The climb

The climb
Climbing together

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

PTSD Reactivation

I feel obligated to provide an update on my President-elect Trump PTSD reactivation.

The reactivation of PTSD symptoms due to present-day stressors has previously been observed and commented upon in the psychiatric community. Trauma reactivation and treatment has been a topic under some consideration for over 25 years, though most of the research centers natural disasters and combat veterans. Other women have written articles about what this election means for a woman with PTSD, a domestic violence survivor shared how Donald Trump was triggering her PTSD. A caller on the Thom Hartmann Show described how triggered she was by the election. The Women's Radio Network also ran a piece on PTSD and the Election.

Triggered, Trump, Trauma


I've also put aside my personal reactions and tried to understand the viewpoint that rejects or reduces the use of the term "Triggered" to something akin to feeling uncomfortable or mildly offended. I've seen friends misuse the term, as well, from a place of good intentions. I've seen unfortunate articles like this that perpetuate the mislabeling and minimization of trauma reactivation - and I'm sure that this gets cited because of the misleading title. I don't agree that triggering is just as debilitating for everyone, especially when used so loosely. LOL jokes replacing "trauma" with the word "Trump." If you feel unhappy, shocked, depressed, even deeply nihilistic about the world as a reaction to the US 2016 election, it is not the same thing as living with PTSD.


The thing about language is that our use of words, in many ways, defines our experience of reality; at least, according to Linguistic Relativity, also known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis or Whorfianism. The strong version of the hypothesis suggests that all human thoughts and actions are bound and defined by the restraints of language. This is generally less accepted than the less emphatic assertion that the restraints of language shape the individual and social group's experience of reality to a degree, as in the case of a spectrum, rather than the reductionist view of singular causation. I digress, as usual. Check out that link if you want to go down that rabbit hole.

When you aggregate data, you lose information in your analysis. The ability to subdivide groups within your sample in meaningful ways can be useful in predictive analysis that attempts to understand something like vulnerability to sickle cell anemia or Tay-Sachs disease. The same is true when you take a terms that is used in psychiatric diagnosis and start generalizing to the rest of the population. One could philosophically argue that we could all be diagnosed with one or more psychiatric issues. As my Dad used to pun, one might, but I'm not one. That is for another blog post. I've digressed quite enough!

Even if you don't have PTSD, your experience of anxiety, anguish, and depression is real. I recognize it. I honor it.


This is not to say that Trump-induced anxiety is not a real thing. I'm sure that it is; therapists are reporting a rise in the reports of anxiety, depression, and all the down and dirty sequelae that have been previously identified in the literature are being related to PTSD. One therapist described the flood of rape survivors among her clients calling her after the weekend of October 7, 2016, when the infamous "locker room banter" recording emerged in the media. There have been reports of a sharp uptick in online-counseling-seeking to cope with post election emotions. There was even a quora post about election-related PTSD.

I don't doubt the data. I doubt the interpretation of the data. The narrow popular understanding of trauma has been limited to victims of natural disaster and combat veterans, and this has been reinforced in entertainment and news media. I assume this has likely resulted in a whole subgroup of people living with complex PTSD being somewhat ignored in the literature, like the proverbial elephant in the room - survivors of abuse. In the LA Times, Robin Mather discussed how survivors or domestic abuse, rape, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, could be triggered to the point of incapacity by the election.

To be blunt, there is an epidemic of violence in America, and we are surrounded by people who live with the consequences of trauma to varying degrees of severity.

The epidemic of violence




If there's anything this election cycle has taught me, it is that the normalization of abuse in American culture has culminated in the election of a president who encompasses, in a nutshell, all the behavior and personality traits that have been linked to abusive partners. I think it's just acceptable behavior for most of our society, except for a very insulated bubble where the normalization of the cycle of violence and the power and control dynamic has not occurred so overtly. There is an epidemic of violent behavior in the US, and the methods currently used to address crime have resulted in a nation that boasts the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world. We imprison almost twice the number of people that China incarcerates, and roughly three times the number of people incarcerated in Russia. Check out this interactive tool.

