Mastering Chaos: Building Inner Strength Amid Crisis

Mastering Chaos: Building Inner Strength Amid Crisis

Mastering Chaos: Building Inner Strength Amid Crisis

War, as a historical inevitability, profoundly impacts societies, reshaping politics, economies, ideologies, and life in multifaceted ways.

Over the past 5.5 millennia, wars, both large and small, have claimed over 3.6 billion lives, altering the course of civilizations and leaving enduring scars. German military theorist von Clausewitz asserted that war is the continuation of politics through violent means, emphasizing violence as its core. In this regard, US military expert Antulio Etchevarria wittily remarked: "Clausewitz put combat back at the center of strategy, just as Copernicus put the Sun back at the center of the universe." 

Throughout history, wars were accompanied by grandiose destruction of material wealth and cultural values, throwing back whole civilizations. Invasion of savage Dorians in Mycenaean Greece, invasion of barbarians on Rome deprived us of the majority of works of ancient Greek and ancient Eastern culture, they twice threw back ancient Slavs from the pre-state stage of development to the stage of barbarism. As a result of the war in Afghanistan, monuments of pre-Islamic culture of the peoples of Afghanistan were destroyed.

With the passage of time, war as a social phenomenon unfortunately does not turn into an anomaly but only transforms, losing its former features and acquiring new ones.

The clashes in Angola, Korea, and Vietnam, which took place after the Second World War, were nothing but a manifestation of the confrontation between the superpowers of the USA and the USSR, which, being possessors of nuclear weapons, could not afford to engage in open armed struggle. Another characteristic cause of wars and military conflicts in the 1960s was the national self-determination of the peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. National liberation wars often turned out to be proxy wars, in which one or another superpower tried to use local armed formations to expand and strengthen its sphere of influence.

The set of reasons for launching wars is expanding. Whereas the first half of the twentieth century was a period of struggle for world domination, today the reasons for launching wars are conditioned by contradictory trends of increasing universality and fragmentation of the world. In the 1990s, new causes of armed conflicts emerged: inter-ethnic relations (in the Balkans, in Rwanda, in the former Soviet republics), disputes over governance within states became a significant cause of conflicts, and religious causes of armed conflicts emerged.

During confrontations, countries invest heavily in research and development to gain a strategic advantage. For example, World War II accelerated the development of radar technology, jet engines, and the atomic bomb. The space race during the Cold War led to innovations in missile technology and communications satellites.

War drives more than just technological and innovative progress. In this tumultuous period, not only did nations engage in a race for military advancements, but the war also served as a backdrop for sinister experimentation on human behavior and psychology.

During the Second World War, Hitler's camps became a dark arena where the boundaries of cruelty and manipulation were pushed to extremes, reflecting the dual nature of wartime endeavors – one focused on technological advancements, the other on the disturbing exploration of psychological control. There, the minimum requirements of food, hygiene, and medical care needed to keep prisoners alive and able to work hard, when fear of punishment supersedes all normal incentives, were determined. If the state achieves complete domination over the individual, it destroys them.

Apart from traumatization, the Gestapo most often used three other methods to destroy all personal autonomy. The first was to forcibly instill in every prisoner the psychology and behavior of a child. The second was to force the prisoner to suppress their individuality so that all would merge into a single amorphous mass. The third is to destroy a person's ability to self-determination, foresight, and, consequently, their readiness for the future. All the best psychologists who have written about survival under extreme conditions have described this in one way or another.

One of the three great Viennese psychiatrists along with Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler, Viktor Frankl spent several years in Nazi death camps. Frankl did not occupy a privileged position in the camp, but out of professional interest, he observed the condition of other prisoners and gradually formulated an algorithm of their psychological reactions to the nightmare taking place.

