An Archetypal Perspective for Combat Trauma
Posted on November 8th, 2012

Dr. Roger Brooke -Duquesne University

In psychology’s academic and professional worlds, the name of Carl Jung seems largely to have fallen into history, yet Jungian journals and books continue to flourish. His archetypal perspective has been especially helpful recently for many combat veterans trying to make sense of their experience. One does not have to be a”Jungian” (whatever that is), or to accept some awkward and dated accounts of his archetypal theory, to appreciate this contribution and to take it up in one’s professional work. While this perspective can enrich one’s work it obviously cannot substitute for specific clinical skills. For some colleagues, perhaps, it can become part of the ground on which specific techniques and interventions might be figured. Hopefully, this account might be helpful for those readers trained in very different traditions.

There is a growing number of women who are combat veterans and they need to be honored and related to accordingly. It is awkward and clumsy to negotiate “he or she” consistently through this essay. I ask the reader’s forgiveness or indulgence.

Consistent with recent thinking in the DoD, I shall use the term post traumatic stress “injury”(PTSI) rather than “disorder” (PTSD).

Jung’s perspective

Before discussing the phenomenology of combat experience and some recent literature in which Jungian sensibilities and ideas are found, it can be helpful to realize that Jung’s work is not primarily about psychosexual drives and object relations (Freud), feelings (Rogers and the humanists), or thinking (cognitive psychology), but about the organizing patterns and processes of the human imagination, which he understands as the autonomous ground of being human. Imagination and the images that comprise psychological life are autonomous in the sense that they are not derived from something else, such as hypothetical instincts. Therefore, Jung’s interest in the workings of the human imagination is not merely a heuristic for approaching their supposed origins in instinctual activity, family relations, feelings, or thoughts. He writes about the phenomenology of images and imagination’s processes as such, on their own terms (Brooke, 1991; 2009).

From a Jungian perspective our understandable professional focus on relieving suffering can mean that we fail to ask whether there might be meaning in combat PTSI symptoms. What purpose, or psychic function, might they serve? In addition, we can look to the wider cultural and mythic imagination in which we might understand the challenges of combat experience and trauma, and then facilitate the return home.

Jung addresses such questions through the lens of what he calls individuation, which is a process of psychological deepening and spiritual maturation. It implies psychic spaciousness, self-acceptance, greater responsibility for one’s conduct, and a meaningful place in the wider community. This lens helps us situate our understanding of combat experience and PTSI in life span developmental terms.

With this approach, the guiding insight is that the psychological wounds of war are a universal human experience, and that, as we discover in traditional warrior cultures, there is a common structure to the requirements and processes of healing. These wounds have been named in all cultures, and described in our own western culture more than two-and-a-half thousand years ago. What we now call post traumatic stress injury is described by an Egyptian physician in 1900 BCE and in the ancient Sanskrit book, Mahabharata(Jayatunge, 2012); and Homer’s Illiadand Odyssey can be usefully read as depictions of the sequelae of combat trauma (Shay, 1995, 2002). It is our own culture that has socially constructed this universal as a psychiatric condition, burdening the individual veteran with all the negative consequences that implies.

Phenomenology of combat experience

Combat experience has been described as numinous–an experience of coming face-to-face with Ares, the god of war. That is why, as Decker (2007) says, “Combat is such a mix of horror and bravery that it can be called mysterious”¦. Such an experience can not only horrify and repel but also attract and sanctify” (p. 47). This strange mixture of focused intensity, terror, adrenaline high, and psychic fragmentation is never forgotten, even if it never leads to clinical PTSI. It remains in the background, like the sound of summer lawn mowers, present again with the merest shift in attention. The experience marks a difference in the structure of one’s being-in-the-world that can never be completely undone. Here is a brief summary of some identifying themes.

1. In the war zone and combat the omnipotent and idealized fantasies that belong to youth shatter; one becomes mortal (“old”) overnight.

2. Dissociation: Grossman (2004) has documented in careful detail how experience and memory become splintered and discontinuous, with some images remaining with intense clarity but with many events, including one’s own behavior, disintegrating from consciousness and memory. Images that seemed “seared into one’s brain” sometimes turn out to have been hallucinatory and simply never happened. Experience and memory are more like a collage than a single narrative.

3. Combat experience is numinous, sublime, awful and awesome, horrific and oddly sanctifying.

4. Combat shatters the communal order, which is our network of human relations, social expectations, and institutions. The sense that the world is mostly trustworthy and predictable is blown to pieces. What combat veterans have is knowledge–not a mere “belief”–that the fabric of the human order is thinner than civilians at home ever imagine.

