The Outline

The Six Main Points of Cultural PTSD Theory in Outline

Here is the outline form of the theory of Cultural PTSD.  The main points in the outline are discussed one by one in their corresponding chapters in the upcoming book.

1) Human history abounds with trauma 

Natural and human made trauma has been with us for the entirety of human existence.  Humans have always dealt with it in the best ways we knew how, whether through superstitions, victim blaming, or normalizing, but we didn’t know much about how to effectively resolve trauma until lately.  As a result, important aspects of our cultural environments are in large part formed by collective responses to theses traumas.

2) The extent and impact of our historical cultural trauma is not currently recognized. 

We don’t see the cultural impact of trauma for many reasons, eight of which we will explore in some detail.  These reasons include the natural inclination to avoid thinking about trauma, and the many ways we have of rationalizing and normalizing it into our human stories.  Because we have not recognized the way traumas have impacted us, we do not see how trauma based reactions color our approaches to a multitude of problems are.  We will discuss the trauma based reactions to issues as diverse as historical oppression, current intergroup conflict and discrimination, income inequality, our devaluation of cooperation in the political and business realms, in climate change and how it is brought on by economic systems which clearly value profit over protecting the livability of the planet.

3) We have, at the cultural level, formed assumptions, beliefs and attitudes that very closely resemble common maladaptive responses that individuals have to trauma.

In short, we have something that could be called Cultural PTSD-and for the most part, it is completely unrecognized as such. 

Everything from an over emphasis on military “solutions”, to intrusive levels of surveillance, to the mind numbing effects of how work is structured, to the reckless greed and quests for money, power and control can be traced directly back to typical trauma based reactions, once the connections are made.

Most surviving cultures developed dynamics rooted in force and coercion in order to gain and maintain dominance. This “need” for dominance stems -in large part- from a maladaptive twisting of the completely normal need to regain power and control after experiencing trauma. 

Since we live within these cultures, it can be very difficult to see our own norms and assumptions.  This reinforces our already almost complete blindness to how we have unwittingly been trying to deal with historical trauma through our cultural values for eons.  It also masks the pervasiveness of the current cultural norms, assumptions, and values we hold that have been directly born from trauma based reactions.

4) PTSD, by definition, can and does seriously impair people’s abilities to reason, function and cooperate with others at productive levels. 

That we are having extreme difficulties on the collective level with polarization and strife -which then hinder our abilities to resolve issues- is not an accident.  It is a result of our cultural illness.  However, once it’s been pointed out, beginning to see correlations between PTSD symptoms at cultural levels and our political approaches to problems is pretty easy for most people. As with most things culturally related, the impacts of Cultural PTSD touch us on both the personal and the political levels.  The persistent problems between various political groups of people begin to make a little more sense when we look at cultural level assumptions related to power, control, safety and distrust just a little differently: namely, as ways they manifest as common symptoms of PTSD.  

5) PTSD of any sort is treatable.

PTSD can be difficult to treat, but it’s treatable. Cultural PTSD is a variation on the general theme of PTSD. Some tools to help us are already available.

6) We need to recognize our symptoms and treat ourselves in order to recover from Cultural PTSD.   

The time is now. The first step is recognition of the existence of Cultural PTSD, and acknowledging the substantial role it has been playing in shaping our cultural contexts as we know them.

To successfully address our problems at the policy level in the 21st century and beyond, we need to start recognizing how trauma based responses are currently embedded in the problems and in how we perceive them. We need to think in terms of trauma informed care in all affected spheres. And finally, we need create policies that are not based in unconscious trauma based responses (e.g.: relying on military solutions to social problems).