All the Way to Eleven

All the way to Eleven: Emotional Responses in PTSD

I often have people contact me, usually via Facebook, in desperation to understand what is going on with them or their loved ones. “He is so angry all the time” they write to me, or “What’s wrong with me that I can’t stop crying or yelling?”

“They are stuck at eleven”, I reply.

In part, PTSD is an illness of emotions. Some that contact me ask if I can ‘cure’ anger or ‘cure’ fear. My answer is no and you don’t want me to. Anger is an essential life-saving emotion. If someone breaks into your house and threatens your family (for example), Anger gives you the courage to fight back and protect your family. You need anger.

You need Fear. Fear keeps you safe, Fear keeps you alive. It is Fear that stops us walking into traffic, patting the Lion or jumping with no parachute. Fear is not the opposite of Courage. Courage comes from feeling the Fear and doing the act or task anyway. You need Fear as you do Anger and Courage.

What these people and their loved ones are looking for is context for these emotions. Context through the right emotion, the right time and the right intensity.

You see, emotions work on a spectrum. Anger for instance, may look something like this.

You know that person that says, “I don’t get angry, but I feel frustrated a lot”, yeah…Angry.

Similarly, Fear may look like this.

As a final example here is the Sadness Spectrum.

The important thing to understand is that all of these emotions have a place. What they require is to be the ‘right’ emotion for the circumstances, the ‘right’ timing of the expression of that emotion and most of all, the ‘right’ intensity of that emotion. We need to be able to express the full range of these emotions.

Annoyed that teenagers haven’t done chores, not RAGE. Upset when we watch a video about Syrian refugee children not GRIEF for days. Apprehensive perhaps at the idea of parent teacher night or a trip to the shopping centre, not TERROR.

A recalibration of your Relationship to these emotions is what is required. Gain back the ‘one to ten’ spectrum. Stop having a response “All the Way to Eleven”.

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