James W.D. Stewart

James W.D. Stewart

Embrace "The Suck"

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Dissociation and Other Considerations

PTSD's a life-long endeavor — there's no cure for it.  The triggering traumatic event changes the landscape of the mind — it no longer works in the same fashion that it did before.  The mind's been rewired — the neuropathways have been altered into a continuous loop.  The PTSD-triggering incident converts the fight or flight response within the primitive portion of our brain.  Imagine, having that scared feeling you get without the fear, while keeping the bodily reactions — the tenseness, the adrenalin rush, the mind racing, heightened senses, and the hyper-response reflex — to react without thinking.



The Modern Combat Veteran

Count Words — Reading Time
by James Stewart
Updated:  N/A
Location:  Greater Sudbury Public Library, 74 Mackenzie St., Sudbury, Ontario, P3C 4X8, Canada


Dissociation and Other Considerations

PTSD's a life-long endeavor — there's no cure for it.  The triggering traumatic event changes the landscape of the mind — it no longer works in the same fashion that it did before.  The mind's been rewired — the neuropathways have been altered into a continuous loop.  The PTSD-triggering incident converts the fight or flight response within the primitive portion of our brain.  Imagine, having that scared feeling you get without the fear, while keeping the bodily reactions — the tenseness, the adrenalin rush, the mind racing, heightened senses, and the hyper-response reflex — to react without thinking.

The incident that solidifies the mental wound of PTSD, results in a mind-numbing and/or psychic shift.  In response to the trauma of combat, the person needs to make a mental detachment to do "what needs to be done".  The survival mode of operation forgoes the higher levels of functioning and depends upon the primitive reactionary portion of the brain.  When this unconscious detachment's been activated too frequently and/or for extended periods of time, it becomes part of conscious processing and interferes with everyday interactions.  According to Howell, dissociation refers to:

the separation of mental and experiential contents that would normally be connected.  The word dissociation is laden with multiple meanings and refers to many kinds of phenomena, processes, and conditions.  Dissociation is both adaptive and maladaptive, both verb and noun, both cause and effect…  Dissociation is often psychologically defensive, protecting against painful affects and memories, but can also be an organismic an automatic response to immediate danger…  Dissociation can be understood as taxonic or, varying in degrees…  It is both occurent and dispositional…  It refers to such psychical events as spacing out, psychic numbing, and even experiencing oneself as floating above one's body.  Dissociation has been thought of in spatial metaphor, as acts of "keeping things apart" as well as "vertical splitting".

The mind can develop into split affective regions, where multiple self-states dissociate incompatible values systems and set-up residence, along with establishing a unified substructure within matching internal guidance systems.  The dissociated subsystems run parallel to other self-states, emerging when a particular skill set needs asserting pertaining to situational interactions.  Here, trauma based disorders may lead the symptomology to further entrenchment and compartmentalization that may lead to personality disorders.

A war veteran with PTSD might have more significant structural dissociation, involving the sequestration of more and larger portions of experience.

A defined pre-conditioned set of beliefs and values, the combat schema, enables the warrior to navigate efficiently through the adversity of combat without a detailed consideration of consequences.  I propose a unique set of beliefs, Combat Values Theory (CVT) — based upon the survival of self in relation to the context of war and the "combat-othering" — for we must wholly demonize our adversary, and in the process, dehumanize ourselves.  The combat veteran's primitive fight or flight defensive mechanism's been repressed through training in the military, conditioning the troop to take-up the fight portion, leaving a proclivity for violence without a concern for personal safety.  To engage in a mortal fight with the enemy, this schema spells out the actions in a given situation — without becoming preoccupied with survivability in the moment — which, could get a soldier killed.

The warrior with PTSD's grown accustomed to the value and belief systems of war, and feels threatened when they become faced with having to let go of this security, in an attempt to reintegrate back into society.  Howell describes animal defensive and post-traumatic biological states:

The human animal may have a repertoire of discrete behavioral states that are adaptive to conditions of predation…  These animal defense states may underlie different dissociative parts of the personality…  This begins a neurophysiological alarm reaction… and… a tendency to over read cues as threatening, which can increase the probability for violence.

