We’ve got a basic question for you. What do you feel like when you are getting ready to head out to work? Take a few minutes to think about it. Now, consider how you feel the moment you enter the workplace. Sit down at your desk. Open your email. Realize what your day looks like. How do you feel when you’re summoned to your supervisor’s office? Asked to go above and beyond your job requirements? Do you feel anything when you’re at work? Is it safe to feel? If it isn’t, and you consciously or subconsciously are repressing those feelings, where do they go and how does this process affect you? Similar but different to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), CTSD is more than a corporate phenomenon, it’s an unspoken norm. A relatively new term within the mental health community, Continuous Traumatic Stress Disorder (CTSD) is growing pandemically, turning the workplace upside down though most people don’t know about it because they are numb to it – and this is part of the problem.
What Is CTSD
Continuous traumatic stress disorder was first identified in the 1980s in South Africa during the reign of apartheid when mental health professionals were called upon to provide psychological support to the people of the region suffering from years of political repression, violence, injustice and poverty.
Though the symptoms of CTSD can manifest similarly to PTSD, the cause differs. For the many military members and other first responders who have witnessed or been involved in a single traumatic event (or many separate events) such as death, war, physical assault; they often live with PTSD. But CTSD happens in another way.
Through repeated, ongoing circumstances or environments that provide continual exposure to harmful psychological experiences, this is the recipe for CTSD. Continuous traumatic stress disorder is the body and the mind’s reaction to the events that trigger fear, anxiety, depression and more. Though it’s easy to understand how detrimental the prohibition of political or religious freedoms can inflict emotional damage to an individual who holds those practices as essential to personal balance and the attainment of healthy human sustenance, evident in much of South Africa, CTSD infiltrates western society in a much different manner.
CTSD in the Workplace
Today’s corporate culture is a twisted mix of narcissism, power-mongering, manipulation, victimization and dissociative behaviors. Each in and of itself can cause a person harm but collectively, it has created the culture of CTSD. Every socioeconomic and psychographic category can fall victim to it without even knowing because today, the work environment has its own set of fight or flight responses.
While PTSD is the triggering or reliving of a traumatic event in one’s past, CTSD is an ongoing, current state-of-mind where fight-or-flight is forbidden. Think of it like this: When a coworker says something inappropriate or a manager is demanding something of you that goes far beyond your job scope or knowledge, or you’re expected to do an immense amount of work and deliver it flawlessly in an unrealistic amount of time, what happens? Remember how that makes you feel. How does your body react?
This is where the psychological setbacks of CTSD begin.
The Dangers of Compartmentalizing and Turning Emotion Off
Unless you own the business or have an infinite source of money so that your job (or career for that matter) is inconsequential to your financial means, when faced with adversity at the workplace, there is no safe space to challenge it. You certainly can’t fight it either. If you do, there is that dangling carrot of fear, punishment, retribution, exclusion and the ultimate “You’re fired!” that you inevitably will bite off and chew.
Instead, we survive through compartmentalizing our feelings and doing what is expected of us, even if it winds up being an impossible task. Unfortunately, these scenarios continually set us up for failure. When people allow themselves to live in an environment where they are primed for failure instead of success, self-doubt overrides self-worth, adding to levels of toxic stress, fear, anxiety, sadness and despair.
To help mitigate these emotional circumstances, people have learned to segment these incidences. If you are in a managerial position, and have found success in that role, you are most likely well adept at compartmentalizing, though you may not realize it. And for the people you oversee or mentor, they may balk at your ability to turn off emotionally and seemingly not recognize the irreparable harm you are bringing to others. But then again, it’s how corporate culture survives. But thrive? Not exactly.
The Cost in Stuffing Feelings to the Human Race
Back at the office or out in the field (if you’re in sales), you may have managed to stuff those feelings of inadequacy or anger down, way down deep, just to make it through each work day. In addition to that, consider how many more hours in a week we spend in this environment compared to how often we spend our time elsewhere.
At some point, our sense of fight-or-flight is effectively shut down. You might even get to a point that you simply don’t react to these workplace triggers at all. Or so you think. But our internal systems remember, at the cellular level. CTSD plays a role in our overall health. When our emotional balance is jeopardized for a length of time, we need a release or outlet as a mechanism to restore that balance.
Many people find relief at their local gym, a hot yoga class or maybe it’s a jog around Central Park. Still others seek refuge in a bottle of Pinot Noir or an extra pill or two from their Xanax prescription. It won’t take long to realize that these are just feeble ways to mask the pain, with dire consequences.
And for the management staff and C-level executives who dish out CTSD on others to keep their own heads above the job uncertainty waters, it isn’t a personal affront to coworkers that they do what they do. It’s their mode of survival that has reached proportions of disassociation that resemble sociopath behaviors. This is the nature of CTSD and the workplace.
CTSD in Our Social Spheres
The way we communicate, through technological devices, has also laid a path of emotional destruction to younger generations. The barrage of bullying that goes on through social media channels also creates self-defeating perceptions that lead to CTSD. More than #MeToo and other social outcries that scream for validation of ongoing mental health abuse that used to go unaddressed, CTSD, at the very least, gives a name to our harsh reality.
Other social components that give rise to CTSD include:
- Being raised by a parent with AUD or DUD
- Police or gang brutality or violence
- Workplace stress or injustice
Recognizing the Signs of Continuous Traumatic Stress Disorder
If you are in the throes of alcohol or drug abuse to cope, and are showing the signs of CTSD, you could have what is known as a co-occurring disorder, when two mental health conditions are present simultaneously and exacerbate one another.
Symptoms of CTSD are:
- Panic attacks
- Sickness or increased incidence of illness
- Learning disabilities
- Dissociative disorders
- Violent and impulsive behavior
- Substance abuse and addiction
How to Treat CTSD
Like any other health issue that compromises overall wellbeing, a comprehensive, integrated and individualized approach to treating CTSD will prove to be the best course of action.
The medical experts at Remedy Recovery are well-versed in the effects of CTSD. Through proper assessment and identification of the root cause of continuous traumatic stress disorder, emotional wellness can once again be realized.