I was examining a desktop image of a jaguar lying on the river bank in a jungle setting and thinking how easy it would be in real life for the jaguar to simply slip back about five feet into that tangled jungle maze and be completely disguised by the surrounding multi-fronds of tans and various shades of green dangling throughout this natural setting.
Seeing the jaguar then would be like one of those “Find the beach ball in this mass of balloons” puzzle that tricks the eye and challenges the intellect. While the eye might distinguish differences among the numerous lights and darks and elongated linear shapes in the picture, the mind determines the recognizable patterns within the picture frame.
To even recognize cat-shape and leopard–spots you must have seen them prior and attributed a label or a “name” to that general shape and texture so that upon seeing a simile of a “spotted-cat,” the mind immediately tries to identify it in some way to determine the relative safety for our personal being in the situation.
While seeing a picture of a jaguar sunning on a jungle riverbank isn’t exactly hazardous to our health, seeing the real thing lying only a few feet from us might be, and the mind reacts to that possibility with a subtle or a pronounced warning signal. If you’ve ever been in a close encounter with a jaguar, even the above picture itself could trigger a spurt of adrenaline through us by preparing us for a “fight or flight” response.
How we naturally react to whatever we encounter depends on our personal history with the situation or the subject matter.
This is the problem many military personnel face when they return from fighting in war zones. No matter where they are, no matter the actual setting around them, metaphorically they see the density of the jungle surrounding them and expect the jaguar to be lurking there ready to attack them—except the jaguar would be in human form armed with rifles and explosives, and the “jungle” could be any suspicious setting—urban or rural—where human jaguars might lie in wait for them—ready to attack. Those who have known some form of combat can’t relax because they know “the jaguar” is always there—ready to pounce if they simply let down their guard for a moment.
This is a trick of the mind when encountering remote similarities in our lives: Our minds try to protect us by alertly recognizing patterns that might prove hazardous to our being.
Our minds often do not differentiate between the nuances of “home” settings which should be considered safe or of “war” settings which would be considered unsafe. The mind simply recognizes any patterns of possible “enemy concealment” in our surroundings along with the uncertainty of what lies beyond the next turn in the road or the ominous new direction of the curving path before us.
Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) is quite real. And there should be NO stigma related to our mind simply trying to protect us from any perceived danger, even in supposedly SAFE settings (which in today’s world there seem to be fewer of).
PTSD is our own mind simply trying to keep us alive the best way it can, because the world we have known in the past was a pretty scary place to be.
There are many ways to help the mind retrain itself to be less reactive to what we might have once perceived as a threat. Many therapists now employ techniques like EMDR, or Tapping, or hypnosis, or flashing light therapies, or even other techniques that I’m presently unaware of.
The therapeutic community has advanced considerably over the last decade, so if you’d like to learn a bit more about these newer therapies, I suggest these two books that I personally own: EMDR Made Simple: 4 Approaches to Using EMDR with Every Client, by Jamie Marich; and TAPPING IN: A Step-By-Step Guide to Activating Your Healing Resources Through Bilateral Stimulation, by Laurel Parnell. PhD.
I wasn’t a combat vet but awhile back I had some PTSD of my own, and both books helped me to clear away the constant mental hyper-alertness and helped to uncover and release the deeply-held, hidden fears by utilizing those two techniques: EMDR and Tapping (Bilateral Stimulation).
You can give them a try just by reading the books. Both of those books talk you through what to do. If they seem to help, you might then find a good therapist who offers one or both of those techniques to help reset your mind’s pattern recognition.
There is NO stigma attached to PTSD. It is simply the mind doing what it does naturally—trying to keep us safe from harm.
That’s to be applauded, not condemned.