5. Combat experience is an encounter with human evil and reaches into one’s moral core. It changes one forever. It is this moral pain, described so movingly by Marin (1981/95) which marks combat PTSI as qualitatively different from other forms of PTSI. As Tick says, “If we do not address the moral issues, we cannot alleviate it, no matter how much therapy or how many medications we apply” (Tick, 2005, p. 117).

6. One experiences a personal empowerment that comes with combat competence. Boys become men, and women, too, enter the community of combat veteran warriors.

7. Survivors experience a depth of brotherhood and sisterhood with both the living and dead comrades which lasts a lifetime.

8. Resisting the temptation to dehumanize the enemy and honoring the enemy dead are challenges that are crucial for long term psychological recovery and health.

9. Combat experience requires complex processes of integration and healing afterwards if the return from the war zone is to be satisfactorily accomplished.

ƒÆ’‚£ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¡‚¬Recent books with an archetypal perspective

Jonathan Shay’s (1996, 2002) two books, Achilles in Vietnam and Odysseus in America, have rightly become modern classics. Shay’s method of psychological analysis exemplifies the method of amplification developed by Jung. He finds meaning and structure in the experience of combat post traumatic stress injury by looking to ancient, even mythic, parallels to contemporary experience.Achilles is about the erosion and degradation of character in the face of prolonged combat and the experience of betrayal by senior officers and politicians. The gods who turn on him and his friends are in turn interpreted as metaphors for institutions and people in power. “Like the Homeric gods, power holders in armies can create situations that destroy good character and drive mortals mad” (Shay, 1996, p. 153). Odysseus is about a veteran hero who took ten years to return home, by which time he had betrayed his friends, done drugs, suffered from boredom and rage, and behaved like a criminal. To situate a struggling veteran’s experience in these iconic terms is to lift the burden of psychopathology and shame from the veteran, to begin to dignify his (or her) suffering, and to help him (or her) find a common brotherhood (or sisterhood?) with all veteran warriors everywhere. This frees the veteran to ask how to take up his experience into the rest of his life and into his social world. More than this, Shay’s two books are packed with insightful discussions of the archetypal needs of combat veterans, including facing the moral and spiritual core of trauma, the needs for story telling, the communalization of grief, honoring the enemy as fellow warriors, making peace with the dead, and establishing a new identity in which this experience can be integrated.

The pioneering humanistic psychologist, Stanley Krippner (Paulson and Krippner, 2007) writes that an archetypal approach “helps veterans think about their situations without being enmeshed in its personal fallout”(p. 56), such as negative emotions, avoidance, suppression, and substance abuse. He goes on to discuss combat experience as a hero’s rite of passage, which includes 1) the call, 2) the initiation, and 3) the return. Veterans who come back from deployment and leave the military, left to their own devices, are in effect abandoned in the middle of this rite of passage. Krippner’s co-author, Daryl Paulson, was a Marine who served in Vietnam. In his own memoir (Paulson, 2005), he describes how he found behavioral and emotional steadiness and spiritual meaning in his experience once he understood and accepted it archetypally, as a rite of passage common to all warriors everywhere.

Karl Marlantes, author of the acclaimed novel, Matterhorn, has recently written What it is like to go to war (Marlantes, 2011; see also his interview with Bill Moyers, 2012). In this book he draws extensively from his own experience as a Marine officer in Vietnam, while situating his understanding in the above archetypal perspective. He spends considerable time on the moral theme of confronting what Jung calls the shadow, one’s own participation in the human proclivity for destructiveness and evil. What emerges for the mature warrior is the need for a degree of self-knowledge not typically required of civilians. “In war, we have to live with heavy contradictions,” he writes. “The degree to which we can be aware of and contain these contradictions is a measure of our individual maturity” (p. 44).

Marlantes also writes that the mature mood of the combat veteran, perhaps accessible only as the decades go by, is sadness. He wishes that our combat veterans could be taught to pray for the dead–both friendly and enemy–immediately after firefights in which people had been killed. He even offers such a prayer (p. 79). There is a moral and spiritual depth to this book that is at once sobering and intellectually satisfying. It is an important counterpoint to what I regard as the facile and probably doomed project of so-called “positive psychology” in military resiliency training. (For reasons that go beyond this paper, I fear/hypothesize that the positive psychology resiliency interventions in the military will increase the psychological and behavioral problems of our service members–I am not alone in thinking so: Tick, personal communication; see Edelson et. al., 2011).

The Jungian analyst, James Hillman (2004), argues that we shall never find the peace we supposedly wish for until we honor and own our “terrible love of war.” The heroic fantasies of combat, of defeating an enemy that is seen as without rather than within, and of facing the sublime, even spiritually cleansing, gods of war, are a seduction that both calls for self-knowledge but also pulls like an irresistible force against self-knowledge at the same time. He thinks that Plato was probably right to say that only the dead have seen the end of war. Hillman’s book is disturbing because it asks of us who work with veterans to find a capacity for a cold empathy for the pull towards these dark forces that have traditionally been called gods.

