In the Age of Terrorism, there certainly is an abundance of terror. I feel it everywhere-around me, in front of me and, yes, right inside of me. Call it anxiety or depression; call it ennui or agitation; call it a disorder or an inevitable reaction. Still there it is. It hangs in the very air we breathe. If we did not have to inhale, but only exhale, would it not then touch us?
For the field of psychology, the introduction of the diagnosis of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) was a turning point. It finally allowed for what are called mental illnesses to be considered as psychological insults or injuries. That is, if you are walking along and come upon an individual lying in the street bleeding, it makes a big difference whether he was shot or suffering from hemophilia. A difference perhaps between life and death. So it is if we are going to continue to diagnose psychologically. As much of our current bleeding is internal and metaphorical, its source makes a crucial and life-saving difference.
The concept of “post trauma” was introduced as an explanatory diagnosis for the relived terrors of the service people returning from the Vietnam War (known in Vietnam as the American War). They were well out of the war zone, so the designation of Post was reasonably accurate. What happens psychologically when you cannot ever leave the war zone, when the war is all around you, when the war has gotten inside you? You leave Vietnam, but Vietnam does not leave you.
And what happens when the war is everywhere. Climate change, Covid upon Covid, random and uncontained murderous attacks, violence and hatred naked in public, daily assaults on the truth, on reality itself. We, humans, are part of what is happening and inevitably affected by it all. Stress is a small word for the contemporary terror not only outside us, but inside us as well. Our bodies respond and so do our minds. Eventually, they experience terror everywhere and so become the property of psychology, although never individual or private property.
The media participate in terrorizing their audience. Heightened emotion sells well. Ordinary life rapidly becomes background or context. Yet the media is a fast-moving creature and rapidly metabolizes today’s alarm into tomorrow’s context. Instead of warning us about climate change, for example, it has become taken for granted. As a result, weather reports now begin with a statement such as, “In these times of climate change, there is this winter less rain, more rain, increased snow, no snow…” Nothing to see here beyond the quotidian.
We citizens of the planet are silently admonished to adjust our lives accordingly. As for all the creatures who do not speak our language, well, it is every bear or penguin or lion for her/himself.
Yet the terror does not abate or even lessen. It instead takes up an underground residence in our very psyches and in our bodies as well. We are more nervous, irritable, and perhaps angry and aggressive. Some of us look for someone else to blame and hatred rears its ugly head. We begin to go outside of our homes less, only when necessary. Some of us emerge only with guns in hand. We begin to fear each other, and the social fabric begins to tear apart. There are as many iterations of buried terror as there are of the overt variety.
The terror does not become “post.” It instead becomes perpetual as it hides from our own consciousness, as we try to carry on in the new normal. The various threats to our very beings come together to unite as a threat to our very existence, all of us. A threat many of us are perpetuating unconsciously by choosing sides, designating enemies, fighting over every issue from vaccinations to masks to voting to shooting others in “self-defense.” Not discussing, but shouting, attacking, and demonizing those with whom we disagree, or whom we have chosen to represent our own personal terrorists.
In this way, we humans serve as the connective tissue for various transnational crises. We are the glue and the manifestation of chaos and terror. Instead of opposing this extreme force, we are swept up by it in a sort of psychological gravity. In such cases, our own minds can lie to us in our desperation to identify the source of danger. The enemy is us as much as it is “them.”
Those who serve to benefit from cultural and planetary chaos fan the flames. It is not necessary to name names. I would remind us all here of the warning I have issued before, “You don’t have to divide unless you want to conquer. (Kaschak, 2015, Sight Unseen)”
Psychologists, specialists in conflict resolution and other experts have much to offer here. Many of these practices involve staying conscious of our fears and motives and trying to modify or deal with them. In practice, this takes quite an effort, but this effort promises to be fruitful for the individual and for society. In my next article, I will present some of the more successful methods to overcome conflict, reduce tensions and face the truth. But first, we must notice our own fears and terror where they live inside and outside of us. We must be able to name them and to bring them to the surface in order to expose them to fresh air. We could use a lot more psychological and material truth in these hard times. We could use a strong dose of reality.
We are most of us suffering from Chronic or Contemporary Traumatic Terror Disorder (CTTD). Can it be treated or overcome? We must find a way for us to come together because if we don’t do so soon, we are going to come apart.