Mental Health

Topic Tuesday: This is PTSD

Anger is also a common response to events that seem unfair or in which you have been made a victim. Research shows that anger can be especially common if you have been betrayed by others. This may be most often seen in cases of trauma that involve exploitation or violence. ~ PTSD: National Center for PTSD

I started writing this at a time when I was highly agitated. My PTSD had been triggered by a silly person in a silly, app-based MMORPG.

Without going into a lot of boring game details, I’ll just say that, like anywhere else in life, there are players who interact in ways which are filled with self-indulgent, entitled attitudes. In this case, I had observed this player interacting with a couple of young, female players in sexually predatory ways.

It pissed me off to see anyone treated this way, even if it was in the context of an inconsequential game where no “real” harm was being done. Within this alliance there was a lot of sexually charged comments, online flirtation, and, behind the scenes, activities of a different kind of game play.

At the first available opportunity, I followed some other players, with whom I’d developed a more constructively mature “friendship,” over to a different alliance because I’d started realizing how triggering all of that was for me.

Less than 24 hours later, this other player targeted me and launched an attack, knowing that I wasn’t strong enough to withstand it. It was a kind of betrayal because he did it immediately following an activity where we’d both been assisting a member of my new alliance.

He’d all but warned her in the general chat that, if I didn’t protect myself, he would go on the attack. She didn’t take him seriously and, as soon as the action to help her had ended, he mounted an attack. I knew personal character he’d displayed and knew that something like this was likely to happen, if we were ever to be on opposite sides of a confrontation. So, when he showed up, I knew that he would do exactly what he did.

So what? It’s just a game, right?

Right. However, something was triggered in me that was beyond my control.

I was physically shaking with adrenaline surging throughout my body. My mind reacted “irrationally” in that moment. I was angry, enraged even. I felt bullied, picked on, betrayed, by someone I knew I couldn’t trust.

See? Irrational.

Except, it really wasn’t. Maybe in that moment and in that context, but the things I was experiencing were taking my body and brain back to other experiences where I had been mentally, emotionally, and sexually targeted and abused by men and boys of similar character.

This guy is a sexual predator. The former victim in me recognizes that about him. It doesn’t make any difference that he lives halfway around the globe, that he’s younger than my son, and that I will never see him face to face. I hadn’t played into his little games. I’d actually pushed back and he’d had to back down. Then, I educated and urged two of his targets to remove themselves from his influence.

My unconscious was hyper-vigilant and on high alert. So, as soon as a threat was perceived, because my unconscious can’t differentiate between a silly game or reality, the fight, flight, or freeze instinct kicked in.

The interesting thing is that whenever I encounter something online, which triggers this response, it takes monumental effort to “back down.” I frequently have to remind myself that it’s the internet and that it’s not my job to educate and argue with every troll or willful ignoramus I encounter. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

However, with just a couple of exceptions, well, one exception in particular, a version of the “freeze” response kicks in if I’m face to face with the person pulling the trigger. Which is exactly the way it feels, even when it isn’t. I feel like I’m being targeted, even when I know I’m not. If I know that I am, well, fight really wants to kick it. Which is really what this version of the “freeze” response is.

My “freeze” response is actually my deliberate and willful tamping down of the visible expression of anger or rage, possibly even fear. My face falls into a blank mode that my oldest daughter refers to as RBF. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it stands for “Resting Bitch Face.” With RBF comes the dissociation from whatever I’m feeling in that moment. It’s virtually automatic.

I guess that “freeze” is actually a kind of internalized “flight,” because I’m don’t want to get into a verbal fight, which could lead to longer term, negative consequences for me, as fighting and standing up for myself has done in the past.

Anger, fear, and exhaustion from managing the anger and fear, lead to more of the same. Rinse and repeat.

This is PTSD.


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