Pentagon's Advice to Traumatized Veterans: Think Happy Thoughts!
2009-12-11 0:00

By Penny Coleman | AlterNet.org

Hey, all you quitters and whiners: If it’s bad and it hurts, you have to try harder, have faith, and above all, think positive!


Tired of hearing about all those military suicides? It just keeps getting worse and no one seems to have a clue how to stop the horror. Are you feeling news fatigue coming on, with compassion exhaustion and depression close behind? Want to change the channel, scroll down, turn the page?

That, says Martin Seligman, is because you, like too many American soldiers, are leading with negativity. You could instead be using “learned optimism” to dispute your catastrophic interpretation of the events that trouble your soul, the source of your PTSD.

It’s really quite simple. “The idea here is to give people a new vocabulary,” Seligman says.

Seligman chairs the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and he has managed to convince Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen “that it (is) possible to teach soldiers how to properly respond to distress, and help them emerge emotionally stronger” (italics mine).

Seligman calls that “posttraumatic growth.”

Barbara Ehrenreich calls it “pseudoscience and flapadoodle.”

It's hardly surprising that the author of Bait and Switch and Nickel and Dimed, and one of the most imaginative chroniclers of class injustice in America, would take issue with positive psychology.

The suggestion that “learned optimism” (also the title of Seligman’s first best seller) could bring about success in a world where so many lives are determined by forces beyond their control was bound to push her buttons.

In her latest book, Bright-Sided, Ehrenreich frames her dispute with positive psychology in general, and Seligman in particular, in very personal terms—her own experience with breast cancer.

She takes obvious pleasure in skewering the “kitschy positivity of American breast-cancer culture,” with its smiley face mantras, pink pride paraphernalia, and all the hype about “spiritual upward mobility.”

But she is deadly serious when she takes on positive psychology’s insidious promise that it's possible to learn “to be happier — to feel more satisfied, to be more engaged with life, find more meaning, have higher hopes, and probably even laugh and smile more, regardless of one’s circumstances” (italics mine).

Hey, all you quitters and whiners: If it’s bad and it hurts, even as it keeps getting worse, you have to try harder, have faith, and above all, think positive!

But the core of Ehrenreich’s argument against the positivists is their belief that, “If optimism is the key to material success, and if you can achieve an optimistic outlook through the discipline of positive thinking, then there is no excuse for failure.”

The message that individual initiative and a positive attitude can trump any unfortunate pop quiz the universe tosses your way has saturated every aspect of our culture, from the popular to the corporate, from the intellectual and medical to the spiritual, Ehrenreich argues. And it is used by those on top to justify their success, their privilege, their health--and their budgetary priorities. After all, why throw money at failure?

Though Ehrenreich doesn’t specifically apply her analysis to the military, its implications for traumatized soldiers are apparent.

“The Army is discovering that most Soldiers endure the stress of combat and emerge from those experiences stronger and more resilient,” Brig. Gen. Ed Cardon, deputy commandant of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, optimistically proclaimed when he formally announced the new Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) program in October.

“CSF is a means to inculcate this idea of positive growth across the force.”

In fact, the first group of Master Resiliency Trainers has already graduated from Seligman’s Positive Psychology Center. By next year, the Army plans to have a trainer assigned to every battalion, and eventually to require that all 1.1 million of its soldiers undergo the training.

The training helps soldiers “look at more optimistic and realistic choices, rather than falling into negative thought processes,” says CSF director Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum.

The example Seligman frequently uses to illustrate how his training helps training soldiers avoid falling into negativity goes like this:

So you’re in Iraq, for example, and you call your wife at home,…and she doesn't answer, you might think the most catastrophic thing possible: She's walked out on me.

So one of the things you teach people to do is, well, just wait a minute. That's the most catastrophic possibility. Now, what's the best possible scenario? Well, it might be that she's just taken the kids out for a walk…

So resilience begins by teaching soldiers, just as we have taught thousands of people, to recognize the most catastrophic things they say to themselves when bad events occur and to dispute them, to find the realistic causes of the bad events.


