Today we take a look at the second of three big lies about PTSD.
The second big lie about PTSD is that only combat vets get PTSD.
As a means to deny people the legitimacy of their PTSD suffering, some folks will endeavor to say that your particular trauma does not measure up. They will say you did not suffer enough, or you did not suffer from the right traumatic source to qualify for PTSD. They claim that unless you were in heavy combat like Okinawa or Iwo Jima, that you cannot possibly have contracted PTSD. These folks will assert that being raped by a priest, or assaulted in an alley, or surviving a natural disaster does not qualify the victim for PTSD eligibility.
PTSD Does Not Care How You Got Traumatized
Combat experience can certainly cause PTSD. But non-combat duty can inflict the PTSD soul wound. In fact, civilian trauma can cause PTSD. As I have mentioned elsewhere, in certain circumstances you can even get PTSD from your civilian job. Besides speaking with veterans, I have also met with clergy abuse survivors, rape survivors, and domestic violence survivors. None of those individuals were in the military, let alone in combat, but they all exhibited similar PTSD symptoms. In my experience, PTSD does not care how you got traumatized.
We are called to help heal others and be compassionate. We are not called to judge if other people’s sufferings are worthy of our attention. That attitude is such a case of hubris and egotism that it borders on blasphemy.
The common denominator for PTSD is surviving trauma that has damaged our soul, not surviving a specific type of trauma.
From my observations, a child who is raped, or a wife who is beaten, are just as likely to develop PTSD as a combat soldier.
Recently (19 Jan 2011), Pauline Jelinek, writing in the Washington Post, pointed out that soldiers serving in the National Guard and the Reserves, even when they had no combat assignments, incurred PTSD. Many of them have committed suicide. See, “Spike in Suicides for Army Guard and Reserve,” by Pauline Jelinek, in the Washington Post.
[Interestingly, when I went back to get a link for this story, it had vanished. Why it was deleted, I don’t know. After all, it’s no secret the military is failing to convince soldiers that suicide is not a viable career move.]
In spite of the vanishing article, Jelinek reported:
“Maj. Gen. Raymond Carpenter, acting director of the Army National Guard, said the risk of suicide among his soldiers does not appear to be substantially linked to war deployments or lack of jobs. Instead, he said, about half the cases of Guard soldiers’ suicides involved people in troubled relationships.”
Troubled relationships are often a symptom of PTSD, not necessarily the cause of a PTSD suicide. Symptoms can become causes for other symptoms, which then can cause suicide. If the general’s troops have troubled domestic relationships, they may have PTSD and be at a higher suicide risk. Even if a soldier’s troubled relationships are not the direct result of combat, deployments, or job loss, they still will contribute to lower unit cohesion and effectiveness. If commanders want to reduce suicides, they will need to take troubled personal relationships more seriously. They must do this regardless if the trouble is due to a direct military cause or not.
From what various officers and troops have told me, the disregard of personal stress, PTSD, and suicides is frequently dismissed by general officers. While my evidence is anecdotal, I still have never had an American officer or enlisted person emphasize how much their general did to prevent PTSD and suicides.
While combat can certainly cause PTSD, combat is not the sole cause of PTSD. We need to be creative and think outside the box. Trauma is the cause of PTSD. Combat is one of many forms of trauma that can cause PTSD. Yet, the soaring rate of non-combat military suicides helps demonstrate that PTSD need not be limited to only combat veterans.
Why Try to Minimize PTSD to Only Combat?
Some people will assert that only combat veterans can have PTSD for the same reasons that other people deny the existence of PTSD altogether. We laid some of this out in the previous essay on the First Big Lie About PTSD, but to summarize some of the points:
– By asserting only combat veterans can get PTSD, then we can deny the validity of non-combat PTSD sufferers
– By limiting the PTSD eligibility, we can fully engage our Compassion Deficit Disorder and neglect others who are suffering
– By denying the condition exists we don’t have to compensate it financially or treat it medically
– By denying the suffering of others I gain more free time to focus on video games, TV reality shows, and telling anyone who will listen that I am a good Christian
Dealing with PTSD’s Handmaidens
What If Someone Tries to Minimize Your PTSD?
