Guilt and Veterans

by Veteran Knowsley

Guilt and Veterans

The word "trauma" is derived from the Greek word meaning "wound." Just as a physical wound from combat can cause suffering in the body, a psychological trauma can cause suffering in the mind and soul.

 I find I get those unpleasant feelings of regret creeping up on me. I have many feelings of guilt. I get some from my time in the forces others outside the services. It is something that soldiers hide from people. They feel a shame they don’t know how to handle it. They think if I talk about it people will hate me for being guilty. You feel you can tell a former soldier you know he will understand.

Survivor guilt is often experienced when a person has made it through some kind of traumatic event while others have not. A person may ask why he survived. He may even blame himself for surviving a traumatic event as if he did something wrong. This does not only happen to soldiers but to any who survives an event. When look at a soldier he may have survivor a number of events in his service life.  To come to terms with that with one event is hard enough if is plus 6 events it is like trying to climb Mount Everest without the right kit. Feeling guilt after the experience of a traumatic event is serious, as it has been linked to a number of negative consequences. Trauma-related guilt has been found to be associated with depression, shame, low self-esteem, and thoughts of suicide. In addition, feeling a lot of trauma-related guilt has been link to the development of PTSD.

Those Veterans who feel guilty have loss of social and Occupational function, self-imposed isolation, poor relationships, and marital, family and economic difficulties. They start to hide away when feeling down. They don’t want to talk to anyone they feel a shamed.  A veteran feel that seeking help for issues such as shame, stigma or guilt and maintaining a macho image, are factors that prevent the veteran seeking help and admitting he has a problem. Other long-term mental health problems can occur after ‘sins of omission and commission’, when the rules of professionalism are violated. Friendly fire is much more stressful and psychologically damaging than enemy fire, as it subverts the normal order of things – their side let them down. Similarly, when a serviceman feels he or she let the side down, the guilt can be very difficult to deal with, and longer term mental health problems including but definitely not restricted to PTSD can result.

Because many veterans have not been taught how surviving trauma can affect persons, they may have trouble understanding what is happening to them. They may think it is their fault that the trauma occurred, that they are going crazy, or that there is something wrong with them, since others who were at the same place do not seem to have the same problems. They may use drugs or alcohol to escape from their feelings. They may turn away from friends and family who seem not to understand. Because thinking about a trauma and feeling endangered is upsetting, people who have experienced combat generally want to avoid all reminders. Sometimes survivors are aware of this and avoid such triggers intentionally, but many do so without realizing it. Survivors may not know what to do to get better.

A common response is to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs to counter distressing feelings and thoughts, as well as guilt over having survived when others died. Perhaps the most perplexing symptom for relatives and friends to understand is psychological numbness: a withdrawal of affection and avoidance of close emotional ties with family members, friends, and colleagues. These responses can cause or exacerbate marital, vocational, or substance abuse problems.

I WISH THAT I COULD FIND A PLACE

I wish that I could find a place...

A place where I could heal and regain faith in myself, and again feel the joy and happiness

that I so long ago lost - displaced by despair and hopelessness.

A place where my friends live, if only for awhile, for I sorely need to belong...where I am

accepted without judgment, and where I am loved for who I am.

A place where forgiveness reigns...where the future will become clearer and brighter...and

filled with hope.

A place where I can find spirituality and wisdom, and where I can be embraced by those

who know and can show me the path.

This place existed only in my dreams - until now - and I am once again me.

- Randy Kautto

When soldiers return from N Ireland and were not welcomed back with compassion and open arms like those who went to the Falklands. They felt that N.  Ireland while it was being fought and the victims it created, then on return some Veterans seem to slide away into the darkness of their soul. Veterans often feel they carry the blame for the horrors of war, not just blaming themselves, but being blamed by those at home. Some of the first feelings that usually come up are anger at being cheated by society and grief for all that they have lost while nobody seems to care and help.

The feeling of guilt for me from my service life is many. I know the feeling of taking my family to N Ireland in 1973 -1974 has haunted me since that time. The bombs in the town centre, being in a conflict zone. They are there in a boxed at the back of my mind. No lock can hold them. They attack when a trigger set’s them off. It like another brick in that wall called PTSD. It mask the problem but is put of the problem trying to understand one without understanding the other allows the problem to rise in another forum.

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