Post-Pathology Psychological Dysfunction


The Epoch of Umbriarchy


“I am not afraid of the pen, or the scaffold, or the sword.

I will tell the truth wherever I please.”

– Mother Jones

To those who choose to believe that there are individuals in the world whose psychopathology is inbred and unchangeable and the cause of the victimization of “the rest of us” (and who still have ears to hear that have not been deliberately shut), consider this:

Every time the US (or any nation) takes tens of thousands of average citizens and turns them into soldiers to wage the politicians’ wars, these typical, average men and women, with just a few months of training, are easily turned into functionaries and leaders who can murder, maim, pillage, destroy, imprison, and torture (and not infrequently rape and maliciously violate) other human beings and the fruits of human labor and love without remorse or apparent inhibitory conscience (with always a few notable exceptions).

These people, sometimes numbering in the hundreds of thousands or millions, exactly fit the definition of psychopath, except perhaps that they are not acting purely for their own benefit but for some larger cause, if at least to protect their comrades. But the goal of most soldiers is to get home alive, and they are put into situations and with expectations and programming that not only allows but requires that they act in psychopathological ways in order to survive.

Then we bring them home (the ones who are still alive and walking) and release them back into civilian (civilized) society, expecting them to completely shift back to psychological normalcy with little or no deprogramming or rites of return and welcome. The result, almost always, is what we now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or perhaps more appropriately Post-Pathology Psychological Dysfunction.

The common symptoms that make up this syndrome include: denial, extreme anxiety, misplaced rage, paranoia, alienation from feelings, self-destructive behavior, and inability to love or trust others. This is the normal human response to forced dehumanization, serious unresolved trauma and the sudden dislocation from fields of required pathology to fields of expected normalcy.  This is compounded when such returning trauma survivors are not welcomed or are shunned by society.

To a lesser degree, these are the very symptoms that we have recognized and criticized in powerful men (and increasingly women) in industry, finance and politics.  Historically, men have been expected to take on the role of protector and savior, sacrificing their own psychological and physical welfare for the sake of homeland, home, wife, and children.  Particularly in the last century, men have been drafted into the unrecognized and unappreciated status of civilian soldier in a constant and increasingly demanding low-level economic warfare.  Men, from a young age, in school and home and peer group, learn and absorb the memes of “sucking it up”, not showing emotion, never crying, and ruthless competition in sports and classes and then in the workplace.

It is no wonder that men exhibit many of the same signs of traumatization as soldiers.  Addiction and domestic violence – both forms of pathological narcissism – are the fallout. And these outcomes are not by any means exclusive to men in our society as “liberated” women take on soldiering roles as well.

We tend now to recognize our personal developmental responses to growing up in dysfunctional families as unfortunate but necessary defenses for ego-survival and viability.  We must also acknowledge outworn and dysfunctional social constructs as unfortunate but necessary stages of our cultural evolution.  In neither case is blaming self or other helpful or healing. Understanding, forgiving, letting go and moving on are.

War veterans deserve to be recognized as heroes for their sacrifice, though they may have engaged in reprehensible behavior while trying to survive in the inferno of war.  And men (and the women who have become like them) must be acknowledged as heroic for their civilian soldiering, though many unforgivable acts might have been perpetrated in the process of ego-survival in the daily hell of a competitive and materialistic society that demanded that they kill themselves for the comfort and security of their spouses and children or for “advancement”, reputation, social status and financial security.

One of the lessons with which the non-violence and feminist movements have blessed us is that language has the power to define and limit our experience of life.  Having learned that lesson, let us now refuse to label a culture which is understood in retrospect as oppressive and unfulfilling – a culture in which we all participated and were all in some way enslaved and disempowered to be fully human – in a way which defines one class as villain and another as victim.  Division and dissension are tools of oppression, not of liberation.

