ptsd, Self Improvement / Healthy Living

How War Can Lead To A Nihilistic Outlook On Life

nihilism and ptsd

[pullquote]”In fact, most civilians know war through a superficial lens—through what the media shows them and what other people relay to them about their experiences.”.[/pullquote]People who have seen how dark life can become eventually adapt a defensive view of their life. They reject what makes life, well, life—how people live and act against the forces of nature. When someone rejects the religious and moral principles that encompass life, they undertake what’s known as nihilism.

Nihilism is best known as the rejection of all moral and religious principles, in the impression that life is ultimately meaningless. The phrase originates from the Latin term, nihil, which translates to nothing. Nihilism is also used to promote the idea that life, or the world itself, has no true morals.

This philosophical position is famously associated with the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. However, his position on the philosophical belief is sometimes misunderstood. Nietzsche was one of the first philosophers to extensively study the philosophy; he also extensively discussed criticism of the belief as a whole.

He notably argued that ‘nihilism can become a false belief, leading individuals to discard any hope of meaning within the world and create some significant compensatory alternative.’ He also argued that ‘Nihilism results from valuing higher beings who don’t value earthly things.’ Lastly, Nietzsche also suggested the idea that ‘Idealism, after being rejected by the believer, could potentially lead to Nihilism.’

Why War Makes Soldiers Develop Nihilism

Popular culture tells us that war changes people. This sentiment is reflected in various quotes, depicted in countless films and recounted in just as many songs. In fact, most civilians know war through a superficial lens—through what the media shows them and what other people relay to them about their experiences.[pullquote]”It’s possible for people to overcome a nihilistic mindset, especially if they developed the mindset as a result of war.”[/pullquote]

There’s an underlying aspect to how war changes people that others don’t quite understand. War’s effect leave a lasting effect on the enlisted people who participated and the civilian people thrown into the middle. Soldiers, in particular, often end up bearing a lot of physical and emotional trauma that they don’t understand how to cope with. Due to this, many harbor feelings of resentment, fear and other negative feelings.

Some soldiers lash out in self destructive ways. This type of coping is responsible for tragically claiming the lives of soldiers each year. Fortunately, mental health organizations have made movements to help soldiers cope with their mental trauma from war.

However, some survivors choose alternative ways to cope with their trauma. Some undertake a new religion, while others adapt a new philosophy (such as Stoicism) to help themselves navigate life once more. Soldiers who cope with depression and other symptoms from post traumatic stress disorder may undertake a mindset that changes how they view life.

Emotional nihilism develops after someone has experienced significant mental and, sometimes, physical trauma. It doesn’t develop in most people who go through significant mental trauma, but soldiers of war tend to be among the most frequent suffers of this phenomenon. Soldiers who aren’t adequately prepared to cope with such situations tend to lose hope and then develop doubts about their purpose in life.

Overcoming Emotional Nihilism

It’s possible for people to overcome a nihilistic mindset, especially if they developed the mindset as a result of war. A nihilistic state of mind may be damaging to people who return home after being enlisted.

This type of mindset can completely change how a soldier sees life during their enlistment, while they’re waiting to be deployed once more and even after they’ve officially retired from service. Of course, today’s mental health societies do make sure soldiers receive adequate mental health care following their enlistment in the military. But truly breaking out of a nihilistic mindset requires the efforts of the affected person.

Some soldiers of war don’t break out of the mindset, after remaining with such thought processes for years. This mindset can make a person exhibit mental exhaustion or, in other words, develop a tendency to emotionally check out. They become disengaged from all aspects of their life, because they feel like doing anything doesn’t matter. While a nihilistic person can normally function, the things they do tend to only happen out of duty and not a real sense of fulfillment.

Soldiers who have become nihilistic after returning home do have options to overcome that mindset. Learning how to accept what has happened to them plays a large role in accomplishing that. Interestingly enough, utilizing other philosophies – such as Stoicism – may help a soldier regain their sense of self and some enthusiasm for life.

Overcoming emotional nihilism does take effort. However, a returning soldier of war can start making large steps toward recovery by accepting that whatever happens around them, no matter when it happens, occurred by means out of their control. That familiar theme, originating from Stoicism, can help a soldier accept their experiences and learn how to cope better after war.

Once people overcome nihilism, according to Nietzsche, a society can then foster a true foundation to thrive.

