Transitioning to Civilian Life

This article is to give light to what our soldiers think about and face upon being released for the military.  Take a good look at the list and know that our understanding of some of their actions upon returning can be made a little easier if they have some understanding on our part.

We know that the U.S. military spends enormous amounts of time and money preparing soldiers for war but correspondingly very little of these resources preparing them to return to civilian life. When military personnel finish their tour of duty and return home, among the transitions that they must negotiate to leave their soldier mentality to civilian mentality.  In their minds they have to switch from feeling in danger to feeling safe.  There was discomfort in the military and now they much learn to be comfortable.  The act of camaraderie to solitude and mistrust to trust.  Coming home and leaving chaos to hopefully order and lawlessness to law.

As much as soldiers eagerly anticipate this transformation, negotiating the change is not always easy. The sheer number of transitions from war to peace makes the hope of quickly reassuming a normal lifestyle somewhat unrealistic, and for many, a successful change in role takes considerable effort and time.

A particular challenge facing a returning war veteran is the need to put aside the ‘survival mode’ which was critical in the war zone and may have become a central feature of the soldier’s identity. Among the perspectives, attitudes, and behaviors that are highly valued in combat are:

Here we see listed many behaviors that are faced by the war veteran returning home: Heightened arousal; Being on constant alert for danger; Narrowed attention and focus; A hostile appraisal of events; Not trusting people; Making quick, unilateral decisions; Expecting others to obey directives without question; Sticking to a “mission” no matter what; Reacting quickly and asking questions later; Keeping emotions sealed off.

While having obvious survival value in combat, this ‘battle mind’ style is typically highly maladaptive and self-defeating when applied to civilian life. For example, aggressive, split-second decision-making and action are vital in a firefight, but similar actions back home can easily fall under the categories of disorderly conduct, assault, and domestic abuse. At the same time, war veterans have a hard time letting go of these habits that once served to keep them alive and unharmed.

We hope this information can be available to anyone in wait for their love one returning home and to understand and have patience with the journey of returning home now to be a civilian.  To encourage counselling and open communication of understanding.

This information was taken from: James Madison University Counseling Center- For Returning War Veterans.

Leave a Reply