PTSD and CPTSD

The Earth seen from Apollo 17The Governor’s Creed:

Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England mused in recent days that the EU Referendum has left Britain in a state of financial Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Following the shock of the result, people are too afraid of what’s coming to get their wallets out and spend their money.

PTSD occurs when a person has been so shocked by an event that their mind is left relatively incapacitated, stuck in fight/flight danger mode and therefore unable to function effectively once the event has passed.  Sufferers report flashbacks, for example ex-service people flinging themselves to the ground at the sound of a car back-firing (I don’t know that cars do that anymore, but you get the picture) believing the bang to have come from a gun or mortar.  Sufferers also have long-term debilitating mental health difficulties.  The old term for PTSD was shell-shock.

New to the scene is CPTSD, the C standing for ‘complex’.  This occurs when the trauma wasn’t a one-off but went on for some time.  It is devastating, and is known to affect people who’ve lived in abusive family or institutional systems over an extended period.  For CPTSD to occur there have to be three conditions in place:

•    A long time period
•    An inability to escape or leave the setting
•    A conflicting set of demands/instructions from the parental or authority figure

An abusive family system resulting in CPTSD in the child/children works in this way.  The nastiness occurs throughout childhood, perhaps even extending over a lifetime.  For children, unless the authorities intervene, there is no way of escaping to end the abuse.  Those two factors are bad enough, but the third is a real head-messer.  Here’s a (crude) example of how it works:

A child is beaten every time they get a bad test result from school.  The child works very hard for their next test.  On coming home with a top mark, the parent says “Oh, so you think you’re a genius now do you?  You think you’re better than me?  You cocky little so and so…” and a beating ensues.

This is when a soul begins to give up.  For people who’ve been through this kind of experience it is extremely difficult to get any traction in life, to build and sustain a career and hold down a functional family and home life.  There is a constant state of self-doubt, self-dislike, self-blame and a deep confusion that makes it very difficult to think clearly and to see things for what they are.  Life is hard for people who’ve lived through this.

It strikes me that there is a kind of global CPTSD at work in the world.  The authority of money, the fear of poverty is with us all our lives.  We can’t escape ‘the system’ – try going self-sufficient and you’ll soon find out that it is nigh-on impossible.  And the third condition?  That is the conflicting and contradictory instruction we’re given – to be good citizens, to care for each other and at the same time to compete with and vanquish each other in the quest for ‘success’.

PTSD is only a recent addition to the official list of disorders and people fight very hard to get a diagnosis and financial support.  CPTSD is unlikely, in my opinion, ever to get recognition in the mainstream mental health system, mainly because there are so very many sufferers and to recognise and diagnose them would result in untenably large amounts of money paid out to them in the form of sickness benefits.

Our societies, indeed our globally connected world, function like a family.  Most of us are the children, with a very small number of people holding the authority and power.  Maybe one day, goodness knows when but maybe it will come, we will be able to organise ourselves in a way that benefits us all as equals, and not just the few at the expense of the many.

You may say I’m a dreamer…

Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha

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