PTSD Pearls

We often focus on the down-side. There is a reason. According to research, a negativity bias starts showing up in your baby brain. While infants initially pay attention to positive facial expression and tone of voice, this changes with the approach of a first birthday. Brain responses to negative stimuli begin showing a surge in activity in information processing, as if some gagging voice in one’s cranial theater sputters, “Fire!”

People consistently overemphasize negative aspects of an event rather than positives. Survival for our ancestors depended upon being on high alert and we carry a defensive negativity bias forward. We constantly tinker with imagined “what if” scenarios. This ancient survival part of our personality keeps kicking up dust storms. What if _________________? Fill in the blank. Your “what ifs” may be different from mine.

The purpose of “what if-ing” is to preempt disaster from delivering us into Neverland. Remember Peter Pan, leader of the “Lost Boys?” His band of boys were lost from parents, living independently in Neverland. What was Peter’s disaster? Peter looked through a window and saw his parents with a new baby; he assumed his parents did not want him. To make matters worse, in the book version Peter Pan killed the “lost” boys to prevent them from aging!

This drama may represent Scottish author J. M. Barrie’s real-life issues. His early history shows a tragic legacy. When he was 6, his 13-year-old brother died while ice-skating. This brother was his mother’s favorite child. The dear 6-year-old tried, as children often do, to comfort his Mum to no avail. Barrie never grew taller than 5 feet and had a notion that leaving childhood was disastrous.

Whatever your child-speak connotation to Neverland might be, a catch in your throat from feeling “on the outside” of some “window” can linger in your body for a long time. Today we might label such lingering malaise PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Instead of calling PTSD a “disorder,” I’d label it post-traumatic stress development. When you encounter a developmental phase in your life there is a hope for growth. PTSD is rampant in war times, but I see PTSD as a developmental possibility. We sometimes grow most when we are seriously challenged. However, with a focus primarily on negatives (like disorders and pathology), it can seem like a lengthy search to locate positive outcomes.

This reframing in no way takes away from the reality of PTSD as frequently mind-numbing and a difficult staging in any person’s growth efforts. Calling something developmental implies that eventually one has a strong possibility of progressing beyond the initial trauma. Israeli psychologist Amos Tversky warned, “When you are a pessimist and the bad thing happens, you live it twice.”

 Become aware of your negativity searchlights. Rediscover inner lightness in thinking, relating, and overall wellbeing. No rose-colored glasses are needed, but you might smell more roses in your life.

Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz:

78. When have you experienced PTSD?

79.  How did you grow from that experience?                

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.

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