Culture Shock or PTSD: Condensed


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.

 


Last Thoughts…


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.



See Related:

Culture Shock or PTSD: Storyline 1 for full entry.

CS:  Breaking Barriers for an activity to help ease communication friction.


Culture Shock or PTSD: Breaking Barriers Activity


Background:  


I didn’t always know these things.  I drew these insights and messages from my own experiences by being aware of myself and the situation around me.

I asked an annoying amount of questions to my friends and family about what they are thinking/feeling at any given moment.

I recognized fundamental differences in my family’s culture from my own at the time; a culture that I used to deep down understand myself.

At that point I realized my innate culture has been forever changed.  I can’t unlive these intense experiences. I can delete those lessons.  I can only learn new ones and use them for a more aware future existence.


Activity:


Step 1… [see tip 1 at bottom]

Both the veteran and the family member (or anyone else for that matter) are to write down two descriptions in the set order.

Each description is referenced below.

For the Veterans:

  1. Describe Marine Corps culture/respective branch
  2. Describe your own culture

For Family/Friends/Everyone:

  1. Describe your own culture
  2. Describe what you think might be Marine Corps culture (or respective branch)

Step 2… [see tip 2 at bottom]

Compare your responses.

Use the differences as talk points for deeper explanation.

At every moment, keep it on the front of your mind that this is the person you love and care about deeply.

Become intrigued by the differences and unexpected responses.

It should be interesting to know more about them, their views, and why they have those views.

Most importantly… No matter what you hear or where the discussion leads, Don’t Judge.  Save that shit for some other time.


Step 3…

Set up a time within a week or two to compare responses all over again.  The conversation should delve a little deeper than the first time.

Stay open.

Prepare yourself to start questioning and adjusting your own cultural views.  There isn’t one way to live, knowing more about how others live can be enlightening.



Tips…


Tip for Step 1:

Pick a definition below to use as an aid.

  • the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group.
  • the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life} shared by people in a place or time
  • the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization
  • the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic

[source:  https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/culture]

Tip for Step 2:  

Veterans, Family, etc- try to redefine what you think an “open mind” is.  Chances are you are both going to have things you can’t readily wrap your head around.

Sometimes new and raw information needs to ferment in our minds for a little while to truly grasp the concepts that lie within.



See related for more information on this activity:

Culture Shock or PTSD: Condensed  Summary of Culture Shock vs PTSD.

Culture Shock or PTSD: Storyline 1 – the expanded version.

Culture Shock or PTSD: Storyline 1


Sometimes a little banter provides the reader with a fuller picture of the message in their minds.  I use this Storyline as a tool to discuss the topic of Culture Shock in a more relatable way to a military life.

Now I don’t want to offend any other branch of service.  It’s just easier for me to write it this way:  When I say Marines, I am projecting all other active military life (army, navy, air force…).

Even though each branch has big lifestyle differences, they are across the board on another culture plane as civilian societies.

If they needed labels to aid in understanding, I would call the planes Institutional Society and American Free Will Society, respectively.

Institutional can mean prisons, or government agencies, military circles, and the like.  Even though each item listed is completely different from one another, Institutional Societies tend to have more control over quality of life such as the removal of pay, poor working conditions, lifestyle restrictions (drinking, sexual conduct, how you dress/speak/act in public settings…).

American Free Will can mean any place with long term life among infinite varieties: small town in the south, big city in the north, CA vs NY, to name a few quick ones.

To compare, people of this American Free Will culture plane can quit their jobs, start a business, get in a romantic relationship with virtually anyone they see.

However, these people also have to seek out every single thing they ever want or need by themselves.  If they want help, they also need to find out where and seek that out as well.

Institutional cultures usually have reliable and consistent medical care, food, shelter, etc already in place.  Avenues for seeking help are posted on a board nearby.

Each plane has different fundamental benefits.  Therefore…


Every behavior, tradition, conversation, thought, and anything else are all occurring secondary to their respective culture plane.


If one plane is generally higher risk to life on an expected and regular basis, it should surprise no one that their language use, ethical considerations [right vs wrong], or aspired traits [that are well respected by peers] can all be foreign to those from another culture plane.

The problem is the awareness of cultural shock in the veterans that return home from institutional culture plane to an American Free Will plane; and are somewhat expected to immerse themselves immediately.

Perhaps if they knew it was simply a culture clash, as we all face every day in America, it would be met with greater understand and patience.

Instead, veterans are suddenly separated from an entire culture of people they’ve just worked so hard at adopting as their own.  One that they lived by and relied upon for survival.

And this new culture they’ve come into ostracizes the differences in behaviors.  [see Tangent cs1 at bottom]

This ostracization amplifies the behaviors, which are usually the ones most inappropriate outside of Institution, and results in a growing gap of understanding.


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”.

“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.


What does this tell us?


That being aware of the expectations we project onto others can either make patience and understanding easier, or much more difficult.

When you have communication issues with another, and you try and try and try, and don’t seem to know what the problem is… check your expectations.



Please move on to Culture Shock or PTSD: Storyline 2



Tangent cs 1:

Marine Corps culture was screamed into each recruit in boot camp.  Recruits were to refer to themselves in the third person to remove their sense of personal identity. No music, tv, advertisements.  No family, no friends, or personal items whatsoever. There was nothing to influence the balls of clay we all quickly became- except the Drill Instructor.

They promote the most intense emotion and not just push every button you have, but they break every button you have.

There was no longer anyone outside of the Marine Corps who could do or say anything that would actually get to me.  That is probably why Marines seem arrogant.  It truly is confidence and pride in belonging to force greater than yourself.  It only seems arrogant because the feeling Marines work hard to achieve is rare and hard to relate to.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some boot ass overly confident Marines that need to get their asses in check.  They are just new to feeling invincible.  A deployment or two should fix’em.

The point is…

there isn’t much in American Free Will cultural planes that beat in its values at such an extreme level.

To just let go seems like a ridiculous expectation.



Next Piece:

Culture Shock or PTSD: Storyline 2 (coming soon…)


See Related:

CS: Condensed

Main takeaways from the storyline.  Much more easily shared and can help more people in a more expedient form.

CS: Breaking Barriers

A quick activity I propose to aid in any friction that might be occurring.