Oh, now wait just a minute, Doc. There are real unpleasant realities out there, and some of them are really dangerous to ignore. And they couldn’t care less if you are an optimist or a pessimist.

Like the Taliban. Or Katrina. Or the housing bubble. Or the wisdom of Wall Street. Or cancer.

And try to imagine how useful a habit of sunny optimism might be to a soldier doing house checks in Kandahar.

“See it positively, as a ‘growth opportunity,’" snarls Ehrenriech at the directive. “And hopefully not just for the tumor.”

Or as Dr. Richard Tedeschi, a UNC psychologist and also a consultant on the CFS project, told a gathering at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in September, even those who had lost limbs or incurred other severe physical injuries found the changes in their lives to be so intensely meaningful that “they were glad the events had happened to them.”

Ehrenreich experienced no such epiphany. Breast cancer did not, she reports, make her “prettier or stronger, more feminine or spiritual.

“What it gave me, if you want to call this a “gift,” was a very personal and agonizing encounter with an ideological force in American culture…that encourages us to deny reality, submit cheerfully to misfortune, and blame only ourselves for our fate.”

That’s what Seligman sold the Army. He's going to teach soldiers to use their psychic injuries as opportunities for growth, not as excuses for a disability claim.

...

Read the full article at: AlterNet.org



Related Articles
Sick of pink: Commodifying Cancer
US soldier commits suicide in Indiana movie theater during 'Zombieland'
Suicide on 9/11
Man with suicide victim's heart takes own life
Gordon Brown snubbed by soldiers' 'curtain' protest
Soldiers in Colorado slayings tell of Iraq horrors
Father: Army 'broke' soldier accused of killing 5
Israeli soldiers break ranks over Gaza war
Could Soldiers Be Prosecuted for Thought Crime?
Pentagon to implant microchips in soldiers' brains
Soldiers admit: 'Iraq war is lost'
Lack of health care killed 2,266 US veterans last year: study
VA testing drugs on war veterans
The hidden scars of war: one in 10 British combat veterans suffers from mental illness
MDMA Studies Showing That it Could Be an Effective Cure for PTSD (Video)
Army's New PTSD Treatments: Yoga, Reiki, 'Bioenergy'


Latest News from our Front Page

Pressure from the United Patriots Front Stops Mosque Plan
2016-04-28 20:10
Pressure from the United Patriots Front appears to have killed off a mosque development in Narre Warren North. The City of Casey council now looks likely to withhold planning approval for the development in a special meeting set for Tuesday night. A council report, to be considered by councillors on Tuesday, recommends that the approval be blocked. The mosque opponents’ cause has been helped by councillor ...
Police face questions over the influence of the Freemasons
2016-04-28 20:48
South Yorkshire Police today face questions over whether powerful 'secret society' the Freemasons held sway over the force at the time of Hillsborough. Families of victims say that officers who were Masons were promoted into powerful positions despite being ill-equipped, including match commander David Duckenfield. Duckenfield told the fresh inquests he had been a Freemason since 1975 and became head of his ...
England Bans its Own Flag to Avoid Offending Muslims
2016-04-27 2:23
St. George's Cross "racist" towards immigrants Government officials said their city was ‘too multicultural’ to celebrate St George’s Day, England’s version of the 4th of July. The council said that displaying the English flag may have been seen as “racist” towards immigrants.
Half of Western European men descended from one Bronze Age ‘king’
2016-04-27 2:09
Half of Western European men are descended from one Bronze Age ‘king’ who sired a dynasty of elite nobles which spread throughout Europe, a new study has shown. The monarch, who lived around 4,000 years ago, is likely to have been one of the earliest chieftains to take power in the continent. He was part of a new order which emerged in ...
"Local Residents" Are Filmed Stealing Dozens of Bottles of Water at London Marathon Stop
2016-04-25 23:10
Editor's Comment: "Local" residents? Why bother blurring their faces? We know who they are. ... London marathon runners were robbed of dozens of bottled waters when thieves raided a refreshment area armed with trolleys during today's race. Nearby residents - including parents with children - were captured on camera piling up crates of free water handed out by volunteers during the 26-mile event. Marathon ...
More News »