardened in a pluralistic society.
Except for oil, their lands are utter backwaters, and don’t attract immigration or a lot of mingling. They’ve been able to keep the barbaric laws all religions tried at some time, that said “no believers in another religion allowed.”
So there’s been no disputation, no argument. And their holy book guarantees that they’re superior and that everyone would believe like them, if the person were good. Yes, most holy books do so, but in their case, growing up in the midst of communities who all believed this, they can’t imagine anyone arguing.
When they move out to the real world, you know, the greater world with believers in other holy books or in nothing at all, they can’t process people making fun of their prophet or religion as anything but a deliberate slap in the face. So they react as a kid who has been mollycoddled from childhood would to being told he’s ugly and his mother dresses him funny. Even if it happens to all the other kids, to him it’s new and horrible. He can’t process it, so he reacts with violence against self or against others.
The way to stop these outbursts is not to apologize to Muslims for the mean things the “right wing” is saying. The way to stop these outbursts is for everyone to turn on them and tell them “this is beyond the pale and unacceptable. This is not how you win respect among civilized people.”
The way to stop it for everyone to mock them, until they realize this is normal, and reacting to cartoons with violence only makes them despicable, not feared.
For their own good, we must do this.
Because what we’re doing right now is like Heinlein’s description in Starship troopers of how not to raise a dog (or a child.) Every time they commit an atrocity the useful idiots go into overdrive explaining how they didn’t mean it and the victim had it coming, whether the victim is Israel or French cartoonists.
They’re appeased and allowed to feel they’re special, and there’s nothing they should change.
Lulled in this way, sooner or later a particularly gifted idiot among them is going to do something that takes out a city or a hundred thousand innocents in a western city (has to be. Look, no one is talking about Nigeria.)
And then suddenly and horribly the west will turn on them and there WILL be massacres. The US might take longer, but my sense is Europe is pretty close to this now.
This is like babying a dog, and never telling him he shouldn’t go in the house and then when he’s a full grown dog and makes a mess, you take him out and shoot him.
Dogs, children and entire peoples learn by trauma. The ideal situation is where you provide enough little traumas that the creature, person, people can live in the greater world without causing the rest of the world to want them dead badly enough.
Too much kindness is not kind. That way lies death for dog or child or entire cultures.