October 9, 2008

Warrior Survival Skills

I thought that this comment was relevant to the problem of soldiers and veterans survival skills that worked so well in combat, actually become a hindrance once they return home. I want the warriors of today to realize that these skill sets can be adapted for use in society, that we can use most of our PTSD symptoms as new skill set.

Granted that our minds have been overexposed to the primitive portion of our brain and we have a hyper-response thinking landscape, but coming from strengths perspective we do have a vast amount of skill sets to work from. With becoming educated on how our minds used to work and how they function today after combat we can begin to make sense of our thinking patterns and reaction responses, and to learn to govern our facilities more efficiently.

Comment from a reader,
I'm a clinical psychologist who spent many years working with Vietnam vets with PTSD and doing research on PTSD. I have a son fighting in Afghanistan. One concept I found universally helpful in working with veterans with PTSD is to realize that you develop coping styles that are important survival skills in your combat environment. The problem is when you get back to the rest of the world the environment is different and those skills no longer work. Recognizing the now-past survival value of those coping styles often helps. The problem is then finding new ones to take their place while realizing your "symptoms" are just ways of expressing habits you developed to survive, that are now harmful instead of helpful.
My response,
The attachment to my combat survival skill was hard for me to let go of, I unknowingly thought I would die if I gave them up. Seemingly my senses and body would hijack my mind and I could only be a witness looking out as I reflexively reacted to apparent hostility.

I honestly feel if I had not learned about values, social skills, and identifying the habits of survival that you speak of I would have wound up in prison, dead or some other way institutionalized.

Thank you for your comments and for your work and research with our veterans of Vietnam. I look forward to becoming a clinical social worker and therapist helping our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

May God bless you and your son's safe return home.


  1. I have also found that the norm of interacting w/in a primarily all-male no-non-sense rather explicit environment is also hard to readjust once reintegrated. I have several who have been referred for anger mgt, who are actually dealing with social reintegration. One soldier said, "At work, we are all angry, I guess. Often my responses during conflict with my GF are angry too." I'm not sure he's always angry - just direct.

  2. Melkie, I have found that both reintegration and anger have a common thread, in that without letting go of our anger we can find ourselves relegated to the fringes of society.

    In combat we need our anger to push us through, we nurture this emotive response allowing us to drive on. This emotion has become a significant survival skill thus giving up this frame of mind can challenge our sense of safety. Hyperarousal and hypervigelence drive psychological wounds feed by the fuel of anger. In our mind letting go sends a danger signal and further drives our circular thinking.

  3. I have not found any cure for my PTSD. I am a former Green-Beret, that participated in the non-existant activites in Cambodia. So far, there is nothing, that I have found, to help me release my anger. I still have but one survival skill...


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