Frankl noted for himself a paradoxical feature of camp existence. On the one hand, survival becomes the only value, everything else recedes into the background. On the other hand, while surviving, it is important not to lose one's morality, not to surrender to the mercy of fate, not to turn into a scoundrel. In the camp, Frankl met a German-Polish rabbi and philosopher Leo Beck, who shared the Austrian's views on mercy and the desire to help comrades. Both men had opportunities to escape, but both stayed behind to fight for the mental health of others. They set up something of a club and held secret meetings in the attic, where they gave lectures - Victor was credited with at least 10 public appearances during his two years and seven months in Theresienstadt. He spoke about climbing the Alps, harmony with oneself, ways to improve sleep, and how to distance oneself from the frightening present with its hunger, illness, and separation through meditation.

Transitioning to the present, we witness chaos extending its reach beyond the battlefield, infiltrating global crises such as the pandemic and geopolitical tensions. The pandemic, in particular, laid bare vulnerabilities within global systems, leaving individuals bewildered and fostering a pervasive sense of distrust. In this tumultuous period, the imperative of maintaining internal order takes on heightened significance for individual survival.

Amid this chaos, exploring the adaptability of personality and understanding intentional methods of personality alteration, commonly observed in totalitarian political systems, reveals crucial insights. The ability to navigate these tumultuous times hinges on an individual's capacity to retain some degree of free behavior and maintain control over vital aspects of life, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable conditions.

While military personnel confront challenges on the battlefield, it's equally critical not to underestimate the profound impact of the crisis on the psychological well-being of the broader population indirectly entangled in this tumultuous process. Beyond the direct engagement in armed conflict, countries transmit a rhetoric of war, aggression, or patriotism, shaping the backdrop of their citizens' lives.

In light of these realities, our task is not to deny or evade this pervasive influence but to accept its presence and actively develop effective techniques to resist chaos. The goal is to regain internal order and fortify our support systems, ensuring a resilient psychological foundation even in the face of external upheavals.

In times of chaos, personal boundaries emerge as the sole support. In contrast, normal times offer individuals a multitude of supports. Even those with weaker personalities manage to lead relatively normal lives in stable times. The structure of a person's life in such periods is clearly defined—some paths are allowed, others are deemed undesirable, and certain routes are strictly prohibited.

External rules, restrictions, and instructions serve as guiding principles, delineating the do's and don'ts. Adherence to these rules ensures a semblance of order. When everyone around you is following similar guidelines, it becomes a source of reassurance, allowing individuals to model their behavior accordingly, minimizing the risk of mistakes.The absence of clear guidelines exacerbated the situation, leading to a rapid deterioration of people's mental well-being.

No matter how much people like to talk about freedom, with complete freedom from restrictions, i.e., chaos, their brains cannot cope; pathological processes begin in the brain. The brain, seeking the restoration of order, becomes susceptible to manipulation. 

This vulnerability forms the basis for systems of zombification and brainwashing. In such systems, individuals are immersed in complete chaos, and upon exiting, they are presented with clear instructions promising salvation. This psychological tendency is exploited by voodoo sorcerers, terrorists, and special services alike.

Hence, it is imperative to recognize that without internal order, we expose ourselves to vulnerability, becoming malleable subjects for manipulation. This susceptibility transforms us into plastic material, ready to be molded into slaves and opens the door for exploitation by anyone.

To safeguard against this risk, internal order becomes paramount, grounded in the right place of self-control. This involves not just taking responsibility for oneself but discerning and embracing only the real responsibilities within one's reach and power—no more, no less.

Recognizing and understanding personal boundaries is paramount in navigating the complexities of life. Taking responsibility for aspects beyond one's power or reach only burdens an individual with impossible tasks, extending those responsibilities beyond the realm of personal boundaries. The establishment of clear boundaries is crucial, forming a solid foundation for personal strength and security.

In times of heightened tension or crisis, misinformation and sensationalism become prevalent. Amidst this, our task becomes one of analysis and discernment. It's crucial to distinguish between matters that genuinely concern us and those that do not, allowing us to conserve maximum energy for our own lives.

In the current climate, there are those who advocate for hysteria, suggesting that efforts to "fence off reality" lead to "learned helplessness." However, normal boundaries and the act of "fencing off reality" are not contradictory; they are, in fact, opposing forces. Establishing normal boundaries requires a clear-eyed view of one's capabilities and limitations, devoid of illusions. By doing so, individuals avoid walling themselves off from reality, ensuring a realistic and resilient approach to life's challenges.

