Caught by surprise the Green Beret sitting across from me grasped that all his elite training hadn’t prepared him to confront his interior landscape.
“I’m master of the outer terrain, now I discover an unfamiliar interior terrain?” His stunned expression said it all.
“You have to understand,” he explained. “If we head out to clear a building and the first guy through the door is killed, I must step over his body without hesitation and kill all the bad guys. No time to feel, a split second pause down range puts everyone at risk. When we come back we get on with the next mission. After awhile you just go numb.”
His wife confronted him after a recent deployment and explained, ‘If this relationship is going to work, you’re going to have to identify more feelings than hungry, horny or angry.’ He added, “I know what she’s asking but honestly I don’t know what I feel.”
Numbing oneself emotionally is a short-term strategy and a coping mechanism that helped ancient warriors survive hostile encounters, however, the body stores unexpressed trauma. Hyper-vigilance, depression, habitual anger or simply the inability to be present in the moment all have hidden roots tangled in emotional compression.
The ability to interpret emotions with accuracy and respond appropriately.
Habitual suppression compromises our ability to be effective in relationships or in society. Excessive pressure and stress will eventually trigger an implosion. Emotional suppression results in even greater levels of compression and a corresponding weakened internal emotional resilience and agility. In a word we become …. brittle. For a warrior brittle is a dangerous approach to a mission.
Physical or emotional trauma, shock the human system and trigger a series of largely unconscious emotional, intellectual and chemical reactions. The integrated warrior understands emotion isn’t simply an inconvenient human function to be numbed but an asset to be developed. At it’s most efficient emotion works in partnership to inform and energize intellect and intention. Emotion=Energy in motion.
“Emotion helps sort the mail.”
Mankind has mapped the globe yet our personal inner terrain all too often remains a mystery. This landscape takes a lifetime to explore and the wisest among us are convinced mastery isn’t even in the cards. The map must be discovered, drawn from personal experience. Exploring the human psyche is like a deep ocean dive requiring measured de-compression.
Support and perspective from the outside is critical. The pressure brought to bear on the human psyche at great depths requires a disciplined strategy when rising back to the surface. Internal compression must be dispersed slowly or the result can be catastrophic. Underwater as in the psyche an experienced dive master is critical.
Emotional compression can feel like living inside a box with the instructions detailing how to escape printed on the outside.
Discipline is required to safely regulate emotional compression.
The concept of emotional decompression is not a product of recent science but a neglected social mechanism practiced throughout history. Ancient warriors gathered around fires on darkened battlefields and spoke of the battle. A tradition passed down by survivors who had discovered this form of dialog released trauma and allowed each warrior to further map his interior landscape. Successful warriors maintained emotional equilibrium utilizing social expression and discharged a communal reservoir of trauma and emotion effectively with discretion and honor.
We neglect the interior terrain at our own peril. Numb is unacceptable.
War has evolved dramatically since those ancient battles yet the impact on the human psyche remains little changed. Self-knowledge and familiarity with the interior are critical skills today’s warrior can acquire. Mapping the longest mile between the head and the heart can make the difference between a warrior who emerges from repeated trauma brittle or resilient.
Integrating the complexities of intellect and emotion may be the greatest achievement of a lifetime. The journey within takes courage. History tells us this is not a solitary journey but one undertaken in the company of peers.
Emotional integrity is and always will be a social achievement built in collaboration with peers. Post Traumatic Shock is a healthy response to extraordinary circumstance.
Civilian culture must not abandon our social contract with service-members and stigmatize operatives by limiting treatment to pharmaceuticals or a PSTD diagnosis. We must augment efforts to increase resilience by deploying skilled mentors familiar with their own interior terrain throughout a military career.
“De Oppresso Liber”
The motto of the Green Berets: “De Oppresso Liber” is thought to translate, “To Liberate the Oppressed.” In actuality, the word liber is an adjective ‘free’ that could be translated ‘a free man’, and ‘de oppresso’ would be more an overwhelmed man. The phrase might be more accurately translated – “from an overwhelmed man a liberated man.”
— Amber J. Younger (@AJ_Ski_Bum) October 3, 2016
"A lot of people can’t handle it." —Trump on veterans with post-traumatic stress pic.twitter.com/f05ggyEnb7
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) October 4, 2016
(Weekly conference calls with like-minded people who want to stop a candidate who is racist, sexist, bigoted, incites violence and is demonstrating no competence for the job at hand.)