How We Became A Society Full Of ‘Traumatized’ Weaklings

How We Became A Society Full Of ‘Traumatized’ Weaklings

If you spend any amount of time watching shows on streaming services like Netflix or Hulu, then you may have noticed that several big-name productions are now putting trigger warnings on the screen before some pivotal episodes. The show “Baby Reindeer,” for example, warns its viewers in advance of an upcoming scene depicting sexual violence. “Better Call Saul” alerts its audience about an upcoming suicide. Other popular shows, like “Severance,” “The Morning Show,” “Life & Beth,” and several others also include similar messages before the show even begins. Even classics like “Goodfellas” and old shows like “All in the Family” now come with warnings about “ethnic prejudices.” 

Online, these trigger warnings have caused a lot of consternation because they often ruin the episode that people are about to watch. If you know a suicide is coming, for instance, it’s usually not too hard to guess which character might be involved. (Spoiler alert: It’s probably the character that’s been having serious mental problems all season). And even if you’re not sure what character might be involved, it still blunts the dramatic impact of the scene to be told, directly, that something shocking is about to happen. There’s a reason Shakespeare didn’t have some guy go on stage before the fifth act of “Romeo & Juliet” to explain that poisoning and self-harm would occur. There was no stagehand to announce, “If you’re not ready to see two lovers take their own lives, then leave the amphitheater immediately.”

But we live in a much dumber time now, so trigger warnings like that are no longer unthinkable. In fact, if you go see a play like “Romeo & Juliet,” there’s a very real chance you might run into one. For several years now, theaters all over the world have been incorporating these kinds of advisories. Watch:

That report was from a few years ago, but the trend has only continued. The Sir Thomas Allen theater in Durham, UK, for instance, posted this notification on its website just a few months ago, about the play “I, Joan,” which also premiered at Shakespeare’s Globe:

Content Warning: Loud music / Partial nudity / Period-accurate transphobia / Depictions of war.

So “Period-accurate transphobia” is now worthy of a trigger warning, which I guess means that every single play and work of literature that was written before 2015 needs a trigger warning. 

I could go on and on about how absurd these warnings are and how counterproductive they are. But there’s really no point. You’ve probably already heard about the research demonstrating that these trigger warnings are worse than useless. More than a dozen studies have shown that these kinds of notifications are either ineffective or actively distressing to people. 

This is becoming a mainstream position. Bill Maher did a whole monologue about it a year ago. Dr. Phil talked about it with Joe Rogan. And so on.

Instead of retreading that ground, I wanted to look more closely into why exactly these warnings came about in the first place. They seem like a symptom of a much larger problem that’s gone unnoticed, for the most part. I came to that realization after the outlet “Variety” ran a piece on this a few days ago on the problems that these trigger warnings can cause. Throughout their article, Variety kept using the term “trauma” again and again: “As content advisories become popular, Hollywood tries to find a balance between ruining plot twists and helping viewers avoid trauma.” That’s the headline. Then the article continues, “A growing number of programs have opted to inform viewers before showing potentially traumatizing content. … The goal is to help viewers enjoy TV without trauma.” They even speak to a medical expert about how trigger warnings relate to “trauma.”

This caught my attention because, up until relatively recently, when people heard the word “trauma,” they thought of serious, violent injuries — the kind people might suffer in car accidents or on the battlefield, for example. And that’s how the medical profession understood the word “trauma,” as well. But somewhere along the line, something obviously changed. “Trauma” became a daily occurrence rather than something suffered by people in the most extreme and harrowing circumstances. Everyday discomfort and mild inconvenience has been medicalized and overblown into “trauma.”

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We’ve seen this a lot in the past couple of years. You might remember the whole episode when the tennis player Naomi Osaka dropped out of a tournament and melted down at a press conference back in 2021. The idea was that talking to the press was traumatic for her, for some reason. PBS ran a sympathetic story at the time that included this paragraph: 

Osaka, who is Black, Asian and female, may have contended with an even greater sense of vulnerability this past year, in light of the Black Lives Matter protests and the increased violence against Asian Americans. Studies have shown that individuals suffer from vicarious trauma when members of their group are targeted and discriminated against.

Yes, the tennis star was suffering from “vicarious trauma.” Those are two words we’re apparently meant to take seriously, along with other new terms like “intergenerational trauma” and so on. We’ve all seen dozens of stories like this. So when I saw the Variety piece, it occurred to me that the story here isn’t really about the rise of “trigger warnings,” per se. Instead, it’s about the fact that so many Americans now erroneously believe that they are suffering from trauma. And with that in mind, there’s an obvious question to ask, which is: When did that happen and why? 