If we are to move together into a new millennium of cooperative coexistence on the Earth, we must abandon the divisiveness inherent in our now-dysfunctional paradigm, embrace the commonality that we share, and honor the diversity that makes us whole, individually and collectively.

It is certainly true that the cultural denial of our essential connection to the Earth Mother created an unhealthy distortion of both the feminine principle of nurturance and the masculine principle of manifestation.  Many have called this recent paradigm “patriarchy”. Perhaps a more accurate and less loaded term to describe our recent historical period would be “umbriarchy “– the rule of the shadow.

Now that we are all beginning to leave the cold comfort of the cave of ignorance and isolation, we must not be afraid of wielding our warrior power in a new and conscious way which serves the God/dess in us all.  It is by acknowledging the balance of shadow and light within each of us that we will slay the dragons of defensiveness and denial that have too long obscured with their sulfurous fumes the true beauty and power and potential of humanity and of each human being.

We do not serve the goal of social evolution by pointing accusing fingers, or directing pent up anger, or misplaced fear, at returning veterans of a no-longer-functional cultural paradigm.  Liberation and metamorphosis will not be achieved until we all undertake a rite of passage through our own inner darkness.  This passage, as all transformational journeys, requires that whatever demons we encounter on the way be acknowledged as our own projections and transformed by recognizing them as divine beings calling for attention and offering us the gift of wholeness (health, integrity).

If we wish to be rainbow warriors of the new millennium, we must turn our swords from one another and stand together to face the demons we have co-created.  As soon as we do, those demons will bow down to us in respect and begin to serve us in creating a new world, for they are only our unacknowledged shadows crying out to be loved.


by Robert Riversong: may be reproduced only with attribution for non-commercial purposes

Robert Riversong has been a wilderness guide and experiential educator, a midwife for men and women in ritual initiation and personal/social transformation, and a facilitator of Vision Quest & Boys-2-Men Quest

For a more complete exposé of the evolution of Feminism from a liberation movement to a profoundly anti-male ideology, see my essay:

When Progressive Social Change Becomes Regressive Ideology: From Women’s Liberation to Cultural Misandry – ReHonoring Masculinity & Achieving Gender Justice


2 Responses to “From Shadow to Rainbow”

  1. I will second your comment on the rise of a belief in a static psychopathology. The pathos of the psyche, or passions of the soul, are open to habituation in a multitude of ways, good or evil, from womb to tomb. I fear it is the language of “individual” or “Self” which has caused this problem. Instead of speaking of the soul as a moving principle with principles of motion: thoughts, passions, appetites, we have turned to some nebulous, grandiose idea of “The Self, the rational individual,” but it’s not all clear what that thing is. A short search of Ph.D dissertations will reveal a constant thread running across all subjects: self, individual, identity. You use one or more of those terms, throw in your expertise, and boom – you got yourself a dissertation. What I think that says about our culture is that we have no idea what we mean by “human being” anymore.

    I was a chaplain at a Veteran’s hospital for a while. I would second your comment on a lack of a Rite for re-entering society. Folks that are 80 still tell of nightmares they underwent between the ages of 18-22 as if nothing happened from 22-80. The damage had never been healed or they never really learned how to walk with a limp. The medieval era had a kind of journey the soldier had to go on before being allowed back in. If memory serves it took a LONG time to come home, none of this back in 12 hours via helicopter business. This itself allowed time to journey out of darkness. Second, they were told they weren’t allowed to go back to life just yet, but were provided for and told to do penance for a year or more, to wrestle with the demons, the horrors, etc. You might like this article if you’re interested in rites:

  2. Riversong said

    Thanks for the link, however that book seems to be an apologia for Christian guilt and penance, administered by the Church.

    The most successful modern rites-of-passage for returning war veterans are modeled on Native American rituals of cleansing, story-telling, community sharing of experience, and supportive reintegration into the “tribe”. All indigenous warrior cultures had similar rites for both the creating of warriors and for their reintegration – and none were based on guilt or penance.

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