“The true nature of anything is what it becomes at its highest.” (Aristotle in Hart, 2000, p. 132)
Reminder: For the past few months, this blog has been dedicated to my reflections on a book by Ashley B. Hart II, PhD, called An Operators Manual for Combat PTSD: Essays for Coping.
We are wounded in heart, mind, and soul. Some of the wounds may heal but others never will. Our lives, as determined by our own behaviors, will depend upon how we defend ourselves against the pain and threats we perceive, the ways we protect ourselves psychologically, the ways we defend our self essence known as ego.
There are big ways, small ways, and some in between. The small ways are easy and automatic. Big ways require efforts of diligence and learning. Medium is another way of saying mediocre.
Your happiness—and that of your family, friends, and neighbors—depends upon the size of your recovery.
Dr. Hart refers to three categories of defense mechanisms as immature, common (neurotic), and mature. I call them small, medium, and large—mostly because I balk at calling aging Veterans immature.
The most primitive defenses are rooted in anger, dread, and expectation of harm. I woke up with a familiar sense of dread again this morning. I face most days with an expectation of harm, and I am quick to anger. Oh, come on, I am almost always a little to a lot angry. Good news? These are not behaviors.
If I stay small in my ego defense, in my response to feelings of personal vulnerability to mortal attack, I will act small. Blaming and tilting at windmills are the results. I may spend my efforts finding faults with others while attacking people, institutions, and principles which bear no real responsibility for my feelings.
We tend to complain, procrastinate, or even bait others with manipulative behavior. In anticipation of rejection or judgment, we pretaliate. Not a word? It should be. We retaliate against what we project a person will do—before s/he has done anything. We treat others as though they have already done to us what we fear they might do. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Yes, nations reflect the fears of people.
A moderately more mature path is response not to vulnerability of death, but to threat for self-worth, safety, and self-esteem. Three common reactions Dr. Hart talks about are Command and Control, Bunker Down, and On the Road Again. I am guilty of all.
Any perceived threat is usually addressed with planning, preparation, and problem solving; however, when the threat presents confrontation, I must choose fight or flight. I do not like to fight (mainly because I have residual distaste for half-measures police action and contemplate all-out war). So, I turn away.
There are two common methods of flight. On the Road Again is obviously running away. It may be changing geography, jobs, marriages, churches…. The reason it doesn’t work for long is because sooner or later I always find myself there.
The other common method of turning away is Bunkering Down. My bunker may be my garage, living room, or land in da Nort’ Woods. I see puttering or piddling as a way of psychologically bunkering down. I hide my mind in a task to prevent thinking about the threat/conflict. Addictions of all kinds frequently begin in this reaction of hiding from perceptions.
The medium size (neurotic) reactions to threats are not wonderful, but they do offer some social acceptability far beyond the small, immature, blaming behaviors driven by anger. Ready to look at the large solution?
When piddling is directed to productive functions, to work, home improvements, education, community projects, it is more mature. It serves a higher purpose beyond protection of self. It allows personal validation on the path of becoming whole.
In my opinion, which seems to be shared by Dr. Hart, there is one pattern of behavior which is the highest form of recovery, the most successful for individuals, families, and communities. Service.
Do you really want to help a recovering Veteran? Do not serve him or her. Offer opportunities for her or him to serve others. We are proud of our service and find our true nature in the highest calling of helping others. We are especially good at helping other Vets. Help us by encouraging us to help others. It’s that simple.