Only ten or fifteen percent of the soldiers in a violent series of encounters get PTSD. The others get over the horror and get on with their lives. Likewise, not every victim of a felony assault gets traumatized for years after the episode. Not every incident of domestic violence or abuse creates lasting emotional scars.
One pattern I observed in the Frontline documentary: The Wounded Platoon, connected the impact of emotional investments made by soldiers to their experience of trauma. Those that had bonded emotionally with comrades and leaders were far more traumatized by the violence and impossibility of showing compassion for their fallen comrades. They had set themselves up with more to lose which made their losses more devastating. Those soldiers that remained aloof, numb or focused on the job to get done -- were better able to take the horrors in stride. Soldiers give "emotional investment" a bad name.
That pattern may repeat among female sex workers and college coeds. Most sex workers are not emotionally invested in the clientele, their own inviolability or their reputation. An encounter that could be considered "rape" in other contexts, would get written off as one episode of "rough trade" amidst several encounters on a given night. Their emotional detachment makes it easy to forget about it and move on. The same abusive encounter with a female college student could traumatize her into extreme isolation and avoidance of all sexual interest in her. She would be haunted by the memories, routinely flooded with dark moods and paranoid when walking on campus. Her deep investment in her own inviolability and reputation would set-up the emotional scarring. Like the soldiers, rape victims give "emotional investment" a bad name. Both punishments from emotional investments seem to eliminate any other better options.
Here's how our full spectrum of emotional investment options look to me when arranged in space:
When we make an emotional investment, we've moved onto shaky ground. We're no longer in control of our experience. We are depending on other people or happenstance to feel okay about ourselves. We're eager to please and anxious to make things right. We're neither confident or in charge of what is deemed to be pleasing and right. We're coming from a place that makes us appear clinging and needy to others.
When we're on shaky ground, the only alternative in sight is even worse. We can go into isolation and wallow in self pity. We become emotionally withdrawn and unavailable. We put up walls to defend ourselves from feeling our feelings again. We appear to have become" lifeless zombies" to others. In this place, we cannot show interest in others or endure others' interest in us. We've invested heavily in emotional safety at all cost.
There's a far better place to get to from shaky ground that does not open us up to getting hurt the same way all over again. We move onto solid ground from shaky ground and feel very differently about ourselves. We can make a different kind of investment.
When we move onto solid ground, we restore our own control over our experience. We get to call the shots and frame the evidence by trusting our own lenses. We've withdrawn the kind of emotional investment that can make us needy, insecure and dependent on others' opinions. We're invested in our own confidence, efficacy and freedom. This solid ground gives us the feeling that we can let go of whatever happened in the past. We feel we are now a different person now with many different resources, outlooks and experiences. We are looking forward to a very different future than the one defined by the troubling past incidents.
Getting to solid ground usually requires a support system. We need convincing experiences of getting respected for living according to our self respect. We cannot go their alone or talk ourselves into solid ground. It comes about by coming from a better place that then comes across some common ground with like-minded others.