The ambiguity inherent in social dynamics can lead to mixed feelings and/or even a lack of feelings, depending upon the degree of interpersonal relatedness to the returning combat veteran (RCV).  We rely on our parental figures, to shape healthy personality and value structures, through attachments with significant others — the attachments become avenues of exchange, a distillation of proper interactions, and expectations according to society norms.  When this exchange becomes distorted to the point of the child becoming a repository of negative energy, instead a healthy exchange solidifying proper boundaries, then the nature of our attachments may become warped and disorganized — further compounding the RCV's reintegration.

The combat attachments, born of blood, don't leave us because we depart the battlefield — they become an empty feeling inside of us.  The soldier develops a highly narrow functioning self-organization in conjunction with his/her other squad members.  This organization — "troop-organism" — becomes an extension of the combat-self…  No different, than an arm or a leg.  We don't will our arms and/or legs to move, we react from the expectations of intentional imagery based upon the combat values structure.  It happens, such as the members of the "squad-herd", where each part of the troop-organism and acts in a homogeneous way — each troop becoming part of the others self-states.

These attachments to the other, require a splitting within the interpersonal self-states, where many such dissociated selves birth into existence.  As each of the value system constructs don't match, and out of necessity, develops into a complete compartmentalized persona while maintaining the "whole" sub-self organizations.  Each of the self-states run parallel to one another and have the capacity of switching back-and-forth when the proper situation requires appropriate specialized skill sets.  The interpersonal-self of the civilian-self becomes supplanted and filed away, by the combat-self, due to the incompatibility of the value structures for survivability that requires a conforming from a civilian society to the norms of the combat environment.

Attachments can be considered the path to rigidity or vehicles of spontaneity — to become spontaneous, the person must develop a mechanism for the free exchange of intimacy, through beneficial interpersonal skill sets.  Without a healthy development of attachments, then disorganized attachments (i.e. d-attachments) form.  The d-attachments become the mechanism to gauge interactions in the environment, and in doing so, they become rigid — an if this then that experiential existence.  The d-attachment arraignment only allows for what can be controlled under a series of contingencies plans and/or procedural knowledge — usually, modeled after our parental attachments — an identification with the aggressor and/or other such negative role model.  Becoming an identity of an exclusionary "personal culture", where the individual becomes estranged from regular society and defending their boundaries, as they were national borders between two hostile countries.

The cycle of procedural enactments play-out in significant others that we allow in our lives…  The reason why we keep having the same dramatizations and/or arguments, while never finding a resolution.  We enact our past roles and project them into our relationships, cast from our childhood, in an attempt to resolve the attachments constructively.  Since we haven't been shown healthy attachment enactments, we reside in the cycle of d-attachments and further compound our disorders through retraumatization and/or neglect, predisposing the person to develop trauma based disorders and/or personality disorders.

Without a reintegration of the self, and of attachments and d-attachments, a combat veteran can and will run afoul of friends, family, and society.  The returning combat veteran faces hurdles that they haven't been trained to handle.  The training and experiences that they've navigated and survived will lead them to think that a civilian life will be easy as compared to the battle-life.  What they fail to realize though, is that they've replaced their civilian-self with an operational combat value system and attachments — where in society, the individual has the utmost consideration, further combining and compounding issues of integration.  Little concentration on developing healthy attachment systems, the untenable situation can leave the RCV with severely dysfunctional interpersonal skills and a mechanism of perpetual isolation.



Combat alters and/or modifies the value system, a preconditioned set of beliefs, entailing a value-orientated constitute of definitions of situation in terms of direction of solutions and action dilemmas, formulating a culture of killing — stripping the combat vet of the niceties that lubricate society's interactions — which, in combat, would result in death.  In combat, the fluidity of boundaries becomes awash in the relational adaptation to an integral cohesion with their battle buddies — a devolution of survival mind-set develops and provides a sense of safety — the germination of base natural selection process by successful integration of the combat value system.  With a disproportionate number of Army veterans incarcerated, the Army culture seems to generate people more prone to violence.

