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  • Writer's pictureDr. David Bonanno

The Tougher They Are, The Harder They Fall

Are you tough? If you have PTSD, there are two routes you can take: You can talk about it and try to get help, or you can tough it out. Ironically, the people who can control their emotions more, end up being less in control of their lives in the long run. Veterans and first responders are some of the toughest people around. AND they are much more likely to be divorced, addicted, violent, and suicidal than the rest of the population. Why is that?

To answer this question, we need to look at compartmentalization. That’s when someone dissociates from their emotions. It’s not inherently bad, and we all do it. Otherwise, we would be feeling everything all the time. If you have a job that requires you to be cool under pressure, or even if you are someone who just wants to hide what you perceive as weakness from those around you, you may end up becoming so good at it that it gets you in trouble.

I used to hike a lot, and I remember one time taking a long break on top of a mountain. When I put my pack on again, I couldn’t believe how much I had been carrying! It takes a lot of mental energy to keep emotions at bay, and you may not realize how hard you are working at it. When you run out of mental energy, we can no longer spend it on being patient with people. So you snap at them. Taken a step further, you could end up losing control and being violent, even with the people you love most. Nobody ever anticipates getting to that point, but it can sneak up on you. And just “trying harder” to stay in control isn’t the answer. In fact, it feeds into this whole cycle.

Watch out for Depression. In my opinion, depression is not about happiness or sadness. It’s about energy. It can sneak up on you because when you begin to lack the energy to connect with people and things that recharge you, you find yourself isolating and falling prey to negative thinking. Depression and PTSD are both linked with insomnia. If you don’t sleep well, you recharge yourself even less. One more thing: Compartmentalizing the pain in your life is impossible without deadening some the joy as well.

One thing I’ve discovered, not from reading books but just in talking to thousands of people and happening to notice it, is that the real compartmentalizers are prone to panic attacks. They come out of nowhere, which makes them terrifying. You don’t know why it’s happening, or what to do about it. My theory is that habitually stuffing your emotions leads to an inability to trace what you are feeling to what’s going on in your life. I can often tell who suffers from panic, and they are the tough people. They say, “How did you know?” They spend so much energy to fool people; to look like a duck. Calm and cool on top, but below the surface they are scrambling.

How much control does an addict have? Not much at all. Do you use anything to help you manage your emotions? Addictions work great in the short term but cost us so much energy and money and love in the long term.

I’m not trying to get people worked up unnecessarily, but I do want to caution people before they get in trouble. If you see yourself in anything I have said, you should probably get some help. You may have avoided meds and touchy-feely therapy because you know they often don’t help. Well, Waji offers real healing that comes from your own strengths. It’s a tool that tough people like you can use to fix yourself, quickly and painlessly. No one even has to know you use it.

If control is really important to you, maybe you should be proactive and give it a shot. Or, you can passively wait until you are literally forced to do something. How much “in control” are you when that happens?

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