So what do you when someone refuses to have dialogue, when they refuse to hear you? Walk away and pray that God may make them open to the grace of compassion. These people are toxic to genuine PTSD sufferers. They want us to be quiet and stay isolated and do them the favor of committing suicide.
The PTSD Denier is a PTSD Handmaiden. They help PTSD ravage you that much more. Paradoxically, their denials can magnify your PTSD symptoms.
Unteachable and Unreachable, Yet Needing Compassion Themselves
In most cases, if someone is trying to tell you that you have not suffered enough, or you were not traumatized in the right way to earn a case of PTSD, then they cannot be shown otherwise. They are usually unteachable, at least at that point in time. They will not hear you, they have neither the skills or inclinations to listen to someone else. Often, they have been damaged in some way and never helped or cared for. Now, bitter, they want the rest of the world to suffer as well. Thus, they deserve our compassion and pity. They may have placed themselves beyond our reach, but they can still be prayed for.
The PTSD Handmaiden may deny the reality of your PTSD soul wound because they will claim you were not in combat. Or, you were not in the right type of combat. Or, you were not in combat long enough. They seek ways to define your suffering right out of existence. As they walk away all smug, you still suffer.
PTSD Deniers betray themselves by following a pattern that goes like this:
-They won’t let you finish describing your traumatic story or how it affected you.
-They keep trying to find ways to minimize or belittle your trauma.
-They reference someone else who had it worse and is just fine.
-They are obsessed with “people who get something for nothing.”
-They constantly interrupt but demand your rapt attention.
Don’t Cast Your Pearls Before Swine
Your story of trauma and living through the symptoms of PTSD’s soul wound is too sacred to be thrown at the feet of PTSD’s Handmaidens so they can trample it. In other essays I have mentioned you need to be careful who you confide in, because toxic people will get their jollies by mocking your suffering and imply you are faking it or are just a weak loser. Oddly enough, even if I am a weak loser, I know that Jesus came to save me.
Avoid the Dogfight
In the old days I might have had some choice words for the PTSD Handmaiden who mocked my suffering. But there is no progress, no teaching, no grace, in hitting back with words or fists. That person is sicker than I am, especially if they are the dreadful combination of a PTSD Handmaiden and a Plastic Christian. These are the ones who emphasize money, denying care, letting someone else take risks while they talk big, and show no compassion to the physically or spiritually wounded.
When a PTSD Handmaiden and a Plastic Christian mate and have a unLove Child, then the best we can do is pray for them all. When they are wounded, we must show them the compassion they deny others.
It’s a tricky balance because you must not let them trample your own sacred story. We need to learn just who to share our wounds with, who can be trusted to listen and heal along with us. If we are most fortunate then that person is our spouse or special friend. With or without that trusted listener, we still share our story in prayer with God and in writing. The page never tires of taking the words of my suffering. God never tires of hearing how I and others suffer and how I plead for the grace to love them and have compassion on them – even when they are so darned toxic.
Can a Person with Zero Combat Experience Get PTSD?
Yes, absolutely. One almost wishes the answer is no, but we are all susceptible to PTSD soul wounds. Why? Because we have souls. Even an atheist has a soul. Our souls, just like bones, can be broken. Sometimes they need repair.
If your soul has been wounded, regardless of how you were traumatized, then it can also heal.
God created us with the capacity to love one another. That same capacity means we can be soul wounded. But, it also means our souls can heal.
Never give up hope. Find someone reliable to talk with. Talk to God. Write it down. Seek creative outlets (music, art, writing, prayer) and avoid the toxic unLove Children of PTSD Handmaidens and Plastic Christians. Pray for them, but don’t dance with them.
I say it over and over because it is true: You Have Value! You Can Heal! God Loves You!
Semper Pax, Dr. Z