Understanding the Causes of Combat Trauma

1.  The Primal Side of human nature is the uncivilized savage in us, the unmerciful, non-compassionate beast that is unleashed through operant conditioning in Boot Camp and bought to full fruition in battle. This Beast is a key player in our survival of War, yet can destroy or end our lives when we are no longer on the battlefield.  We return from war as two distinct people in the same body. And controlling this killing, blood lusting side of us is critical if we are to survive and adapt to civilian life.

2. Making the First Kill; when losing the first brother or Sister. At that moment we are baptized in the blood of battle.  Not in the blood of our enemies, but in the blood of those we love more than life itself.  It has been said “We have then paid the boat keeper for passage across the river Styx, the River of Woe” to another world, from which we can never return, ever.  But in so doing we are given the Gifts of War (listed in your book) and yet, now stand with our boots firmly planted in two worlds, two realities, two dimensions of thought.  The Warrior World of black and white; of honor, discipline, self-sacrifice.  And the Civilian World of gray, and little or no honor, which we for the most part we loathe.  We must adapt our combat skills to live in these two worlds if we are to survive.  Many do not.  These worlds do not mesh and left unaddressed, the conflict between them rips us apart moment to moment, for the rest of our lives.

3. The Warrior Trust Bond that is established in battle, goes beyond the forces of nature. Our unconditional love for our fellow Warrior is stronger than life itself.  It goes beyond the love of family, of children, of country and of God, and we would gladly die to protect our True Friends.  We learn the true meaning of love and friendship, and that becomes the standard we live by for the rest of our lives.  You can see how this dooms any relationships except with other Warriors.  And to be Outcast from this family unit is worse than death itself.  Troops will not risk abandonment from the only life they love, the only friends they have, and would rather completely break down than admit weakness, which is to be shamed in the eyes of your fellow Warriors.

4. War Itself.  To kill another Human Being changes the Killer; we as Warriors change dramatically inside.  When we lose our Brothers (and now Sisters) we change dramatically inside.  We feel the loss, the guilt over what we could have done and didn’t do. We feel survivor guilt that we are alive and our Brothers are not, and we long for death that we may be by their side once again.  We desire the opiate Combat Adrenalin that is stronger than the desire to survive at times.  We feel the pain of loss and of abandonment by the country we thought we were fighting for, and when we return, we are often treated like outcasts.  We loathe politics and politicians and for the most part civilians who do not or don’t want to make the attempt to understand.  And, we are witness to and/or take part in the atrocities of the battlefield.

So then, the Warrior fights many fronts.  There is the Higher Mind against the Primal Lower brain; the angelic against the demonic in constant conflict.  There the battle between Two Worlds, one we love and one we hate, again in constant conflict.  There is the longing to be with our Sacred Military Family, instinctively our clan, our Tribe and we live in terror of being cast out of it.  And then there is the impact of the atrocities of war itself.

To summarize: Combat Troops simultaneously face Five Major Psychological Fronts!!

  1. The Constant Conflict with the Beast…higher vs. lower Brain
  2. The Consequences of Killing…moral dissonance
  3. The Constant Conflict of two Worlds…Warrior vs. Civilian
  4. The Warrior Trust Bond… Threat of being outcast…forced to deny their own humanity
  5. War itself…witness to atrocities, committing atrocities, loss, guilt, survivor guilt, need for adrenaline, desire to continue killing, anger/rage, paranoia, distrust, betrayal.

And through all this, Warriors  asks only to be loved, to be given the  acknowledgment and confirmation that they were justified on the battle field, that their bothers died for a noble cause, and they long to feel welcomed in the society they fought to defend.  This however, does not often happen.  All too often, Warriors can only depend upon fellow Warriors.  Most are lost when returning from war, and far too many forgotten.

Considerations when working with our Combat Troops from the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars:

The following are what Troops “may” be thinking/feeling:

  1. Thoughts of killing the enemy
  2. Guilt over killing women and/or children
  3. Grieving over the Loss of friends
  4. Waves of Rage/Uncontrolled anger; set into motion by non lethal triggers, such as being cut off in traffic, someone being rude, etc.
  5. Desire for that Adrenaline Rush of Combat, which moves them into reckless actions, taking chances.
  6. Wanting to continue killing/looking for a victim for self assurance and self-recognition. Longing for a life threatening situation; Pushing it to that point.
  7. Lack of focus due to intermittent or sustained flashbacks (vivid memories of painful experiences).
  8. Feeling abandoned when back stateside
  9. Feeling very low self esteem, due feeling odd, no one understands, no one cares.
  10. Need to cut the pain with alcohol and or drugs.
  11. Feeling numb inside to all emotions, unable to communicate feelings.
  12. Not comfortable with human touch.
  13. Not trusting anyone still in the “Can’t tell who the enemy is” mode.
  14. Can’t get close to my wife, kids or family anymore, “do I take a chance on new people?”
  15. Am hyper-vigilant, waiting for a mortar round to go off any second.
  16. Can’t drive my car, afraid of IEDs/Ambushes which adds to low self esteem.

