America the Traumatized: How 13 Events of the Decade Made Us the PTSD Nation
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Take a Deep Breath
So, here we find ourselves, on the brink of a new decade, traumatized, at odds with each other, constituencies shattering within constituencies. Just when you thought the Republican Party could move no further to the right, the Tea Party movement emerges, its adherents full of rage and convinced that their way of life will be brought to an end with the election of the new president, whom they see as foreign and threatening. And so he is given the same attributes as threats of the historical past: He's a socialist, a fascist, a communist.
"The thoughts or beliefs that people have to help them understand and make sense of their environment can often overexaggerate threat," reads a brief from the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. "Often the individual is not fully aware of these thoughts and beliefs, but they cause the person to perceive more hostility, danger, or threat than others might feel is necessary."
The left is no less traumatized, its various constituencies now at odds over the health care bill, with some turning their sense of threatened destruction back on the president with an exaggerated sense of betrayal.
Whether denying the reality of the president's birth certificate or the votes required by a filibuster-happy Senate, both sides in our political dialogue are at work creating their own, closed-universe realities.
Untreated PTSD, according to Raymond B. Flannery, a clinical psychologyprofessor at Harvard Medical School, can lead to "increased industrial accidents, social and community disorganization, lost productivity, and intense psychological distress. The toll in human suffering is enormous..." In other words, unless we deal with this, America's Decade of Trauma may just be the opening act to a cataclysmic century.
I recommend we begin the new decade with a sort of national intervention, where we stop and breathe for a minute, slowly and evenly, and then review the events of the last decade, and think about how each of them made us feel. That's what the therapists would have us do.
But wait -- there's more. According to the sages at Helpguide, PTSD therapy also entails "identifying upsetting thoughts about the traumatic event -- particularly thoughts that are distorted and irrational -- and replacing them with more a balanced picture." Of course, all this hinges on admitting we have a problem and wanting to address it.
Never mind. We're Americans. Problem? Who's got a problem?
Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington bureau chief.