The dramatic rise of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, might provide an important clue. In 2022, instances of alleged post-traumatic stress disorder in college students in America rose by 7.5% — which is more than double the rate from just five years earlier. That suggests that something artificial might be going on here that’s making more college kids suffer from “trauma.”

At the same time, of course, 2022 was right in the middle of the COVID lockdowns, which obviously destroyed many lives. So maybe you’re thinking that’s related. But PTSD, as it’s generally understood, involves witnessing an extreme and catastrophic injury. That’s why the diagnosis became mainstream following the Vietnam War. And there were no wars directly involving American college students that occurred during the COVID lockdowns. Additionally, violent crime in many major cities was down by nearly a third during the early phase of the lockdowns. So how exactly would COVID have been responsible for more PTSD-related suffering?

Here’s one mental health expert at Indiana’s largest nonprofit healthcare provider to explain:

So masks — which the medical establishment told us to wear at all times, even though they didn’t stop the transmission of COVID — were actually hell on earth for PTSD sufferers, apparently. This is the explanation they’ve come up with. If you’re keeping track, we’ve gone from “masks are bad”, to “masks are mandatory,” to “you should triple-mask,” back down to “if you wear a mask, you’re torturing PTSD sufferers who happen to look at you.”

This isn’t exactly a compelling argument. It seems pretty strained, actually. So maybe there’s another explanation for surging rates of PTSD and “trauma” in the general population. What might that reason be?

It turns out that, back in 2013, leading medical associations radically altered the meaning of trauma. As one Berkeley psychology professor recently told The New York Times: “Some changes to the diagnostic manual [of psychological disorders] may have blurred the line between PTSD and disorders like depression or anxiety. .. In 2013, the committee overseeing revisions to the manual expanded the list of potential PTSD symptoms to include dysphoria, or a deep sense of unease, and a negative worldview, which could also be caused by depression.”

The Times report added: “PTSD was introduced as an official diagnosis in 1980, as it became clear that combat experiences had imprinted on many Vietnam veterans, making it difficult for them to work or participate in family life. Over the decades that followed, the definition was revised to encompass a larger range of injury, violence and abuse, as well as indirect exposure to traumatic events.”

In other words, with very little fanfare, the medical establishment completely redefined the meaning of PTSD, and the “trauma” necessary to qualify for a diagnosis. It’s no longer necessary to personally witness a violent death or injury to receive a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s enough to “indirectly” experience such a violent death or injury. That’s trauma, under the new standard. This is what psychologists are telling their patients.

The only limitation, as far as I can tell from reading through the DSM-5, is that this “indirect” exposure has to involve a loved one. But even then, it’s no longer necessary for your symptoms to involve vivid flashbacks and extreme social dysfunction or anything like that. Now a “deep sense of unease” and a “negative worldview” qualifies. That’s it. Never mind the fact that more than half the country now has a “deep sense of unease” and a “negative worldview.” That’s all it takes to suffer “trauma,” according to every major medical institution.

This is one way in which the concept of “trauma” has been expanded and over-diagnosed into oblivion. They just changed the meaning of the word back in 2013, probably to enable more doctors to diagnose more patients and prescribe them some more drugs. And then that lingo filters down to the media and everywhere else. If that sounds far-fetched or conspiratorial, consider the fact that another convenient rebranding took place that same year, in 2013. That was also the year that the American Medical Association (or AMA) abruptly decided to reclassify obesity as a “disease,” just like asthma or diabetes.

But the AMA privately acknowledged that obesity didn’t actually meet the criteria to be classified as a disease, because there are no unique symptoms that only obese people suffer from. It’s also the only disease in the world that can be cured, with a 100% success rate, by expending more calories than you’re consuming. Nevertheless, the AMA simply decided that reclassifying obesity as a disease would have a “positive impact” on society, so they did it. The Lancet documented all of this, as I outlined a few months ago. And now, just a few years later, Oprah is hosting an hour-long special in which she confidently suggests that Ozempic is the miracle drug that can cure this “disease.”

There’s reason to believe that the same approach has now been applied to “trauma.” Much like the idea of “land acknowledgements,” this massively expanded definition of trauma has quickly made its way from a handful of elite academics all the way to everyday life. So now we get trigger warnings on Netflix and Hulu and the theater and everywhere else. But much more importantly, now millions of Americans incorrectly believe they’ve suffered “trauma” when they haven’t. They’re under the impression that their problems are far more serious and uncontrollable than they really are. That’s good for the people prescribing the medications and doing the talk therapy. For everyone else, it’s yet another sign that we’re becoming a weaker and more broken society — one that, inevitably, will become even easier to control and manipulate.

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[By: Matt Walsh

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