PTSD Response. A Eureka Moment
Perhaps someone else has already figured this out, perhaps even written a doctoral dissertation or a bestselling book about this, but for me, this was a lightbulb moment.
The PTSD Cycle:
I refer to the PTSD cycle as “TAME” © because it is is Threat Assessment, Mitigation and Elimination.
People with PTSD or C-PTSD have this going on all of the time. We structure our lives in a way that attempts to mitigate or eliminate the threat of re-traumatization or similarly, loss of control of our frame. Maybe that’s why people with PTSD are sometimes withdrawn, or perceived as anti-social. The less we have to interface with a new construct, the less we have to assess, mitigate, and eliminate triggers.
Systems of Learned Behavioral Modifications
For me, I build systems. I build systems of placing things in certain areas, or doing things a certain way, or avoiding certain stimulus or events, so that I can remain without reactivity or “triggering”.
These systems are the most important perceived things in my life. They are NOT the most important things, but to my perception, they are the first filter, so they appear to be the most important.
Going into a grocery store, I will usually avoid small talk with the wife. Any small talk or engagement with others is only to control my frame, and to stay out of the need for threat elimination (which is fight or flight for me).
When I construct a system, no matter how trivial it may seem to someone else, it is of utmost importance to me, because it is a predictable path from Point A (a problem or issue or challenge in life) to Point B (the completion of, or simple progression of the solution to the end goal).
So when someone fucks with my system, either intentionally, or unintentionally, it causes me to to into the TAME cycle, and I either have to adjust the system so that it operates to my benefit, or scrap it altogether, and create another system, or just exit the scene for a bit. Any of these require me to do one thing first, and this is non-negotiable. I need the answers to these question: (1) WHO fucked with my system?, and (2) WHY did they fuck with my system, and (3) HOW do I keep that from happening again? (Threat mitigation/elimination)
But FIRST, there is Threat ASSESSMENT.
Familiarity Breeds Contempt
I’ve wondered why my reactions to close, familial or friend relationships were especially harsh and reactive when my systems were fucked with by someone close.
The response to want to throw a marriage away because of not being understood (having no honored system of communication, response, and predictability) seems harsh, and yet, I’ve been at that point more times than I can count. Something happens, my system feels fucked with, and my reactions are shockingly harsh to me. I’ll spin out of the reaction, but immediately wanting to trash my marriage over some simple system that was changed (Who moved my cheese?) is not proportionate to the problem or the resolution of the problem.
And yet, I’ve reacted the most harshly with the people closest to me - family and friends.
I had just such a reaction this past week, and I had to ask myself, why am I so rage-filled and reactive with those closest to me, when I can more easily blow off some unknown person doing something similar?
And during this assessment, the lightbulb went off…
I’m seeing that I expect those closest to me to respect me enough to not change my systems without at least discussing it with me first.
I have avoided (because it’s painful to acknowledge) that there IS NO SAFE SPACE.
”Safe spaces” are idealistic, and can possibly be somewhat implemented as a system, but it is unrealistic as an expectation. First, my feelings are my responsibility. My feelings about how someone acts are my responsibility. My feelings about how their actions impact (possibly as perceived harm, if not actual harm) are my responsibility, and that is where I start with the presentation. If I can respond instead of reacting, that’s a huge plus.
The next step is to lay out how the actions of the other person affected my ability to continue in flow and without adrenaline spikes from having unexpected changes in my system.
How they respond to this is their responsibility. If they own that I had a system in place, and they either knowingly or unknowingly started turning knobs on my control panel, and then they agree to avoid doing that in the future, without consulting me first, then that is a place of mutual respect and mutual reward. I’ve approached them in honor, and they’ve responded in honor.
If they blow it off, and they continue to shift my mitigators without regard for how it affects me, then I have a decision to make. This is the most difficult place, especially with family. I’m not going to beat them into submission. So, then it becomes a hostage situation, where I have to avoid them as much as possible, or leave, which is not in my decision tree, being the most worrisome of choices for the lose-lose scenario. (I can see why people stay in semi-”safe” abusive situations…)
So, I want a win-win, but if I have to have a lose-lose, I want to make it as painless (and predictable) as possible, to mitigate my TAME Cycle from PTSD response.
I hope this makes sense. Once I saw this, I saw my responses of this nature from long ago in my memory. It seemed easier to lash out at those I loved the most, out of the feeling of betrayal that arose when they fucked with my system, and I expected them, of all people, to never fuck with my system.
The fact is, people are going to live their lives, and most of the time, they need to live their lives in a way that gives them peace. If that somehow changes your system, try to observe what happened before responding.
Hope this helps.
P.D., JAY V SHORE, as Certified ADA Advocate
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