PTSD Resilience: A Culture Condition?

PTSD is perhaps partially a disease of civilization, taught peers and the current society.  Some people think it’s gotten worse.  I think it’s gotten better.  Now we have a word for PTSD’s symptomology, prognosis, and diagnosis, which gives medical people some idea how to approach CPTSD or PTSD prior to its onset, and afterwards, in treatment.

Think about our ancestors.  Most were born into an environment ripe for developing “PTSD” – by our standards.  They were surrounded by death, gore, barbarity, sexuality, sexual abuse, rape, incest, and more.  The further you go back, the more environmental incidents occur.  In a landscape dominated by animals, where human beings become prey to all kinds of fates, from syphilis to smallpox to a lion’s attack – or a neighboring tribe or family wanted  your stuff – where animal’s were butchered on the hearth and your mother made love in front of you . . .

Think about the Dark Ages.  Plague, famine, war . . .it wasn’t uncommon for somebody – or some child – to stumble across dead bodies, sometimes days or weeks old . . . families living in a hut where privacy was unknown.  Children witnessed the conception of their siblings and the farm animals.  Life was raw, personal and up-close – there was no looking through the safety glass of what we call “civilized living”.  The stench of raw sewage would have permeated your nose, and the meat in the butcher’s shack might be several days old – never mind.  At the time, if you were raised in this, all was good to you.  If you had been asked, you would have claimed it was “civilized”.

There were the sanctioned punishments – things ‘taught’ by their society and done in public.  The rack, chain, stocks, whip.  The Spanish Inquisition.  There were public beheadings, flayings, quartering victims, burning, breaking, and scourging.  You name it – there were cruelties beyond imagination – and our forefathers did it, sometimes in public, sometimes in the name of justice, always proclaiming it the “civilized” thing to do.  As barbaric as it seems today, our forefathers felt they were acting on the behalf of God, government, justice, or society.  If you had asked them they would have said haughtily exclaimed they were quite civilized and had done nothing wrong, cruel, or hateful – from before even the Roman times.

It is the society which says what is ‘wrong’, ‘right’, civilized or not.  Not the individual person, though free thinkers will find themselves split by what they believe – and what they are taught.

Every society feels it is the height of civilization.  If you ask them, they will tell you so: “We are civilized.”.   From the Amazonian Incas to China and Rome: their people thought they were ‘civilized’ and so were the things they were doing.  Things that would give us nightmares now were going on here not so long ago, and in many other places.

So why didn’t more of our ancestors develop “PTSD”?  Why didn’t more people go “insane”?  They were a lot like us.

It’s almost as if mankind is recovering from a general “PTSD” and has been ever since or trying to heal, albeit in an unguided, half-blind sort of way.  Slowly groping towards something better with no psychologists for the whole, with only politicians to guide us or leaders who loss sight of the goal.  Religion gave a hand – it is in religion that we first find the phrase “Love (and help) your fellow man” – but eventually (or at first) it degraded into a system of control, ensuring obedience to its masters by threatening a people’s soul.

A little PTSD is all right sometimes.  It keeps you aware and on your toes.  The world is a strange place sometimes, and violence knows no bounds . . .

But as the Army has found (or is finding) – what an individual has experienced previous to a potentially PTSD inducing event comes to play when they face it.  If you’ve been up to your elbows in gore, a little more ain’t gonna hurt you, so to speak.  And as an “abused child” I find that strange: my experiences when I was young really prepared me for anything (which was “the trick” a little voice in my mind says; one of my controllers, I presume).  I was supposed to be ready for anything – so they made me ready for anything that came along (or would come along, or they suspected I might have to deal with).  A lot of the horror went into that; pushing me to limits my mind couldn’t understand – and went over the rift, baby, bathwater and all.

But I kind of get that now – and what makes some soldiers more resilient than others: what they’ve went through.  You can’t “justify” killing when society (and people) have said it is so wrong for so long – but when you are in a war, and having to do your job . . .

