When I began posting articles in 2014, I wrote an article called ‘Hello, Control! Are You There?’, in which I talked about issues of control. The only person you can actually control is YOU, but many people try to control their environment instead of themselves, usually with unhappy results. For example, a person who is insecure in a relationship may try to control or manipulate his partner in order to reduce the fear of loss.
The only way some people know to express affection or concern is through criticism or giving advice—taking control in some way. They are often misunderstood. Some people regard any observation you make as an invitation to give advice—advice that is often unnecessary and even ridiculous. ‘It is raining to-day.’ ‘Take an umbrella and button up, avoid puddles, etc.’ Or this: ‘I asked him to go right, but he went left.’ ‘Well, that’s because he knew a better route’ (not that there’s any way to know if that’s true.) In this way, the caring individual feels s/he is participating in your life, and whether or not it is acceptable to you depends entirely on how you choose to interpret the gesture. It has taken me a very long time to understand this and I share it with you with the hope you will avoid some of my frustration.
It is more difficult to discern caring when it is expressed as authoritative opinion. In part, it is difficult to discern who is being cared for or about.
In the last several years, people have become more open about mental health issues such as Chronic Depression, PTSD, and anxiety disorders. With all the publicity surround these conditions, it is amazing they are still very poorly understood. I have read a good bit of personal narrative about PTSD (which I have myself), and I’ve been very distressed to read the reaction of others to it. For every person who says ‘I have PTSD (or whatever the condition might be)’, there are at least two people to blame him for it. One will say that PTSD is a choice—we actually choose to relive some of the most terrifying events of our lives; the other will say it is an indication that the PTSD victim is not right with God, who does not give us the spirit of fear…..
It’s taken a while and a lot of frustration for me to understand that the people who give these responses do so out of a) ignorance and b) fear. It’s almost certain they do not have any of these disorders themselves. Although you can hardly watch a police procedural drama on the television without some character having PTSD, depression, or another anxiety disorder, people seem remarkably uninformed, and uninspired to learn anything about them.
I understand the fear—it is impossible to escape your mind, or to deafen yourself to the cry of the terrified heart. Because control is part of our survival mechanism, it is deeply distressing to see someone, such as a friend or family member, endure the ravages of mental conditions and feel helpless to help. The experiences that PTSD, anxiety and depression bring about—here, the body and/or the mind operating independently from the Will—aren’t choices. You can’t turn them off when you’re tired of them. Earthquakes aren’t choices either, but we understand them because we can see them. Mental upheavals are invisible to the eye.
To an experienced person familiar with PTSD and it affects, the criticism and ‘blaming the victim’ that are so common are simply one more obstacle to being in harmony with the rest of the world. From experience and education, we know these critics are wrong. I am more concerned about the devastation this sort of ignorance causes among the effected and their families who may not be as experienced or well-informed—what if they believe this twaddle? Mental health conditions have nothing to do with weak or non-existent faith, any more than cancer or kidney disease have to do with obedience to God. They are no more a choice than a burn scar or the loss of a limb. They are the results of events outside our control, and need to be understood as such.
Those critics are partially right, though—we do have a choice.
We could choose to ignore them altogether.
Paul TN Chapman
If you enjoyed reading this, please take a look at my eBooks and paperbacks on Amazon.com: