Military Training vs. Mindfulness

I’d like to start on a new topic today: mindfulness. It’s going to take a few posts to talk about it, because there’s a fair bit to say.

If you haven’t heard of it before, I think you’ll like it. Mindfulness is a way to let go of the self-criticism, shame and guilt that often contributes to keeping us stuck in misery.

Mindfuless is so awesome, I could almost say it’s nutritious and delicious, and I’d only be exaggerating a little.

Not only that, but mindfulness is… the exact opposite of everything you have learned in your entire military career, EVER.

So, wrapping your head around it is going to feel a bit like learning to live on an alien planet.

In the military, you learn to push yourself to your limits, and then to push yourself some more. If that doesn’t work, then the answer is to push yourself even harder – never yield, never, ever give up.

Now – I’m not pointing this out to in any way disrespect military culture – your perseverance is something that I respect and admire. I understand that, in your line of work, expecting yourself to succeed against impossible odds is necessary.

Here’s the thing, though: when dealing with your mental health, that dogged determination can contribute to grinding you deeper into your misery.

It’s like this: maybe you went through some stuff, and it rattled you, and you just can’t shake it. But, you might believe that failure is unacceptable, and you feel like a failure that you can’t shake it. You also might believe that the way to success is to push yourself harder (because that’s what life in the military taught you).

The thing is – when you’re depressed, overwhelmed, stressed out, not sleeping well, having nightmares and panic attacks – then pushing yourself harder, and expecting yourself to suck it up and soldier on doesn’t magically make your issues go away. In fact, it often does just the opposite – it might make you feel worse.

In your training and your work in the military, pushing yourself harder is often your best tool. In your mental health, it’s your worst enemy.

So – this is why we’re going to learn about mindfulness. Mindfulness is about noticing our own experience without judging it; no shame, no guilt, no self-criticism, just a “here’s where I’m at now”.

NO, it doesn’t magically solve all of your problems in an instant – but, it gives you a chance to stop being your own worst enemy. And once you stop putting all of your energy into beating up on yourself, well, then it actually becomes a lot easier to cope.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Larry M. Jaipaul, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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7 thoughts on “Military Training vs. Mindfulness

  1. I receive great mental health care from the Austin TX V.A. outpatient clinic, and the folks up in the mental health clinic there are very big on “mindfulness” classes. I had the pleasure of attending a mindfulness group, but only showed up for the first couple of sessions. Logistics and my own issues prevented me from attending anymore sessions, but I’m looking forward to the next group that forms because THIS IS GREAT STUFF!!! If you have the opportunity to attend any sort of mindfulness class, group, or training…. take full advantage of it. :)

    • That is Great to hear Rick, I wish there was counseling available where I live. My VA is 55 miles south in El Paso. I can’t drive there 2-3 times a week I have not the money for my cars upkeep. Mindfulness is a good topic, I hope I can find out more about it. 😉

      • Jakie,

        I am not sure if the telemed link can provide access to the mindfulness training but it is worth a try. If there are NG or reserve units near you there is a possibility of car pooling, also look into writing off your POV expense on your taxes possibly. Also groups like wounded warrior, soldiers angels, the mission continues are all good resources to ask for help along with military one source.

        v/r
        Al D’Adda

  2. Dr. Rajska,
    Interesting insight to one of the problems facing the military today with regards to mental health, an interesting article I found on Psychiatric Times speaks to the history of PTSD going back to the original term from World War I” Shell Shock”. The article addressed the issue of weakness as perceived by those outside of the experience of shell shock as it really was a societal norm native to the military population.

    This same observation can be made in todays military and is a reflection of societal norms held with regard to males in general. I will hazard a guess which states it is more acceptable for a male to die in combat than for a female to die in the same manner as the previously mentioned male soldier. This social acceptance sheds some light into the possible reasons we “drive on” as the term goes in the military. I myself, a 24 year veteran, used the same mentality prior to my back injury and later back surgery as a result. I put others needs before my own, most notably the mission and so goes the continued mentality or mindset of a soldier. Now I will concede this is a generalization but even then this is still true none the less.

    One of my papers for my Abnormal Psychology class covered stigmas associated with PTSD and service members. I conducted a non-scientific poll using past and present service members from duty stations I served on as well as deployments too. The survey took into account the command point of view and the soldier point of view to see if there was a common or similar take on the STIGMA. What I found is not profound but speaks to a conflict that is related to the STIGMA. Both the command group and soldiers recognize the use of medication to treat mental illness as well they both understand the need for mission readiness. This is the point at which we might find the need for mindfulness training as you put it so well.

    While the command group does sympathize with the needs of the soldier they also have an obligation to the mission, as well the soldier also understands just the same and will often forgo treatment in order to deploy. This desire to deploy is also a desire to be viewed by peers as strong and not weak again pointing to societal norms and values which begin well before service in the military. This is further aggravated when individual culture is taken into consideration too. Hispanic culture holds Machismo in a high regard which can prevent one from seeking out counseling when compared to an individual of white culture not to mention gender differences. Medicated treatment versus actual therapy is a point of conflict also. While medication can be used to treat the symptoms it does not treat the state of mind as therapy could. This conflict produces depression, feelings of guilt, drinking or binge drinking, marital or relationship problems even with parents etc… Again the need for acceptance is strong enough to read like a scene from ”Lord of the Flies” which again can be seen as the effort to forgo self in favor of meeting the needs of the many or mission.

    Finally, mindfulness training is a wonderful tool but it does take time and time is a rare commodity within the military, any military for that matter. A guess at the future of warfare may take us into a world where AI is used to fight wars and few human lives are at stake, but this leads into other issues of human psychology. I would hope that our militaries have not forgotten that soldiers are indeed human a trait that is often overlooked, not out of malice, but in favor of mission success. For years many have asked if there is a way to turn of the “killing machine” I am not sure there is as the mentality becomes a part of one’s own self. So, if there is a switch to turn off how is this accomplished?

    Thank you and I welcome any and all comments.

    v/r
    Alfred D’Adda
    USA RET

  3. I think mindfulness or any form of awareness although different from the military’s practice of pushing soldiers to their limits (& beyond) can actually coexist.
    Here’s my theory with a little bit of experience: I have had what I call a basic introduction to mindfulness and what I walked away with is just being aware, not in a peaceful bubble or closed off from the world but the exact opposite. So when it comes to the training and development of our warriors one could say it couldn’t hurt to have a warrior who is more aware (after all situational awareness is really hip right now).
    The awareness is not just being aware of surroundings or environment but feelings, emotions and too.
    So when the IED goes off or the rounds start snapping by your head you can pull from mindfulness training (not full out meditation, that would be dumb) but being aware that you are in danger, being aware you need to save yourself, being aware people are hurt, being aware you’re scared, and now you can manage things accordingly.
    Once the dust settles and you are able to pause in thought, mindfulness is there to bring you down and make you more aware and relaxed instead of becoming worked up and going crazy.
    Further down the road, back home in Canada it’s there to aid you in anything from falling asleep to calming down in stressful situations (malls/traffic).
    Anyways that’s just how I see things, I use mindfulness often, and maybe it’s something I’ve always known, but the course just helped me to understand. I think training your brain is no different than your body, it can only make you a stronger sharper warrior and athlete.

    Cheers; Mike

  4. I just discovered your blog, as a Vietnam Vet I can appreciate what your doing. I wish we had the help you offer when i got out of the service, many of us suffered far to long before PTSD was even recognized. I went through some tough years and managed to get on with my life but it would have been much better if I had this kind of help. Keep helping I know the value.
    Patrick Thomas
    Montreal

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