01 Nov To Adapt or Not To Adapt
I have had the privilege to work with some military veterans. I feel great humility when someone who has done, seen, and experienced what they have, trusts me enough to talk about it. The issues they face vary from full blown PTSD to maintaining healthy relational boundaries while deployed. There is a theme that does come up a lot in these discussions; how to alter response patterns that were learned in forward military positions to more functional ones for civilian life situations.
Imagine a soldier being on a patrol. The patrol is clearing a building in Bagdad and they begin to draw fire from a rooftop across the street. There are clear and appropriate responses to this level of stress and, yes, fear for both oneself and one’s fellow soldiers. When these response patterns are learned under life or death fire, they are seared into the brain. Now imagine the same soldier being at home six months later and something said makes him think that his wife might be considering divorce. Though there is heightened stress and, yes, even fear for himself and his family, the response pattern needs to be much different than it was in Bagdad. I’m not talking violence here as much as being able to keep calm and have the patience to slowly unpack the issues. In short, there have to be more choices than fight or flight.
So, the theme is adapting how we respond to better match the situation in which we find ourselves. This is difficult for us all. We learned at the crucibles of our lives certain ways of responding that are automatic and difficult to unlearn. These patterns are probably appropriate in some situations but are not so great across the board. I can’t tell you how often I see evidence of damage done not just by a bad situation but by a person’s response to that bad situation.
The first step is to think about what your automatic responses are when you‘re afraid, angry, hurt, or attacked. What would those around you say about how you handle this sort of stuff? Now imagine a situation that triggered you and imagine what might have been a better choice in that moment than the one you used. Instead of beating yourself up over it, see yourself making the choice to do something more appropriate to that moment. Ponder that for a few minutes, then make the vow to catch your self doing this new thing sometime in the near future. Maybe, if you can, you can begin to learn the difficult but healthy ability to adapt.