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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the Wisdom Jordan Peterson Proposes Innocence Must be Armoured With

There is always a difference between the ideal law or “ideal type” in Weberian terms and the actual law. The ideal law gives us an imperative not to commit any heinous crime and the actual reality which we see is that a lot of people do commit crime. Laws do not necessarily walk along us like a shadow all the time. But of course, it manifests its authority and rage when people transgress the law and most importantly when people are being victimised. But the fact that someone is convicted of a crime does not in any way cure or compensate the losses in the life of the victim. And the fact is the victims are left as psychologically traumatized individuals and the trauma that came along with the malevolent encounter cannot be reinstated to normality. Therefore, prevention is always better than cure. We cannot carry a police person on our shoulder every movement wherever we go, nor can our well-wisher stay ever-present with us all the time. At the same time, I cannot say that I am a vegetarian therefore no wild animal in the forest can harm me. What do we do about that?

I find it particular relevance in studying Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the context of the instances of various cases of increased crime rate such as rape, sexual assault or abuse, child abuse or child neglect, paedophilic individuals and manipulative romantic partner in our society. Because psychological literature claims that PTSD manifests only after having encountered a malevolent experience of some form.

Jordan Peterson said that people who suffer from PTSD in most of the cases are naïve, innocent people who lack experience of life. Of course, the tragedy that we experience in life can traumatize us if it is severe enough but what extraordinarily traumatizes people is the malevolence. And I personally feel that it is something which can be prevented to certain degree or at least remain cautious and aware of, so that the potential vulnerability of falling prey can be resisted, particularly girls/women in our context.

PTSD is a disorder in which people persistently re-experience a traumatic event in their thoughts or dreams, feel as if they are reliving the event from time to time, persistently avoiding stimuli associated with the traumatic event and experiences symptoms such as difficulty falling asleep, irritability, and difficulty in concentrating.

Traumatic stress is a normal human response to intense experience or stressful life crisis. In a majority of people the symptoms reduce or disappear over the first few months, particularly with the support of caring family and friends. But somehow, the problem continues to persist and does not resolve quickly for a significant minority of people and in some cases, it may haunt the individual for the rest of life. This variation in people’s reactions has no simple answer but they may occur because of their individual personality, beliefs, personal values and previous traumatic experience in life. And the most typical characteristic to this disorder is that, in all the cases, individuals have experienced some form of malevolence and threatening event that has caused them to respond with intense fear, helplessness and horror. And as a consequence of the experiences, they could likely end up challenging their prior worldview and assumption and about themselves.

PTSD is a common psychological disorder among military veteran. In the American civil war, it was referred to as “soldier’s heart”. In the first world war it was called “shell shock” and in the second world war, it was known as “war neurosis”. In the Vietnam war, this came to be known as “combat stress reaction”. And in the 1980, this concept went on to develop to what came to be known as PTSD. Soldiers suffer from PTSD not necessarily from what they saw but from what they did (Jordan Peterson).

As Jordan Peterson said that people who are more prone to PTSD are often innocent and naïve people. And this is the area I personally find curious about this disorder. With PTSD, the trauma that they encountered shattered their world view and are often confronted with their own morality. Their prior assumption and belief that the world is safe and fair, and people are fundamentally good gets shattered by the experience. And in the aftermath of these events, these people often see dangers everywhere and become “tuned in” to threats. As a consequence, they often remain scared, on edge and feel the need to be constantly on guard, overly alert and watchful and in the process find difficulty concentrating on anything else.

Our brain is equipped with an alarms system that normally helps ensure our survival. With PTSD, this system becomes overly sensitive and gets triggered too easily. And when this happens, we have difficulty separating safe events happening now from dangerous events that happened in the past because the part of our brain responsible for thinking, and memory become dysfunctional.

There is a difference between the suffering that we come across as natural part of our life and to encounter with someone who wishes that suffering upon us. PTSD often falls in the latter category. The instances of rape, sexual assault and abuse, child sexual abuse and deceptive romantic partners are some examples.

Take the instances of child sexual abuse, a paedophile is likely to search, identify and attack a child who is more timid and who is less likely to fight back or retaliate.  They will have the least priority for noisy children. And if we look at the instances of rape cases, the perpetrators, in most of the cases are often known to the victim. If this is the case, it is natural that everybody will lose faith in everyone.

Peterson gives an example of a naïve person who was manipulated badly by a potential romantic partner. He says that the innocent and naïve person usually see good in all people and often are too trusting. And betrayal occurs where there is trust and when people take advantage of the trust and confidence of others. And it is a nice and harmless naïve person that is exploitable by predatory and malevolent psychopaths. And he also insists on the fact that, being nice and harmless is not a moral virtue but a weakness.