Why am I talking about the number of people in prison? Because this is a reflection of the consequence that comes from addressing violence with violence. Any parent knows that yelling usually temporarily resolves a problem or usually escalates a situation. Speaking in softer tones, softening in the face of rigid and hard anger and the irrationality of temper tantrums has a way of dissolving the hard shell on the outside of an angry person, which allows the way for communication and - TA DA! - an actual resolution to the natural expression that humans have in the face of what seems like insurmountably complex problems. The Prevention Institute has proposed a community based approach to resolving violence, and I respect the effort but personally feel that the responsibility lies with each of us to address the violent tendencies within ourselves.

Back to me...(or you)


I'm doing OK. I have no energy left for outrage so most of the new seems hilariously absurd to me rather than terribly tragic. I have decades of experience, and I am re-emerging from my fog of reactive depression. Being ruthless in cutting ties and doing self care, and seeking alternative methods to address coping via acupuncture, massage, therapy, and mindfulness practice have been instrumental in finding a way through. As they say in Gestalt Therapy, "the only way out is through."

I've withdrawn from organizations and taken a hiatus from my doctoral studies. I've become somewhat ruthless in my pursuit of self-care.

There's a certain degree of personal redefinition that occurs in the praxis of recovery from trauma. Elizabeth Harris did a fascinating exploration of Violence and Disruption in Society from the perspective of the early Buddhist texts. Ideally we learn how to deal with ourselves with loving kindness and compassion, and thereby can extend this to others. This is the path I have decided to take. If it resonates, follow me.

Ain't nobody talking about pacifism up in here


Here I want to emphasize the difference between Nonviolence and Pacifism. Karma can be translated as volition: choices lead to commitments, limitations, consequences. Dependent arising/origination can be understood within a single lifetime - our collective choices, interactions and transactional relationships with each other create a complex web where the commitments, limitations, and consequences mesh with each other. The Buddha reduced the concept of dependent arising to a handful of experiences/conditions that can be generalized to increasingly complex situations. One of the categories (unsurprisingly) is ignorance, which could be quibbled with and reduced to even more categories but at some point the efforts toward being reductive can reduce the effectiveness of the model because of the sheer number of categories.

Nonviolence is the surface layer of a heart filled with love and compassion, but the passive acquiescence to and enabling of violence is not part of nonviolence. Indeed, observing the perpetuation of harm without consequences can be considered acquiescence to violence. Compassion and loving kindness should be as ruthlessly interrogated as you might examine and deconstruct any obstacles to embodying these ways of being. Idiot compassion can masquerade as compassion, to the detriment of the giver and receiver. Imposing the wrong notion of compassion, harmony, and patience only perpetuates suffering. Avoidance is cowardly.

The Sacred Path of the Warrior


Chögyam Trunpa Rinpoche described the Tibetan Buddhist concept of the wind horse very elegantly, and this is where I see the heart of nonviolence in practice "... it is the energy of basic goodness. This self-existing energy is called 'wind horse' in the Shambhala teachings. The 'wind' principle is that the energy of basic goodness is strong and exuberant and brilliant. It can actually radiate tremendous power in your life. But at the same time, basic goodness can be ridden, which is the principle of the horse. By following the disciplines of warriorship, particularly the discipline of letting go, you can harness the wind of goodness. In some sense the horse is never tamed—basic goodness never becomes your personal possession. But you can invoke and provoke the energy of basic goodness in your life..." (Trungpa, Shambhala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior, pg. 84-85, Shambhala Publications).

There is a basic human wisdom accessible to anyone for the cultivating (I hesitate to use the word 'work' because that is definitely not the proper verb, and if you try for it, it won't happen...oddly enough), which Chögyam Trungpa described as the sacred path of the warrior. The sacred warrior conquers the world not through violence or aggression, but through gentleness, courage, and self-knowledge. The warrior discovers the basic goodness of human life and radiates that goodness out into the world for the peace and sanity of others. Trungpa's book costs less than $1, used, and it's worth a read if you are interested in understanding this in more depth.

So that's where I'm at. You say you want a revolution? It has to start with you.


Tibetan Wind Horse depicted on a prayer flag

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