[Paleopsych] What's the survival value of post traumaticstressdisorder?

Alice Andrews andrewsa at newpaltz.edu
Wed Apr 27 02:47:46 UTC 2005

I love this, too, Lynn! It fits so perfectly with my experience and with some of what I know...
Telling and writing stories (the story)  can be healing to those suffering the symptoms of PTSD 
(and other forms of mental unease)  and the stories can also be useful to the group...
For the person suffering, the 'new knowledge' eventually gets incorporated and the new way of being eventually 
happens, but perhaps it all happens sooner (and relief sooner, too) if the sufferer's experience 
is encoded in the group's system/collective knowledge/culture. Hence yet another reason, maybe, 
why some intensely creative writers have such burning desire to be read by 'the group'. The validation closes the circuit...  

Also, no question that an 'unprepared brain' with a 
particular neurochem profile deals with shock and terror and stress less well 
than a prepared one....And aside from meditation, exercise, a happy, meaningful life 
with good relationships and not too many economic worries, etc. (things  that help keep brain 
prepared for major stressors), having the collective wisdom of the group, i.e., stories/narratives 
which take many forms, e.g., gossip, fiction, news, etc., can also help prepare...
all the best!

PS I'm afraid I was not quite able to articulate what I was getting at, but I'm sending anyway...

----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Lynn D. Johnson, Ph.D. 
  To: The new improved paleopsych list 
  Sent: Monday, April 25, 2005 9:23 PM
  Subject: Re: [Paleopsych] What's the survival value of post traumaticstressdisorder?

  As usual, Alice is a great resource. A further view: Who is most / least disabled by PTSD?
      - preparation reduces PTSD. Special Forces troops in Viet Nam were exposed to worse violence (like when the Cong cut off arms of children the SF medics vaccinated) than grunts but had almost no PTSD. It was because of the extensive training, compared with 16 weeks of Basic / AIT. 
      - story telling: Edna Foa found that repeatedly telling the story reduced PTSD in rape victims. 

  So PTSD may be nature's way of telling us we aren't preparing ourselves and we aren't telling / listening to the story. Imagine a village in africa. To the beat of a drum, a hunter is telling his story:
      Hunter: Then as I approached the antelope, I saw a lion!
      Villagers in unison: Boom-chucka, boom chucka boom chucka
      Hunter: The lion leaped!
      V: Boom chucka!
      H: It missed me but it got Steve!
      V: Aaargh!

  The youth are prepared (hunting is dangerous, lions are about) and by sharing, in perhaps a ritualistic way, he masters the trauma.

  My dad, late in life, told his story of being a flight engineer on a B-17 over Europe. While he told the story (as my mother wrote it down) he cried for two days. It puzzled him. "It's been 40 years, it shouldn't still bother me" but after that he was as relaxed and peaceful as I had ever seen him. The storytelling had a ritual quality (tell your story and I will write it down for the kids) and he found some mastery.


  Alice Andrews wrote:

    Howard, I really love this! 
    I had some alternative--or actually, additional thoughts--not ones I necessarily want to champion, but nonetheless I feel like sharing: Perhaps PTSD is adaptive for the individual and ultimately the group. A young hunter is out on the savannah and his brother/kin is savagely destroyed by lions, say. He might experience all sorts of emotions in response to witnessing this, perhaps the symptoms of PTSD. The emotions (as par Randy Nesse et al.) guide his behavior--i.e. staying at 'camp' not going on hunts, ruminating over and over the scene, etc etc. The symptoms like memory loss are maybe just "mind-spandrels." 
    The hippocampus goes into obsessive overdrive on the old memories at the expense of new ones. The hippocampus is still "carrying" the event. So...maybe the memory loss just represents a reorganization of the brain. A traumatic event, of course, can be life-altering. It takes a lot of brain power/energy to restructure neuronal morphology. People literally change after such events.  Something new is being learned very quickly: a whole new way of being. "Don't charge at lions. Don't trust men from the neighboring tribe. Don't wear bones when hunting." *  For such a thing to happen, the hippocampus can't be bothered with forming new memories. So the symptoms are the means to, and also the signs of, those changes. There's no doubt that a person suffering from the symptoms of PTSD would have garnered support, fear, and elicited a whole host of behavioral responses--as today. And that indeed an individual with the symptoms of PTSD would have been a marker--a reminding factor. Members of the group's physiology wouldn't have gone thrrough such dramatic and intense changes like the individual, but they (and their physiology to some degree) would be influenced in some fashion, surely.
    Another thought. I don't actually know the statistics or have any data on this stuff, I can only speak from impressionistic observation and experience. But it seems to me that people who suffer with the symptoms of PTSD eventually stop suffering. ** The changes finally get wired--so they're no longer signposts for the group in that way...Though the group will have experienced the person in that state for a while and have their new state as reminding factor, too. 
    Anyway, to answer question: tremendous survival value for individual and group if the symptoms lead to 're-education' and changes in personality, behavioral response, etc etc. 