More depth on topics:

  • Primal Side of Human Nature: For many Troops, the “Beast” may not be under control.  Some call this the lizard brain in humans.  This is not difficult to evaluate, since all the base emotions linked to violence such as anger, hate, lust, dominance, killing, need for adrenaline are all resident in the lower brain. When someone reacts unreasonably, chances are the lower brain is gaining ground for that moment.
  • The Warrior World and the Civilian World: Understanding the conflict of these two worlds is important in shaping behavior.  The Warrior World of black and white, of honor and discipline is obvious to most civilians.  It’s the military way of dealing with life.  Especially if the Primal Side is dominant , the military approach may be the best (if only) approach to instruct through.
  • Killing: The emotional impact of killing another human being set off tremendous emotions at all levels of cognition.  Especially the issues of killing women and children.  Killing creates what is called a moral dissonance.  That is, a conflict  between what a person knows to be wrong and what they just did that is supposed to be right…but feels wrong and they know it.
  • The Desire to Continue Killing: Most all Warriors feel Guilt over not having killed enough of the enemy.  This is because if they kill the enemy, then the enemy won’t kill their friends.  Problem is, it feels good to kill the enemy (positive reinforcement) and the Warrior likes it.  This leads to a desire to continue killing, and the need to establish who the enemy is.  You can see how this leads to a very dark perspective.

  • Guilt: Many Troops feel extreme guilt over making a decision that ended in the death or injury of a fellow Warrior. That is, things they could have done but didn’t do, or the guilt over feeling they didn’t have the ability to stop something that resulted tragically.  Regardless of the reality of the situation, there is always the “I should have done things differently”.  This is normal in most civilians, but compounded by multiple tours and repeated experiences by our Troops.
  • Survivor Guilt: A specialized form of guilt, it stems from extreme Bonding with another human being.   Troops feel extremely guilty for being stateside while their unit is deployed.  Even if they’re out of active duty, they stay in touch with their old unit and buddies via the Internet.  They feel responsible (guilty) to be alive when your friends are dead.  Or why they didn’t get “Hit” when their friends did.
  • Loss: It’s normal to feel loss over the death of the best friends you’ve ever had.  Problem is for our Warriors, it’s like losing a very close biological family member over and over again.  The stages of grieving like shock, denial, guilt, anger, resentment, blame, helplessness and remorse never come to a complete cycle.  Another loss occurs too soon.  Coupled with all the other effects of war including the sustained adrenaline high, it can be nearly impossible to deal with loss.  It remains at a constant level discomfort and concern.
  • Death and Suicide: Death is an accepted part of a Warrior’s Creed. Often a Warrior feels cheated “not to die” when their fellow Soldiers (or Marines) are killed.  Understanding the normalcy of these feelings is important.  Understanding the uniqueness of Suicide to a Warrior is also important.   Death before Dishonor is not a trite saying, it is the absolute Truth.  Troops would rather die than dishonor the members of their military family unit.  Under such extreme emotional pressure as our Troops are enduring, thinking can become distorted.  Of course their Brothers and Sisters don’t (or wouldn’t want) them  to end their own lives, and yet for many, the severe physical and emotional pain that goes along with war experiences can be overwhelming.  For some that pain is too great.
  • Trust: The degrees and/or levels of Trust are important to consider in the teaching field.  “Trust is Earned” and our Troops will demand you earn it.  Many will have a high level of tolerance for civilians they perceive as “helping them”.  Be patient because everyone is different.
  • Friendship: Goes hand in hand with Trust, but to understand this topic one needs to also understand the standard of friendship that Warriors hold sacred.  To them, a friend will die for you and you will die for them.  That standard rarely occurs in civilian society. This standard creates in them a false expectation thus creating a self-defeating standard of disappointment.  That is, they become discouraged, thinking they have no real friends in civilian society.  This unfortunately may lead to the next step in a distorted perspective, civilians are all the enemy.
  • War Itself: Observing the atrocities of war and even worse, participating in the atrocities of war is extremely disturbing.  Mutilation and viciousness in battle can develop severe abnormalities in human behavior.  Even the effects of being in a foreign country, living in a life threatening environment, watching death and destruction and never expecting to make it back alive will change a person for the rest of their life.  Consider this even if the Veteran has not been part of the killing.
  • The Anti-Climatic Return Home:  Troops are having extreme difficulty in adapting to their disappointment with family and previous friends.  They feel displaced and not belonging to anything but the Military and/or their Military Family Unit.  Feelings of abandonment are very common, not only by their government,  but by the ones they thought they were fighting for as well.  Some feel  like this is not even their own country, that they have no place to call home.
  • Becoming a New Individual: All Warriors retuning from battle,  have changed for the rest of their lives.  They cannot return to who they were, and in fact, the more they try the worse the situation becomes.  They can and must recognize their  own strength and adapt their Warrior Skills to civilian society.  By understanding this they will be able to rely upon their own ability and strength as a Warrior to overcome any problem they face without violence.  They must also developing a Vision for the future and not expect only to die in battle, as so many now do.
  • Substance Abuse: Many of our Troops are now self-medicating and have developed an alcohol/chemical dependency to escape from and kill the pain brought on by Combat.  This is why counseling is so important and why programs to give them a Vision for the future are so necessary. Combining Alcohol and Caffeine has also increased sexual assault by 50% for those linked to this combination.

  • Family and Child Abuse: This issue has become a very serious concern.  Understanding the previous topics, it is clear why this problem is spiking on Military Bases and in Society.  Addiction to pornography is also on the rise for the same reasons.

If you would like to discuss any challenges you may be dealing with, please contact me. (sgtabrandiusmc@gmail.com)