Splitting the personality is easy for ‘me’, but not so much many others.  “I” can summon up my “Soldier” half and my Marine ‘side’ and do what I need to do – and with another couple parts, even enjoy the killing and ‘stuff’.  “I” can be quite (and viciously) cruel.  But I can also set that “part” down and “get rid of it” (or at least put those parts to sleep) – while monominds can’t.

It’s enabled me to survive, but it’s also gotten me more curious.  Perhaps someone with DID symptoms would make a better soldier than someone without – because when they come back home they can ‘separate’ that part of themselves (the killing, destroying, sometimes enraged, sometimes hugely grieved) – from the ‘rest’ of themselves – setting ‘it’ apart for some therapy (if need be).

And I think my past, abuse and all, helped me prepare to deal with it.


About jeffssong

JW is an adult childhood abuse survivor with DID*. He grew up in a violent family devoid of love and affection. He is a military brat and veteran. He no longer struggles with that past. In 1976 JW began writing "The Boy". It took 34 years to complete. It is currently on Kindle ( ), or if you prefer hard copy, on Amazon ( JW resides somewhere in the deep South. He is disabled and living with family. Note: Please feel free to take what you need; all is free to all. With that in mind, keep it that way to others. Thank you. We have 3 Blogs - One for our younger days, 0-10 (The Little Shop of Horrors); one for our Teen Alter and his 'friends' (also alters) with a lot of poetry; and finally "my" own, the Song of Life (current events and things)
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5 Responses to PTSD Resilience: A Culture Condition?

  1. Ashana M says:

    I’m curious about this. My understanding is that childhood trauma makes someone more likely to develop PTSD–not less. We are more able to react after early experiences with trauma. This doesn’t turn out to be a positive thing for a post-trauma life.


    • jeffssong says:

      The military is currently studying what makes one person PTSD resistant and another one, subjected to the same trauma, less so. I can look back at my childhood and the endless nightmares, the flinch reflex, et cetra and see a PTSD child. But when such incidents occur with a regular frequency I think a person becomes inured to them – somewhat.

      What I have seen in others is those who live a very sheltered life are the least resistant of all. One woman I know has nightmares about a spanking she got as a child – only one, and only one time, but it was highly unexpected, and gave her horrors. Me? I had so many it’s hard to remember any particular one, though some stand out. So perhaps witnessing horror gives one an immunity to it to some degree – much as an E.R. nurse will “freak out” until she becomes used to the bloody scenes.

      It’s obvious that it’s time for some studies on what makes one person more resistant than another, and the military – ripe with future and past PTSD victims – has taken a clue and has begun such studies. It should be interesting to see what comes out of that: does exposure to “horror/fear” lead to an immunity over time – or not? We shall see as time goes along, I guess.


      • Ashana M says:

        All the research I have read cites the opposite. Can you cite something specific that has been published?


      • jeffssong says:

        You are correct – research shows that abused children don’t fare well in life later on. But you have to remember those studies focus on abused children who did not fare well – not the ones who did okay. There have not been many studies which compare how PTSD inducing incidents during a child’s life might affect their capacity to handle potential PTSD inducing incidents in their adulthood. Here’s one that comes close I found:

        In this you will find ‘hints’ which I base this theory on – that abused children, having witnessed (and overcome) stress feel that they may be able to overcome the stress of a situation now.

        There is no doubt that a healthy family spawns a healthy child – but an overprotective one is perhaps as bad (if not worse) than one in which a little abuse occurs. Just a theory, mind you, but from what I’ve observed, surviving “thrivers” of child abuse seem to be a pretty durable crowd. It’s kind of like comparing the thoughts and emotions of a veteran EMS Tech who has seen the horrors to that of an intern who has not: which one is more likely to freeze, and have problems with “that” incident later on? The one with experience? Or the one without? The one who has “learned” to recover? Or the one to whom this is all new to him?

        Needless to say, there’s more to be done. But I’m always looking for a “good side” to the horrors of child abuse – what has made them stronger, since it helps me help someone.


      • Ashana M says:

        Actually, I’m thinking of students of combat veterans and rape victims that looked at who developed PTSD and who didn’t, and whether childhood abuse was a risk factor.


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