    *Magical thinking and OCD are related to these things and also were quite adaptive.

    ** Meds, of course, are very helpful...but I imagine that the change that mother nature has programmed the suffering person to go through doesn't actually happen with meds. And, I actually have no particular feeling on whether one way is better or worse..I don't have a romantic view that suffering through the symtoms of PTSD in today's world could be all that beneficial to the individual. I would look at it on a case-by-case basis, I suppose. (I generally take the view that people (unless they pose a  threat in some way to self or others) need to experience such emotions for a tiny little while without meds--even PTSD. (I suffered with such symptoms (and  then some!) for about 4-5 years without meds, btw. Not something I would advise everyone to do!!!)

    More to think about and to write, but have to run! 
    All best, 

      ----- Original Message ----- 
      From: HowlBloom at aol.com 
      To: paleopsych at paleopsych.org 
      Sent: Monday, April 25, 2005 5:00 AM
      Subject: [Paleopsych] What's the survival value of post traumatic stressdisorder?

      If you have PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), your hippocampus works poorly and you have a lot of trouble storing new memories.  It’s your old memories that prevail, the memories of the horrid experience that produced your trauma to begin with.  Is this fixation with a danger in the past helpful to your personal survival? Or is it helpful to something else—to the survival of society?  If you suffer from PTSD, does your brain and body inflict that suffering every day to turn you into a signboard--a walking warning of danger to the rest of us?

      Ted Coons proposes that us old folks lose our ability to remember recent events but still hang on to memories of our distant past for a reason.  Not a reason that helps us aging elders,  but a reason that helps the collective mind, the mass intellect of society.  We elders, Ted thinks, are storage jugs keeping antique memories alive not for the sake of our personal survival, but for the sake of the younger folks who’ve had no opportunity to experience or remember the days when we elders were young and vigorous.  Those youngsters have had no chance to remember the problems and solutions of our childhoods way back when, the problems and solutions of an earlier generation or two or three.

      Can PTSD victims serve a similar function, as danger markers for those of us who’ve never experienced the horrors that the past-obsessed and present-challenged PTSD patients  remember far, far better than they’d like?  Are they walking warning signs to the rest of us?  Are they, like all of us, disposable modules in the mass learning machine of culture, in the parallel distributed intelligence of the collective brain?

      Howard Bloom
      Author of The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History and Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind From The Big Bang to the 21st Century
      Visiting Scholar-Graduate Psychology Department, New York University; Core Faculty Member, The Graduate Institute
      Founder: International Paleopsychology Project; founding board member: Epic of Evolution Society; founding board member, The Darwin Project; founder: The Big Bang Tango Media Lab; member: New York Academy of Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Psychological Society, Academy of Political Science, Human Behavior and Evolution Society, International Society for Human Ethology; advisory board member: Youthactivism.org; executive editor -- New Paradigm book series.
      For information on The International Paleopsychology Project, see: www.paleopsych.org
      for two chapters from 
      The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History, see www.howardbloom.net/lucifer
      For information on Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century, see www.howardbloom.net

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