Ed Tick (Tick, 2005; see soldiersheart.net) is a psychotherapist, interfaith minister, and authority on warrior cultures around the world, especially the Greek, Norse, Celts, Samurai, and Plains Indians. He has been initiated in, and practices, Native American healing ways in retreats for veterans. He has written on the use of dreams in ancient Greek healing, and, over the past fifteen years, he and his wife, psychotherapist Kate Dahlstedt, have taken veterans back to Vietnam for healing ceremonies. Tick’s work is especially topical right now. He was contracted for 2012 to provide training to all two thousand Chaplains in the US Army.

Tick’s approach is explicitly indebted to Jung’s archetypal perspective. He has distilled several central themes in the healing rituals of traditional warrior cultures. The extent to which our own military works in a way that is consistent with this archetypal structure is the extent to which it is meaningful to veterans and significantly helpful. The central themes in healing include purification, atonement, remembrance and storytelling, making peace with the dead, restitution in community, and initiation into elder warrior status. In his retreats, which are necessarily compacted into four days, he and his wife, sometimes with additional helpers, lead veterans through these stages. It is understood that these retreats, however transformative–which they are–are also in need of followup support and counseling, and structures are set in place to try and ensure this happens. This is still a work in progress, and outcomes data is being collected.

Readers might note how some current therapy trends and healing behaviors participate in the archetypal structure of warrior healing described above: looking to veteran elders for support and guidance; slowing down and telling the story in detail; suffering the pain of the events in the story with civilians so that the bridge back to the world can be crossed; the need for loving forgiveness and understanding by others so that one can reevaluate one’s experience and behavior; grief and mourning, revisited for life; honoring the dead through memorial rituals; writing plays, books, and songs, and making movies, all transforming traumatic flashbacks into narratives with meaning; taking up one’s experience into one’s future life as a veteran warrior and wise elder, continuing to serve the community and those young warriors who follow. These features of contemporary veteran activities are new versions of archetypal themes.

The archetypal structure of the warrior’s return and developmental path

In traditional warrior cultures combat experience sets the returning warrior on a different path of psychological development, which continues through the life span. He (or, now, she) can never return to the time of innocence and will never be”merely” a civilian again. Instead, he or she is called to take up this experience as a spiritual task in which moral character, self-sacrifice, humility, strength, and wisdom are recognizable themes. The transformation of combat trauma into spiritual meaning is the warrior’s archetypal calling. As Tick says, “Warriorhood is not an outer role but an inner spiritual achievement” (p. 199).

Those veterans who try to overcome their demons by hurling themselves drunkenly back into civilian life, determined to leave behind them what they have been through, are doomed to prolonged suffering and are on a slippery slope towards disaster. On the other hand, a veteran with post traumatic stress injury can use the warrior ideal as a guide for healing and growth. It offers dignity, behavioral steadiness, self-knowledge, and cultural meaning. To take responsibility for one’s experience is to affirm it with the quality of destiny. Hoge’s (2010) fine book, Once a warrior always a warrior, situates returning veterans in this ancient tradition.

The intrusive memories that haunt our veterans mark the beginnings of remembrance, but private grief has to be held in communal mourning. As Shay (1996) comments,”Long term obstruction of grief and failure to communalize grief can imprison a person in endless swinging between rage and emotional deadness as a permanent way of being in the world” (p. 40). Grief typically extends beyond one’s fallen comrades to the enemy dead as well.

Communal mourning is partly mediated through story telling. The recollection of experiential fragments into narrative serves to integrate experience into a meaningful history. The words used–exciting, frightening, evil, courageous, funny, luck, right and wrong, sick, shame, failure, and remorse–are words that mark out the coordinates of our moral and aesthetic bearings, reconsolidating the moral ground of character (Shay, 1996). Story telling and communal mourning begin to stitch together the torn fabric of the world.

Veteran warriors continue to be of service to the next generation and the community. This role is recognized by the society, so that, in time, the veteran becomes a spiritual elder and cultural guardian. This does not apply only to cultural icons, such as Mandela, Carter, Powell, McCain, but also to all those veterans who take care of their young, coach Little League, and serve in their churches and community organizations. One of the functions of the elders is to inhibit violence and the rush to war. They have the moral authority and credibility to encourage peaceful conflict resolution, and they serve as role models of self-knowledge and restraint to the next generation. Their caution cannot be dismissed as cowardice or ignorance. (In the buildup to the Iraq war, it was striking how the two combat veterans in President Bush’s inner circle, Gens. Shinseki and Powell, were brushed aside by those who had never been in combat and seemed to have little idea of the forces they were about to unleash.)