The war-zone recons the birthing of the "trooper organism", where the firing squad becomes integrated with one another, with a culture of survival.  The individual boundary of the soldier, submerges within the organismal boundaries of the trooper organism, while shedding the individual identity.  The troop organism allows for the diffusion of immense responsibility across all involved, making the transition to an evolution of survival more manageable, wherein the herd mentality brings forth the primitive instinctual remnants and the decentralization of obligation.  Military culture portrays the combat arms as having more cultural capital and esteem.  Infantry with combat decorations, increases the rate of promotion, rank, and/or respectability — non-combat soldiers tend to be overlooked.


Situational Imprisonment

Military enculturalization subsumes CVT into an identification, born of survival and dependent upon the assimilation of the "firing squad mind set", where one troops thoughts relate to an extension of their battle buddies.  The fluidity of boundaries, births the "troop organism" and forever impairs the RCV to return home without his "other selves".  Now, the RCV has to try and interrelate without his relational attachments, and attempts to reintegrate back into the civilian world where nothing makes sense anymore — where boundaries cross without attachments, as a normative experience, triggering perceived threat-states.  This leads the RCV to become his own "isolated island organism" and/or an identity incomplete without the other part of the firing squad that thinks, feels, and acts as they do.  The RCV becomes unable to interrelate with family and/or community in a meaningful way, impeded by the fluidity of boundaries.

As their safety's been compromised, a feeling of abject detachment has arisen from the conditioned reality of the combat organism, which depended upon the battle buddy "having his back".  Therein, leading to a sense of safety — the combat vet needed only to worry about their own personal "line of sight" in a battle field environment, requiring a 360° threat radius.  On his own, in society, this burden becomes an impossibly overwhelming sense of danger — engulfing the RCV, leading to a susceptibility to triggers.  A culture of 360° radius in the battlefield and shackled intimately with the culture of combat values, hereinto relying on the troop attachments and the evolution of survival, the RCV becomes stuck on the troop-organism functionality.

The troop-organism capacity becomes problematic to the integration of the "civilian-self" as it now has become supplanted by the "combat-self".  An attachment of the self to the self that's the identity of one whom sufficiently succeeds in suffering, completing the veteran and familial rift.  The fluidity of boundaries, in an intimate relationship with a loved one, becomes a threat to the RCV — due to the misidentification of signals between the two — one having adapted an independent perspective and the other a dysfunctional dependent state.  The crossed-signals of the significant others has complicated the adaptation from independent relational skills verses over-dependence and the perceived threatening self states with both parties expectations of returning to "the way it was".

Compounding the issue, the RCV's now been conditioned to the "culture of killing" and the relational fluidity of boundaries between the two have become incompatible, further giving rise to the RCV's sense of threat, as if he where in combat.  In combat, a registering between non-compatible boundaries would be reconciled by a reflexive reactionary exercise of survival, triggering the culture of killing.

Those supporting the use of culture as a defense argue that is it intrinsically unfair to judge someone exclusively by the rules and values of a society that he or she does not know.

The above, speaks to the creation of a Veterans Court, where culture competency would require a special understanding of combat vets cultural "shaping".


With our modern soldiers averaging 2–3 tours of combat, we'll begin to see an increasing epidemic of incarcerated veterans.  Within the next 10–15 years, the public will see a sharp rise in veterans suffering from PTSD —to the point of epidemic proportions.  You see, never before in war, have our troops been subjected to such prolonged exposure to combat and life-threatening situations.  In World War II, our troops were fighting a defined enemy while engaging real objectives — with sufficient downtime between engagements.  Most of the troops to see combat were infantry soldiers, fighting on a distinct front, not the ones "in the rear with the gear".  With a real threat to the sovereignty and way of life, soldiers of this era were less affected by the trauma of war.