Picture: Flickr/brett jordan

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Why The U.S. Army Should Teach Stoic Philosophy In Basic Training

US Army Basic Training Soldiers Should Be Taught Stoic Philosophy

A lot of soldiers today underestimate the importance of adequate mental preparation for the ordeal ahead of them. In order to successfully mentally prepare people who will undergo Basic Training and graduate into the military, some suggest that the U.S. Army should start teaching the principles of stoicism during Basic Training.

Why should the nation’s military change already established standards to teach recruits a relatively unconventional belief system? Stoicism has the potential to be powerful to a group of soldiers. It can teach them how to cope with what happens around them when they’re on duty.

Stoicism also helps them hold onto their true character, while facing harrowing situations, when away from what’s familiar to them. Not only that, stoicism is essentially for helping those enlisted to keep flourishing as a human being in light of traumatic experiences.

What is Stoicism?

Stoicism, in the modern world, can essentially help people cope with emotional and physical trauma without responding to such situations in a highly reactive way. It helps people accept the inevitable, or what has happened, without reacting in a way that’s ruled by their emotions. The idea is that ‘whatever happens has happened by means of forces they can’t control, and it has no real bearing on their character.’

In this way, stoicism acts as a ‘practical guide for life.’ While it helps teach people how to approach situations deftly, it also encourages people to become more mentally tough. The lessons people can learn from stoic philosophy makes it a natural philosophy for the currently enlisted to utilize for coping with traumatic experiences.

Stoicism and How To Cope

The principles of stoic philosophy can help the enlisted learn how to cope with both physical and mental trauma, especially since some may develop conditions like post traumatic stress disorder as a result of entreating such trauma.

Learning how to flourish as a human being is the main reason why stoicism may work within the context of the U.S. Army’s Basic Training. As previously mentioned, Stoicism maintains that the main goal of life is to flourish.

To flourish as a human being is to:

  • To live in continued excellence.
  • To live happily.
  • To live with a peace of mind.
  • To live as a strong character.
  • To live with enthusiasm for life.

Establishing such a mindset in soldiers from the start can help them avoid developing negative behavioral patterns that may directly contribute to the develop of post traumatic stress disorder and other mental disorders. How soldiers can maintain their true character, as they remain Stoic, also plays a role in helping them flourish.

Stoicism and Maintaining True Character

Stoicism states that people can become harmonious once again with nature, as long as they can return to their true character. Character is our ability to distinguish good from evil, while also acting upon our interpretation of nature.

How people weave themselves through nature determines their character, provided they act internally based on how they perceive situations. As a character, it’s essentially our duty to react objectively—what happens around us ultimately doesn’t influence our true character. Naturally, Stoicism teaches that external elements don’t help people flourish; people can, however, use those elements to build character if they choose.

In other words, soldiers can use stoicism to teach them that what happens around them doesn’t bear down on their character. Whatever happens around them – whether in Basic Training or out on the field – has only occurred by the means of forces they can’t control. Therefore, such forces have no real bearing on their character.

By accepting that such forces don’t bear down on their character, soldiers can essentially learn how to cope with potentially traumatic experiences. This helps keep their character harmonious with nature, allowing them to live a more fulfilled life, even after their time enlisted in the Army.

Stoicism and Being Human

Many famous sayings ultimately boil down to ‘war changes people.’ Soldiers, especially those headed off to a war field, often don’t know how to cope with being sent in such a harrowing situation. They respond to their situation by harboring feelings of fear, resentment and all sorts of negative feelings.

A soldier who accepts their duty in light of what’s around them has learned to accept the inevitable. By accepting the inevitable, a soldier can maintain a peace of mind and their character while responding to their duties of war. Teaching stoicism early into a soldier’s training can help them accept the inevitability of being human: being unable to influence what happens around us, but able to accept the inevitability of it all. As humans, we hold little influence over external forces. That’s why, as humans, we can’t get too caught up in trying to change what happened, because we can’t. We can, however, learn to accept what happened.

While the U.S. Army likely isn’t going to change their training regime any time soon, the soon-to-be enlisted should learn more about Stoicism. Undertaking enlistment in the Army can be daunting to the psyche and the body, but if we can learn to accept what happens, that’s what keeps us harmonious as humans.

Picture: Flickr/West Point – The U.S. Military Academy