What follows is a list of PTSD symptoms in blue, and some cultural level examples of how I believe the symptoms are manifesting. This list is incomplete, messy, not as articulate as would be optimal, and it is still very much in draft form. It is definitely still a work in progress.
Bear in mind that the motivations and meanings behind all behaviors are often quite subjective. Diagnosing mental illnesses in people is not as precise as solving a mathematical equation. Subjectivity always is present in the consulting office. It’s also important to remember that the nature of interpretation is based on the cultural contexts. And maybe most importantly, many manifestations of our motivations are symbolic or metaphorical at the individual level and they certainly are at the cultural level.
Symptoms of PTSD #1: Re-experiencing the traumatic event
• Intrusive, upsetting memories of the event
• Flashbacks (acting or feeling like the event is happening again)
• Nightmares (either of the event or of other frightening things)
On a cultural level the incredible levels of violence in our “entertainment” serve as cultural level ways of re-experiencing trauma.
This constant violence reinforces:
The idea that the world is a dangerous place
The idea that violence happens all the time
It normalizes violence as a thing that happens commonly, not a rare atrocity
—These are all common beliefs of people in the grips of PTSD.
Additionally, violence also perpetuates certain cultural norms:
It glorifies values, norms and assumptions that are hyper masculine. In these shows aggression is normalized, brute force is legitimized. It glorifies and normalizes values, norms and assumptions that reinforce patriarchy (heroes and practically any characters with any substance at all are male).—Patriarchy has been a way of consolidating power and control for some males (if they are the right religion, skin color, etc.) Recall that a sense of having power and control is the first need trauma survivors scramble to regain after trauma- unfortunately in the aftermath of unprocessed trauma, we will figure out ways to attain that by any means necessary.
We are also bombarded by violence from our “news” outlets. In addition to this fitting into re-experiencing trauma, a focus on conceiving of violent acts as news also correlates to the PTSD fear response of hypervigilance to notice any and all danger and to magnify it. And to reinforce this as a norm: fear does sell, we are hardwired to pay attention to danger even in normal circumstances.
• Feelings of intense distress when reminded of the trauma
• Intense physical reactions to reminders of the event (e.g. pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, sweating)
In these polarized times, it would be difficult to find a person who has not noticed how upset and irate people get when talking about hot button issues in the media. Friendships have been lost over politics, families fractured. Physiological changes happen when we get upset- our hearts race, our breathing gets shallow, we become tense jawed or clench our fists.
There are numerous topics that bring this up, and almost all of them have to do with differing perceptions about oppression or what constitutes violence: Racism, sexism, homophobia, religious differences and religious encroachments on public life, gun rights, diplomacy vs. war strategies, military budgets, surveillance by intelligence agencies, the role of TSA, crime and how to address it, the militarizing of police forces and use of force by police, the Patriot Act, the sexual objectification of women, the importance of and levels of violence in professional sports. And now we have unapologetic censorship of governmental agencies that pursue science to add to the list- which is clearly oppressive.
Perhaps less obvious correlations to oppression or violence are the ideas of corporate citizenship, corporate welfare and tax breaks for the wealthy or poor, and staggering income inequities. Climate change, regulation of business, pollution, destroying the natural environment in order to pursue business, causing extinctions of flora and fauna, these are all linked to differing perceptions of what constitutes oppression and violence.
These are all items that are difficult for people to approach civilly. It’s difficult to write about civilly. I see many many instances where my writing becomes strident as my fierce worry about these issues and their roots lead me to use strong words. We become physiognomically aroused when we talk about these subjects with people who have differing views or even when we just read an article where we disagree with the philosophy or beliefs of those who differ from us.
To emphasize again: the most passionate differences we have seem to be around differing perceptions of what is or will produce oppression. We all want a sense of power and control over our lives, it is a basic human need. It is interesting that we encounter so much resistance from other humans to this basic need. If we were not fearful of those that are different from us, we could find ways to compromise and support each other in our quests. If we were not stuck in “oppress or be oppressed” and scarcity mentalities born of traumas that happened long ago, we could more easily recognize that enacting different policies and being good stewards of the land will actually not harm us in any way. But as it stands now, we have intense reactions to certain topics that revolve around violence and oppression.