ƒÆ’‚£ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¡‚¬Lessons from the Xhosa

The traditional Xhosa of South Africa (Nelson Mandela is Xhosa) have much to teach us. Kanene is the returning warrior’s insight into the depth and burden he carries, following him like a shadow reminding him of what he has done (Mbuqe, personal communication). He needs to be forgiven by both the living and the dead, including the enemy dead, so that his own soul may be returned from the battlefield. Forgiveness is mediated through ukubula, which is the confessional telling of all that happened. The community’s obligation is to tolerate the pain of listening, no matter how difficult it may be, so that the community accepts responsibility for the violence that has been done in its name. (Readers might recall South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu; it was rooted in this tradition of ukubula.) The warrior is forgiven, peace is made with the ancestors, and the souls of the dead and the living, which have been left on the battlefield, are returned. The warrior’s soul does not return to him from the scenes of battle until he has made peace with the souls of the enemy dead.

Archetypal process in a dream

The archetypal perspective is intimately relevant to the lives of the combat veterans with whom we work. What is archetypal in the following vignette is the definitively human need to recover one’s own humanity through honoring the dead, to atone for one’s guilt, to tell one’s story to a listener who will listen without judgement, and to restore that sustaining ground of wellbeing people have traditionally called the soul.

This is a composite of many such dreams. An Iraq veteran with TBI and PTSI tells me that he has been having nightmares. He was a good soldier, he says, doing what he had been trained to do, going through doors and “taking out targets.” Then, in great psychic pain, he says, “But in the dreams the targets have faces.” After we spoke a little more, I suggested to him that, if he could bear to stay with the dream, he might find that it is a healing dream. The next morning he said to the group that he felt he was becoming human again.

References

Brooke, R. (1991). Jung and phenomenology. London and New York: Routledge. Reprinted Pittsburgh: Trivium, 2010.

Brooke, R. (2009). Jung and phenomenology. In D. Leeming (Ed.). Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion. New York: Springer.

Decker, L. (2007). Combat trauma: treatment from a mystical/spiritual perspective. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 47, 30-53.

Edelson, R., Pilisuk, M., & Soldz, S. (2011). The Dark Side of “Comprehensive Soldier Fitness” Psychology Today, March 24.

Grossman, D. (2004). On combat. Warrior Science Publications.

Hillman, J. (2004). A terrible love of war. Penguin Books.

Hoge, C. (2010). Once a warrior, always a warrior. Guilford Press.

Jayatunge, R. (2012). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)-a malady shared by east and west: a Sri Lankan look at combat stress and trauma. Fort Levenworth: The Foreign Military Studies Office (FSMO): Open Source, Foreign Perspective, Underconsidrered/Understudied Topics.

Marin, P. (1981/95). Living in moral pain. In Freedom and its discontents. South Royalton, VT: Steerforth Press.

Marlantes, K. (2011). What it is like to go to war.Atlantic Monthly Press.

Moyers, W. and Marlantes, K. (2012). Moyers and Company, Show 129: What it is like to go to war. http://vimeo.com/46479257 .

Paulson, D., and Krippner, S. (2007). Haunted by combat. Westport: Praeger Security International.

Paulson, D. (2005). Walking the point: male initiation and the Vietnam experience. NY: Paraview.

Shay, J. (1995). Achilles in Vietnam: combat trauma and the undoing of character NY: Touchstone.

Shay, J. (2002). Odysseus in America.. NY: Scribner.

Tick, E. (2005). War and the soul. Wheaton, Illinois: Quest Books.

A brief introduction of the Author

In this article Roger Brooke, Ph.D talks about the archetypal perspectives on combat trauma, which has a great importance to the Sri Lankan combatants who have been engaged in war. His archetypal perspective sees combat experience and trauma not primarily as a psychiatric disorder but as a universal human experience, with specifically human requirements for healing and restitution in community. Dr Brooke analyses psychological trauma using a Jungian perspective and method, which is to learn from warrior cultures around the world and through history. This helps us discern the archetypal structure of the experience and its healing requirements, which underlie the cultural and historical variations.

Roger Brooke is Professor of Psychology at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Director of the Military Psychological Services, which is an outreach network of free services for service members and veterans and their families and loved ones. From 1994 – 2007 he was Director of Clinical Training in the doctoral program. He has been on the Board of the AACP since 2005, now as coordinator of the Academy’s mentoring program. He is an Affiliate Member of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts, and author of books and articles on Jungian psychology, phenomenology, psychotherapy and assessment. His approach to working with veterans has drawn a lot from authors such as Jonathan Shay and Ed Tick.

Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge 

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