Therefore Peterson is of the view that “if we teach the notion that people are fundamentally good and evil does not exist, then we make the person a ripe fruit for the picking by the malevolent and there is nothing about that which is positive. And it is just a mere cowardice masquerading as virtue”. Therefore he suggests people or say parents in particular (in our context), who have children who are by nature good and innocent, to teach articulated philosophy of evil and to make them smarter, wiser and sharper. They must be made to understand that some people are by nature generous and good while some people are more prone to jealousy and deception. And I believe no psychological theory or scientific theory can explain that apart from the idea that is how they are nurtured and conditioned by the environment.

If a mother consistently teaches their child that everything is fundamentally good and nothing will ever come to harm them then they are partially interpreting only one side of the coin but what about the instances where people commit bad things. In reality, Peterson argued, more precisely the opposite is the case in life and when someone malevolent touches the innocent, life feels hard to cope up. Because of the worldview of angels inhabiting the earth was instilled into many since the childhood, when this worldview suddenly gets shattered, it breaks them, and the collapse is harsh and usually hard to recover from.

Peterson also argues that if a malevolent experience touches the innocent, their experience and suffering make them bitter, and their bitterness makes them resentful and their resentfulness makes them vengeful which is not a good road to take ahead. Sometimes we find people who in their early stage of life have been kind, simple and forgiving but over a period of time and perhaps due to life experiences become hard and even begin to wear a lying mask.

If we have put ourselves in some sort of risk or say being a victim of some kind, then we should determine how we might avoid that in the future. In order to terminate evil, we must face the malevolence courageously to make ourselves stronger. And one way to make people more resilient is by exposing them to things which make them uncomfortable. This is something which I have learnt from OCD. It’s like consciously watching a scary movie repeatedly until it stops to scare us anymore. It helps our brain alarm system avoid misfiring. Because people who suffer from PTSD often avoid situations or events or people that will stimulate and remind them of the trauma. Correspondingly, this also happens to people who suffer from OCD. They usually run away from their thoughts and in order to neutralize their thoughts, they engage in compulsive rituals to remove their anxiety. But the solution lies opposite to that, that is by facing the thought or trauma courageously. If this is not the case, the trauma will not leave the person for the rest of his or her life.

PTSD sufferers often push away their thoughts and feelings to shield themselves from the distress because of the high-level anxiety associated with memories of the severe trauma. And this is the wrong way to approach the trauma. The memory may go away for a period of time but it will pop up again because by avoiding the fear we are temporarily managing the problem but the solution is not addressed. And as a consequence, the intrusive thoughts keep coming back and it will continue indefinitely unless the cycle is addressed in some way.

There is no easy way to get rid of trauma memories or make them less distressing. Peterson said that the memories will stay and never go, unless we learn for ourselves how we have been so naïve as to fall prey to the situation. Therefore he suggests “to consciously go back to the memory and assess the sequences in detail until they have an account that is sufficiently plausible so that they believe if the same circumstances arouse in the future, they would no longer fall prey to that error”. And the purpose of memory is not just to remember something of the past, but to extract information out of that memory to guide the future.

People with PTSD should realize that if we go on remembering and resenting the traumatic events, it is like holding hot coal in the hands hoping to throw it to the other person but in the process the holder’s hand ends up burnt.

Nietzsche once said that “If you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you”. Meaning, in order to fight a monster, we should turn ourselves into a monster and not accidentally but voluntarily with good in mind and in the process, we should see that we ourselves do not become a monster. (Jordan Peterson interpretation)

Therefore in the light of the above examination, it is the responsibility of every parent to teach their child to become more resilient and not to remain naïve anymore and help them transcend their childish view of the world. I am not saying that we should become as hard as stone or be pessimistic but I am insisting on the fact that we should become sharper and wiser. And one of the reasons why we should be serious about mental disorders is because, people die once in a life but those who live with chronic psychological disorder die every day. It is deadly serious. We cannot remove our mind from the skull and keep it somewhere outside of us. It accompanies us wherever we go and that is one reason why people who suffer from mental disorder often isolate themselves from people because they do not enjoy social gathering. And deep inside they are painfully tormented.

Finally, one thing which I want to emphasize is the way we deal with people living with mental disorders. Let us not assume that mental disorders are easily comprehensible or take it for granted. Each mental disorder is a complex phenomenon and it varies from one person to another and along with it the pain associated with them are extremely distressing. Therefore it is best not to say statement such as: “I understand what you are feeling”/“khangi keidourage, nangidu keisu leitaba problemni, nangna pangkhanda khanjalli, kem touroi” (you probably don’t since you haven’t been through the same experience or you presume or pretend that you understand). If we say such statements, (believe me) they will never seek or approach for help again. And we should not think that it is their loss for in reality, it is ours. From many people available out there, why do they consider approaching us? In fact we should be thankful to them for providing us an occasion to help them. The only fear which we can have is we not be able to help them. We should show empathy by comments such as: “It must be really difficult for you; I can see that it upsets you; Is there anything I can do to help?

(The idea which I have reflected in this article are largely drawn from Jordan Peterson lecture on PTSD available on YouTube and those interested can go for it)

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