Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder

I can’t count the number of times I’ve stopped myself from taking action because of something that might happen.

Status of my goals:

  • Marathon: Behind Schedule. I didn’t run yesterday, and I won’t be running today, but I should still be able to get my three runs in this week.
  • Two Square Yards of Earth: Behind Schedule. I’m two pages into Chapter 2, but by my plan I should be finished with Chapter 8 by now.
  • 100 Posts: Behind Schedule. This is post 15 for the year. I should have posted 16 two days ago.

We talk ourselves out of doing things all the time. Sometimes, it’s a reasonable reaction based on real safety considerations: we don’t take shortcuts through parts of town where we don’t feel safe, we don’t stand in swivel chairs to replace light bulbs, we don’t stand on the roof to watch lightning storms.

But we also talk ourselves out of doing what we need to do–because of what might happen. The boss makes an unreasonable demand, and we comply. A friend says something racist, and we keep our mouths shut. The teacher asks if anyone has questions, and we say nothing.

After all, we tell ourselves, jobs are hard to find, and if I call the boss out, he might fire me. If I take issue with my friend, she might not want to spend time with me any more. If I ask the question I want to ask, I might look stupid.

There’s a whole raft of negative consequences that might happen, and our brains instantly go to the worst one, however unlikely. And dwelling on the worst possible outcome paralyzes us. It happens almost by reflex, and it’s common enough that I recently heard someone give it a name: Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

But unlike its better-known namesake, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (a very real, very severe condition I have no intention of diminishing), Pre-TSD is not a response to actual events. Instead, it’s a reaction to events that might happen, as our mind imagines them. It’s a paralyzing overreaction, often with no basis in reality.

The reality is that any boss worth working for cares whether you’re overworked, or whether his demands are unfair, and bringing it to his attention (in a professional manner, of course) will raise his respect for you, not lower it.

The reality is that your friend may not know what she said was racist, or may not recognize it was harmful. If you say something to her, she will probably be angry with you for a while, but she’ll come around–and your friendship will be the stronger for it.

The reality is that if you’re thinking of a question, others are probably thinking of it, too, and they’re not asking for exactly the same reason you’re not asking. If you step forward and ask, you can get an answer for all of you–and you make yourself a leader when you go first, even if its just to ask a question.

Overcoming Pre-TSD is an essential step toward developing our courage habits. Let’s stop talking ourselves out of taking action, and start doing things we know we need to do, regardless of the worst-case consequences our brains throw up to stop us.

I've been a soldier, a dreamer, a working stiff, a leader. A husband, father, example (good and otherwise), and now a survivor. I write about courage, because courage is what enables us to accomplish the impossible. If you draw breath, I love you. If you love in whatever way seems best to you and want others to love in whatever way seems best to them, I am your ally. If you believe someone is less than you because they do not love the way you do, I oppose you. If you see someone as a threat to be abused or destroyed merely because they do not look like you, or love like you, or worship like you, I am your enemy. I am a joyful and courageous man. And I stand with you who love.