The significant political interference of the Vietnam War, generated little to no tangible objectives for our soldiers, solidifying and branding their levels of anxiety and forever troubling their minds.  Guerrilla warfare, an inherently cognitively-damaging military action compounded the neuropathic damage experienced by troops in Vietnam.  Even with the troops having regular downtime between engagements, the cognitive fractures of these veterans were enhanced by more intense combat and the rejection of the returning soldiers.

The soldiers in the Iraqi war have been sent on multiple deployments, with an average of 2–3 tours of duty, with little time between deployments.  While in Iraq, there are no friendly countries nor areas in which to spend leave time, in order to relieve stress while residing on constant alert.  Most, even non-combat soldiers, see combat and/or threats on a daily basis.  Now, combine this with the most intensive warfare possible — guerrilla warfare — in an urban environment.  We get troops that are over-extended and/or over-exposed to life-threatening situations within unprecedented levels of combat.  Troops in Iraq have no respite from danger, further entrenching the effects of PTSD through the hyper levels of neurotransmitters.

Dissociated attachments reenact combat trauma somatically, and between interstates within the RCV, resulting in a &wuot;civil war" amongst oneself.  A seemingly supra-intelligent guidance of the unconscious, this device of PTSD that engages in the survival defensive mechanisms that have sustained the combat veteran's life on a persistent basis.  Thus, becoming the protector…

A conceptualization of hostile self-states in "personified narcissistic and sociopathic defenses" that defend against dependency, vulnerability, and guilt… and… applies just as well to pathological narcissism.

The "diminished capacity" rule would apply when dissociative episodes result in a "psychotic" break.  Whereby, a thought disorder could be ascribed.

Never before, in the history of warfare, have we seen such high numbers of soldiers who've been under unimaginable stress.  During WWII, 18% of soldiers actually engaged in combat — with Vietnam, it was 30–40% — today, 68% have actually engaged in combat.  Not only have more soldiers engaged in combat, they've been in combat longer, with an average of 2–3 tours of duty.  Many, have been on 5 tours — some, as many as 6.  As high as 80–90% of soldiers have seen someone get killed and/or have been in a combat zone…  We've reached a point of "combat saturation".

Today, 15% of soldiers and veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD.  This appears as though it may be a smaller number as compared to other wars.  30% PTSD rates in Vietnam, 15% estimated in WWII, and 15–20% of Gulf War vets reported to have PTSD.  It took Vietnam veterans up to 10–20 years before their symptoms reached the point of becoming debilitating.  The implications for our modern veterans will have monumental and deleterious effects within the next 10 years.  It's been projected, that PTSD rates in today's wars, will reach 50–60%.  We'll be inundated with mentally ill veterans who have few options and nowhere to turn — they'll run afoul with the law.

Today, we've become faced with a growing trend of soldiers and veterans becoming enmeshed within the court systems.  In direct conflict with the perception in the media, I propose the theory that our veterans and soldiers face insufficient mental health care — having a major impact to their lives, families, and communities.  The problem isn't individualistic, but systemic, requiring major changes in how we view and treat PTSD.  The care of our soldiers and veterans isn't being met and we've just begun to see the aftereffects of the mind-shattering results of combat trauma.  Untreated PTSD can destroy the lives of many — not only the soldier and/or veteran.  We send our soldiers to war and then lock them up when they're broken and are no longer of use.

Categories:  Health, History, Law, Lifestyle, Medical, Political  
Tags:  MyCAF, Opinionated, Self, The Suck

Syndicated to:


  1. Combat Veterans and Institutions: A Systems Analysis
    by Scott Lee Published: 
  2. The Dissociative Mind
    by Elizabeth F. Howell Published: 
  3. The place of culture in forensic psychiatry.
    by L.J. Kirmayer, M. Lashley, C. Rousseau Published: 


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Creative Commons Licence :: BY-NC-SA James W.D. Stewart by James Stewart is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.  Based on a work at https://github.com/jwds1978/jwds1978.github.io.