Symptoms of PTSD #2: Avoidance and numbing
• Avoiding activities, places, thoughts, or feelings that remind you of the trauma
• Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma
As we think about the way we categorize history, we neatly put “wars” into boxes without much emotion. In extremes, people deny atrocities where millions perished-in Germany and several other European countries it is against the law to deny the Holocaust, precisely because many would. Other countries have re written their histories to either erase the atrocities or make bloodshed look justified. Currently there are attempts to lessen the amount of information in textbooks on slavery and other atrocities committed by Americans.
When recounting our entertainment plot lines to friends whether in video or book form it’s exceedingly common for people to leave out the amount of violence contained within.
• Loss of interest in activities and life in general
• Feeling detached from others and emotionally numb
70% of the American workforce are disengaged workers. That means they are numb or uninterested in the majority of their days.
Going back to the violence on TV, some people are actually proud of how little they are affected by seeing realistic violence on screens or in reading books. What would have horrified people for days in earlier generations, now doesn’t even make kids flinch as they idly watch horrendously violent scenes on screens of all shapes and sizes.
At this particular juncture in time, we focus on our phones more than the people next to us. People sitting alone in public places will invariable turn to their phones rather than just sit and be present in the place or watch people, people have become uninterested in their surroundings.
• Sense of a limited future (you don’t expect to live a normal life span, get married, have a career)
The relentless pursuit of dirty energy can be seen as an expression of this symptom. Why not go for it all now, who knows if there will be a tomorrow? Pollution doesn’t really matter if we can’t imagine ourselves being here for any length of time. Corporate America’s relentless focus on the next quarter’s earnings is another example. In individuals, we see people use drugs or drink to excess because they don’t expect to be around long enough to have it catch up with them.
Symptoms of PTSD #3: Hyperarousal
• Sleep problems
A culture of 24/7 and frenetic pace of living can be seen as corollaries.
• Irritability or angry outbursts
Note the lack of civility in areas as diverse as professional sports, police brutality, the tenor of Americans towards those they disagree with, the stunningly blunt and hostile tweets of some political leaders. Mass shootings by disgruntled men also certainly fit into this category.
• Hypervigilance (on constant “red alert”)
Our government has a serious surveillance issue that seems to rise to the level of an addiction, I think it is clear to most people that the amount of surveillance is excessive. Historically there have been rises of secret police and spying organizations all over the world that get more and more corrupt and paranoid over time. I see this as an organizational level expression of the PTSD symptom of hypervigilance.
We spend 54 cents of every federal dollar on some for of “defense” while families go hungry, our infrastructures crumble. Our leaders feel compelled to ensure we keep producing defense weapon after defense weapon for fairly non existent threats.
• Feeling jumpy and easily startled
• Aggressive, self-destructive, or reckless behavior
This is clearly seen in the corrupt practices of businesses. There are examples like the recklessness of pharmaceutical companies marketing drugs that are clearly dangerous, delays in recalls of cars and other products with serious defects, fraudulent loan practices by previously respected businesses, not to mention the entire series of events leading up to the recession of 2008.
In other areas, the quickness with which military solutions are suggested for dealing with conflicts, the epidemic of obesity, not addressing Climate Change aggressively, not stopping arms proliferations, not heeding common sense about dismantling militaries instead of continuing to fund them at obscene rates -these are all examples of this symptom.
Symptoms of PTSD #4: Negative thought & mood changes
• Guilt, shame, or self-blame
• Feeling alienated and alone• Feelings of mistrust and betrayal
Xenophobia fits in here, others outside the person’s group can’t be trusted. Building a wall between nations is certainly not a sign of trust. Spying on others, the lack of goodwill in the business world- both the cutthroat actions between companies and between workers competing against each other for more power (regain a sense of power and control at any cost). Workers feelings towards employers who treat them as objects. I think people on all parts of the political spectrum, and those who aren’t political at all feel like this. Groups that have been marginalized tend to have a conscious sense of this, but the anger and defensiveness of people who feel displaced is also palpable.
• Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
Our frenetic pace of life, our decreased attention spans
• Depression and hopelessness
PTSD symptoms in children
In children—especially very young children—the symptoms of PTSD can be different from adults and may include:
Fear of being separated from parent —Nationalism??
Losing previously-acquired skills (such as toilet training) Loss of statesmanship in our political leaders?
Sleep problems and nightmares
Somber, compulsive play in which themes or aspects of the trauma are repeated- again the incredible amount of violence in “games” and other “entertainment”
New phobias and anxieties that seem unrelated to the trauma (such as a fear of monsters) fake news?
Acting out the trauma through play, stories, or drawings
Aches and pains with no apparent cause
Irritability and aggression road rage