Part I: Culture Shock may be getting confused with PTSD
Culture Shock happens when you find yourself in situations where everyone accepts your behaviors, and then move to a place where everyone rejects your behaviors.
At the peak time of my violent behavior, I felt somewhat normal. The Marines and other military organizations are a violent culture (on purpose), that uses comradery as a weapon. The civilian culture I returned to, was not these things. Everyone looked at me as different, critical, and fearful and I looked at them with utter confusion. They at the very least felt as if they had to be on their toes around me for one reason or another.
I knew my intentions as I carried myself each day, which I viewed as positive, motivating, highly efficient and productive. But everyone else perceived my actions and behaviors as having more intimidating, belittling, fearful, or even destructive intentions.
It took me some time to realize that the reason I had such trouble adjusting was not just being stubborn or confused, it was because everything they wanted me to “adjust” to seemed like a lesser trait.
As if they were forcing me to adjust to a more inferior version of myself.
But I was associating “lesser” and “inferior” with the intense emotional cocktails I was used to feeling. If I didn’t feel powerful emotions, I felt like I was wasting my time and energy adjusting to a boring and mundane lifestyle.
An extremely toned down lifestyle… but that does not mean less rewarding.
Part II: Ask yourself, “What does it mean to be of a different culture? “
My initial response is a group of people who live differently than I do, with different value systems, traditions that I don’t always understand, and they probably look or dress different as well.
This is so confusing because the veterans leave their families and friends and return looking like the same person. So the veteran is expected to behave a certain way, based on who they were as they were known back home. The families want them to change back to what they are comfortable with, as they knew them, the way they used to be. And the veteran doesn’t understand what exactly they are doing that is “wrong”.
The behaviors that everyone deemed to be “different” and “wrong” ended up getting amplified due to the spotlight brought on to them.
“Wrong”, as it is written above, gets confused with “different from expectation”.
It sets off alarms in people’s heads when something is expected to be one way, and it turns out it isn’t. Like going to drink water, and realizing it was milk.
The alarms are just signals that something is different, not something is wrong. Those words are mutually exclusive.
Misusing these words creates friction in communication and rebelliousness to adapt with the veteran.
When cultures clash, both sides think the other is “wrong”.
We meet people that we know is a different culture, and demonstrate understanding and patience because we expect them to act and behave different from the way we do.
That’s called cultural awareness.
Part III: A Note on Trust and Communication
Veterans seem to prey on the unpredictablility of civilian-hood, if you will. It gives them that sense of purpose again. It is one of the few guaranteed things that can provide jolts of much needed emotional cocktails; when you look for trouble.
It appeals to all of our training, to not get complacent or you will die, because you can. You can get robbed/jumped (I was), or a car accident can take you out, or a billion other things. Veterans have been trained to focus on what can kill you and how can I kill it first. Most people don’t walk into a room with this perspective.
It can make formal networking events quite difficult at times.
What’s happening is that the veteran is essentially facing a larger playing field of unpredictability, and doing so all alone for the first time. Because veterans came from an ultra supportive environment of people that will actually die for them without hesitation.
Civilians differ in that their loyalties aren’t tested the same way to one another.
This is a huge conflict that veterans face when forming new relationships with non-vets.
How can they expect to trust someone who won’t die for them?
This was a given expectation in the Marines. I’m sure it’s not much different in the other services, or law enforcement.
It is also a question only veterans ask, civilians don’t even think to consider going there. They’ve never even had to think that way before. They can’t understand why trust is so difficult to achieve with a vet.
It’s because they don’t even know the question.
All the same, veterans don’t even realize they are looking for an answer that is impossible to ask in day to day life in America.
It is a communication break down.
They are both asking basic cultural questions for each of their respective cultures. It’s the same question of “can I trust you?” but asked in two different ways. And the answers they are looking for, will give each side something to base their own sense of trust, among other fundamental relationship aspects.
In effect, both sides are speaking different dialects of the same language. Some of the words have different meanings and perceptions when they get either said or heard. For example, the words “never”, “always”, and “promise” have very different uses. Military culture is more literal and specific, with as little grey area as possible. Civilian cultures tend to have more grey areas and exceptions, or changes.
The effort- towards patience and understanding – is required to be on both sides for any form of communication to exist. It should be interesting to find out how different others view the world, and why. Especially if they are a family member or close friend.
Keep in mind that everyone, regardless of their culture, has something more they can learn about life and living. If you remain open to understanding another point of view, or consider a different ethical response, you might like what you explore.
Culture Shock or PTSD: Storyline 1 for full entry.
CS: Breaking Barriers for an activity to help ease communication friction.
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Nicely written. It’s nice to know what goes on inside the head of a veteran that can help civilians understand their perspective. It’s all about perspective when you get down to it regardless. Keep up the good writing. I’m enjoying your posts.
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Thank you for the comment!
I just want to add one thing… You said to help civilians understand veterans, but it goes both ways. This should help veterans understand civilians all the same.
I’ve seen some veterans, not all, that blindly expect civilians to work towards understanding them as if it were one sided. They have responsibility here as well to understand civilian perspectives.