Did growing up in the hood give you ptsd?
Updated: Oct 19, 2017
I want to paint a picture for you: Think of a place where you have to stay on alert to make sure you are not about to be jumped. An environment where violence is normal and aggression is a common form of communication. A household with an emergency plan in case you hear gunshots or an adolescence where you may have seen your best friend be murdered for wearing the wrong colors. What about that afternoon that will be stuck in your mind because your neighbor’s little sister was playing in the living room and was shot by a stray bullet? This place that you have to learn to adapt to is your home. Can you imagine the stress an environment such as this would place on a child? Can you picture the effects this may have on the mindset of an individual?
When we hear the term PTSD we most often think of war veterans. We don’t think of the men and women in our neighborhoods who grew up with us and we definitely don’t consider ourselves! We think of our reactions to various events as normal because everyone we knew would have the same exact reaction. It wasn’t until I moved to Fullerton for college that I realized my “readiness to fight anybody who wants to come for me at any time” was not normal. That feeling that you get in your chest every time a car drives down the street slow and you do not recognize it, is not what everyone would feel. It is your body's reaction to a familiar and traumatic event or setting. This feeling I am describing is your fight or flight system gearing up and preparing to respond. For some people, this system stays turned on no matter where they are and they are always prepared to either fight or flee.
For some, it cripples them and they are forever emotionally chained to that porch in the neighborhood. We tend to see these “porch people” and think of the wasted talents and potential. We wonder why they never made something of themselves and why they have so many excuses. I believe the truth is they are suffering from Hood PTSD. PTSD stops its victims from moving forward with their lives and keeps them stuck in a cycle of repeating the same damaging behaviors. It leads to heightened aggression and irritability, a lack of focus and ability to pay attention, and a loss of drive and interest. People who suffer from PTSD often times indulge in dangerous and risky behavior that may get them hurt or incarcerated. For those who grew up in the hood and have neighbors who have succumbed to their surroundings,I am sure you can think of a few as you read this. Even more alarming are the kids who exhibit these behaviors and are labeled as having a learning disability or ADHD. These children are thrown into a special education track, which often time prepares them for a life of delinquency and underachievement. This same traumatized child, man or woman, then matures into an adult and gets stuck on their own emotional porch only to repeat the cycle with another generation and continue the transmission of trauma.
* For clarification:
“Porch People” are those individuals who hang out on the porch all day. They may be with friends or alone. Often times they can be seen drinking, smoking, threatening strangers to the neighborhood in various ways, or intimidating passer byers. There are some who want better but can’t seem to get unstuck from this cycle. So day after day they assume their same position on the porch hanging out and not progressing.
Let’s compare the criteria for PTSD with some of the experiences you may have had growing up in the hood.
1. The person would have had to be exposed to: death, the threat of death or serious injury, actual injury, or sexual violence. You would qualify under this if you directly experienced it, heard of it happening to someone very close to you, witnessed it, or were indirectly exposed to it.
An example of some of these would be hearing your parents talk about the boy down the street who was shot for wearing red after crossing the boundaries over into the South Side, seeing a friend be shot, throwing yourself on the floor when gun shots ring out, or being “pressed” by the gang members in the neighborhood about “where you are from”.
2. These traumatic events are re-experienced through one of the following ways: nightmares, flashbacks, emotional distress after a reminder of the event, or physical reactivity to a reminder of the event ( that tight feeling in your chest as you are reminded of something that happened or the anger pulsing through you as if it is still fresh).
3. Next up would be a persistent effort to avoid this trauma at all cost.
4. Someone suffering from PTSD caused by growing up in this environment may also seem to lose interest in things, have overly negative thoughts about themselves and the world around them, may hold an exaggerated blame for themselves or for others and they may feel isolated.
Carrying these reactions from a childhood of growing up in a dangerous environment can be stunting to a person’s growth and development. For some who do not have an outlet or way to heal, or who possess low resiliency you may see the following symptoms:
5. Irritability and Aggression, Risky and Destructive Behavior, Hypervigilance, Startled Reactions, Difficulty Concentrating, and Difficulty Sleeping.
The question is then why do we treat these children and emotionally traumatized adults as criminals or blame them for their reactions? Do we blame war veterans for their PTSD symptoms? No. We get them help and we put together programs to encourage their healing. It is time that we speak honestly about what trauma can look like and how we are managing it. It is ok to admit that you are experiencing these symptoms and seek help. More importantly, we should all become more educated on mental health and how it can affect those around us so we do not judge them and look down on them for their behaviors but instead offer a helping hand.