Acknowledging powerlessness beyond personal boundaries is vital. Building internal supports requires seeing the circle of possibilities clearly and acting within those boundaries. Maintaining the status quo is a valid choice in uncertainty, but opportunities for action always exist within this framework. 

Maintaining robust personal boundaries is not just a matter of practicality; it's intricately tied to the fabric of one's self-esteem. When individuals draw clear lines between what's within their control and what lies beyond, they fortify their psychological resilience. These boundaries serve as a stronghold, creating a space where self-control thrives. Shifting gears, let's delve into the intricacies of self-humiliation and loss of identity. Herein lies a crucial juncture in our exploration: the undeniable connection between good personal boundaries and high self-esteem. Preserving self-esteem is not just a desirable trait; it is a cornerstone of individual survival. 

Bruno Bettelheim's experience in Nazi concentration camps underscores an artificial infantilization and intellectual suppression, instilling in adults the psychology of a child. This involved chronic malnutrition, physical humiliation, purposefully meaningless tasks, faith destruction, and hindrance of individual achievements.

Examining the impact of war on individual psychology, it's essential to consider the link between external humiliation, as observed in concentration camps, and self-humiliation in relationships. Self-humiliation accelerates self-loss, as voluntary submission becomes an easier path than resisting external forces.

Lower self-esteem results in a fragile core, fluid boundaries, fluctuating self-esteem, and sprawling identity. Though others may subject you to anything, the positive aspect is that few desire to do so. Lower self-esteem diminishes the need for external interference, leading to avoidance as the norm.

In any situation, preserving self-esteem is paramount. With ample self-respect, one remains strong, brave, and heroic. Subdued by force, a person with self-respect plans a revolt or escape. With diminished self-respect, submission is considered, reserving strength for rebellion. In cases of very low self-respect, one becomes a passive slave with little energy and poor performance. In the absence of self-respect, a person loses the ability to act, reduced to mere survival, devoid of self-preservation instincts.

Self-affirming power, or self-actualization, constitutes the core of an individual – the real self, the center of personality. This is an accumulated reserve of energy and autonomy in the ego. Dispersing it piece by piece results in an easy loss, rather than its deliberate cultivation.

This reserve diminishes when self-betrayal occurs, but it grows when defending independence and asserting that one won't accept humiliating conditions. Notably, defending independence is achieved not through attacking but by staying within one's boundaries.

In my role as a reputation crisis manager, I consistently witness individuals of substantial strength and influence grappling with crises. It becomes apparent that, in such moments, the key is not just the immediate and correct response but, more significantly, fostering the right internal mindset toward the situation.

Mastering chaos requires an acute understanding of psychological impacts and the establishment of robust internal support systems. Throughout this transformative journey, the pivotal elements lie in preserving self-esteem, delineating personal boundaries, and strategically acting within one's sphere of influence. These deliberate efforts empower individuals to navigate crises with resilience, ultimately deriving maximum benefit from challenging times and emerging fortified, stronger, and more self-assured based on the real-world experiences of my clients.

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Masha Ionochkina

Guest Columnist

Masha Ionochkina is a French political consultant and an expert in reputation management, boasting over two decades of experience in the field. Currently serving as the CEO at Silver Eye Reputation Management, a French agency, Masha leads a team of media and law experts dedicated to positive reputation and anti-crisis communications. With a background in political consultancy and global election campaigns, Masha has successfully managed international public affairs and media relations across numerous countries. A scholar as well as a practitioner, Masha holds a degree in Public Relations and Journalism from Moscow State University for Foreign Relations and pursued Doctoral Studies in Political Science. Fluent in Russian, English, Turkish, and French, Masha also holds a Private Pilot License. As a monthly guest columnist, Masha promises to deliver insightful commentary on reputation management tendencies, politics, and elections. Her proactive approach to shaping and preserving digital profiles and client reputations offers readers a unique perspective, informed by years of experience at the intersection of media, politics, and public relations.

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