Half of Everyone Will Experience Trauma. Here’s How to Grow From It.

The hurdles in life presented by traumatic experiences, if treated properly, represent opportunities for momentous personal growth.

Big Think and the Mental Health Channel are proud to launch Big Thinkers on Mental Health, a new series dedicated to open discussion of anxiety, depression, and the many other psychological disorders that affect millions worldwide.

The code of silence around wartime injuries that affect the mind is falling away. Veterans' organizations campaign for mental health awareness and health care providers offer more mental health treatment than ever before. Many military officers now refer to post-traumatic stress disorder simply as PTS, eschewing its classification as a disorder in the first place.

That attitude is consistent with the findings of Dr. Rachel Yehuda, director of the Traumatic Stress Studies Division at Icahn School of Medicine and the Mental Health Patient Care Center director at the James J. Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Yehuda, one of the nation's foremost trauma researchers, concludes that about half of all people will experience a traumatic event in their life, defined as "an event that divides your life into a before and after, a watershed moment that really kind of changes the way you view the world."

Trauma doesn't guarantee the onset of PTSD, but the condition does display the central theme of Yehuda's work: that the hurdles in life presented by traumatic experiences, if treated properly, represent opportunities for momentous personal growth.

So what does PTSD treatment actually treat? The primary symptom of PTSD is a haunting memory of a past physiological experience. Sufferers often feel guilty for having caused the experience themselves, or assign blame to others out of anger for what happened.

PTSD has the power to ruin once-intimate relationships (like marriage) and make once peaceful environments (like being at work) fraught with emotional triggers. To be sure, these reactions are not the victims' fault: Trauma is something that happens to someone. Treatment, however, cannot be imposed on a patient from the outside. 

Getting over PTSD, as Yehuda explains, requires work. It means looking in the mirror, realizing that a part of you is lost forever, and preparing yourself for what's going to happen next in your life. Medical professionals can help victims confront what happened to them, but they must be willing to face their past experiences frankly.

Once a patient commits to that, traumatic events represent an opportunity for tremendous personal growth in a way that is ultimately more liberating than traumatic. 

Photo courtesy of iStock

Ideology drives us apart. Neuroscience can bring us back together.

A guide to making difficult conversations possible—and peaceful—in an increasingly polarized nation.

  • How can we reach out to people on the other side of the divide? Get to know the other person as a human being before you get to know them as a set of tribal political beliefs, says Sarah Ruger. Don't launch straight into the difficult topics—connect on a more basic level first.
  • To bond, use icebreakers backed by neuroscience and psychology: Share a meal, watch some comedy, see awe-inspiring art, go on a tough hike together—sharing tribulation helps break down some of the mental barriers we have between us. Then, get down to talking, putting your humanity before your ideology.
  • The Charles Koch Foundation is committed to understanding what drives intolerance and the best ways to cure it. The foundation supports interdisciplinary research to overcome intolerance, new models for peaceful interactions, and experiments that can heal fractured communities. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org/courageous-collaborations.

How to split the USA into two countries: Red and Blue

Progressive America would be half as big, but twice as populated as its conservative twin.

Image: Dicken Schrader
Strange Maps
  • America's two political tribes have consolidated into 'red' and 'blue' nations, with seemingly irreconcilable differences.
  • Perhaps the best way to stop the infighting is to go for a divorce and give the two nations a country each
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Why a federal judge ordered White House to restore Jim Acosta's press badge

A federal judge ruled that the Trump administration likely violated the reporter's Fifth Amendment rights when it stripped his press credentials earlier this month.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta (R) returns to the White House with CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist after Federal judge Timothy J. Kelly ordered the White House to reinstate his press pass November 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. CNN has filed a lawsuit against the White House after Acosta's press pass was revoked after a dispute involving a news conference last week. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Acosta will be allowed to return to the White House on Friday.
  • The judge described the ruling as narrow, and didn't rule one way or the other on violations of the First Amendment.
  • The case is still open, and the administration may choose to appeal the ruling.
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